'A Decent Proposal' is, as its title implies, a decent episode if not a great one of 'Central Park'.
- 🎤 The balance of the ensemble is very effective throughout.
- 🎤 Owen's neuroses are on very funny display.
- 🎤 The ode to dogs frolicking in the park is a high point.
- 🎤 After last week's episode, this standard-issue episode feels a bit less special.
- 🎤 The romantic twist at the end feels predictable.
- 🎤 The voice performances are a bit less lived-in than usual.
This post contains spoilers for Central Park.
Check out our last review here.
After the format-breaking story of last week’s episode, “The Shadow”, this week, Central Park is back on more traditional footing. The penultimate episode, “A Decent Proposal”, features all parts of its ensemble in some capacity with a more recognizable balance between an A-story and a B-story, and a generally more familiar blend of humor and music. On one hand, it’s about as effective a standard episode of Central Park now is as it approaches the end of its second season. On the other, it’s not going to stand out in the memory nearly as much as last week’s did.
The title may seem like a less emphatic play on words, but it really does focus on a more effective wedding proposal than the one Owen Tillerman (voiced by Leslie Odom, Jr.) delivered to his wife Paige (Kathryn Hahn) years ago. Owen realizes he has a chance to stage a truly memorable proposal after he picks up a seemingly empty wine bottle left in the park only to realize it’s part of a possible wedding proposal connected to, of all things, the Tom Hanks film Cast Away. Meanwhile, Molly (Emmy Raver-Lampman) goes into the belly of the beast — the penthouse of Bitsy Brandenham (Stanley Tucci) -- to accompany her boyfriend Brendan (Eugene Cordero), who’s also a Brandenham for Bitsy’s birthday party. Once there, Molly feels alienated by all of the extremely rich old guests, only to realize that Bitsy too is alienated in a sense, as they both hide out in Bitsy’s greenhouse. The C-plot features Cole (Tituss Burgess) trying to help his favorite dog Champagne enjoy play time with a Great Dane whose owner treats Champagne dismissively, mostly notable for a song, "Puppy Love", written and performed by Paul Rust and Michael Cassady of Don’t Stop Or We’ll Die.
When the second season of Central Park began, there was the renewed specter of Bitsy trying her hand at some kind of power-grab. But now, as the show winds down its sophomore effort, it’s all too clear that even though the uber-rich old woman is still a regular part of the story, she’s become much closer to a tetchier version of the loopy Mr. Fischoeder (Kevin Kline) from Bob’s Burgers, which shares an animation studio and creative team. The last couple episodes have succeeded at softening Bitsy; here, she’s generally nasty to the rich people who attend her party in spite of not really being her friends, but she has a brief moment of bonding with Molly, who she eventually recognizes from the previous season’s events. Bitsy’s identity has been a topic of discussion through much of the season, as she grapples with trying to one-up others even as she acknowledges it’s as much her getting back at her long-dead parents as anything else. But the softening of Bitsy also feels somewhat at odds with how her season began, with the possibility of either creating sprawling apartment complexes near Central Park to the distaste of her fellow rich folks, or buying Paige’s newspaper.
But while Bitsy’s characterization has shifted fairly drastically in the back half of the season, it only stands out because so many of the other characters on Central Park behave in ways now that fully line up with how they were introduced last year. Owen’s desire for a better marriage proposal for a hapless young man is because of his hilariously botched one, which we see in flashback scored to the song "How It Happened". As charmingly awkward as Owen is (both in the present and in the flashback where his attempt to pop the cork on a champagne bottle lands him with a black eye, and his attempt to pop the question leads to an engagement ring landing in the sewer), Paige’s down-to-earth attitude is a nice counterbalance that speaks to how likable the two are as a couple.
There’s room to grow for Molly and Brendan in terms of their being a couple or not. After the first half of this season backgrounded their budding relationship (the other format-breaker for the season, “Fista Puffs Mets Out Justice”, was focused more on Molly’s connection, or lack thereof, to her female classmates), Molly and Brendan are serving as a more focal point. But where Molly felt awfully similar to Tina Belcher in the first season, being a bit more unhinged in her obsession over pre-teen boys, she’s smoothed out somewhat this season. It’s hard to know for sure how much of this shift is attributable to the recasting; Kristen Bell’s built-in neuroses have been traded in for Lampman’s more laid-back line readings. Molly as a character may still be a bundle of energy, but it doesn’t always come through the vocal work. Molly’s alienation in the episode is understandable, but is slightly less believable because the performance has a slight air of stiltedness.
And then, of course, there’s Josh Gad as Birdie. As in previous episodes this season, Birdie exists primarily to set things up, peering in through the windows of the Tillerman house, and do very little else. Birdie lays down the exposition about why Molly is stressing over joining Brendan at Bitsy’s party, does the same for the marriage-proposal subplot, and then he’s gone. Gad, as noted here before, is one of the co-creators of Central Park, so there’s likely no reason to assume that Birdie would ever vanish from the proceedings. But his presence is so fleeting that it remains a perpetual head-scratcher; if Gad wanted to co-create a musical comedy with the Bob’s Burgers team, why wouldn’t he give himself a more integral role? You could note that Birdie’s presence in last week’s episode was his strongest of the whole season, but...Birdie doesn’t actually talk in his whole segment in that episode. That only heightens the problem, instead of side-stepping it.
Central Park has laid within a solid groove in its second season. Anything’s possible, but next week’s finale is likely not going to slip things up, though there’s always the chance of some kind of plot shake-up. (Though, this season has pretty heavily avoided any kind of serialization, even within episodes, so that would be doubly shocking.) “A Decent Proposal” is an enjoyable episode that has the misfortune of following a truly standout half-hour. It is, as its title implies, decent. Maybe next week will be a step up.
Josh Spiegel is a freelance cultural critic who has been published in Slashfilm, SyFy, ScreenCrush, The A.V. Club, The Hollywood Reporter, The Washington Post and others. His favorite films include Singin’ in the Rain, The Rocketeer, Pinocchio and A Matter of Life and Death. His favorite TV shows include Ted Lasso, Only Murders in the Building, Deadwood and Lost. He lives in Phoenix with his wife, two sons and too many cats.
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