In the new animated Apple TV+ show, Central Park, mother Paige Tillerman shows cartoon moms can have their own careers and raise a family.
Apple TV+’s Central Park showcases an expertly-crafted, progressive mother that manages to fill a gap in the world of animation. The new family-centered show mixes adventure, sweet storylines, and a lousy villain, while simultaneously adding in a new concept of making the maternal character an equal focus to the paternal figure. And while many live-action shows have been taking this approach for years, Central Park is paving a new path for female characters in animation.
Central Park was created by Josh Gad and Loren Bouchard (Bob’s Burgers) and stars Hamilton alum Daveed Diggs and Frozen‘s Kristen Bell. It follows a family of four living in Edendale Castle at the center of New York City’s Central Park, with sprinkles of catchy original songs. The family doesn’t know it yet, but they will fight an evil hotel heiress who wants to turn the park into real estate property, which the audience learns about from a park musician voiced by Josh Gad. The mother, Paige Tillerman (Kathryn Hahn), is a reporter for a local newspaper and her husband, Owen (Leslie Odom Jr.), works as the park manager; they have two children and work together to maintain a sane household in a wild city.
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Central Park is only two episodes in on Apple TV+, but Paige Tillerman is already setting herself apart from other cartoon moms. She has a career, supports her husband’s job woes, helps the kids with unrequited love, and still manages to get the laundry done. In short, Paige is the epitome of a progressive woman, which was missing from the animated world. The first time Paige is shown, she’s hunched over her laptop, working on a story while her family eats breakfast. She laments openly and often to her husband about her attempts to be taken seriously by her male boss. Much like many real-life women, Paige struggles to progress at work and exhibits anxiety about doing her job well. She leans on Owen to handle parenting tasks, and there’s an apparent equal distribution of chores. Paige also worries about being there to support her husband; women will see her try to balance the two, and when it’s needed, put her family first, even at her own expense.
Similar shows now seem outdated in comparison to the way Central Park has written its mother, Paige. In examing other animated shows, it’s clear that the women are sub-characters instead of equals. From Lois on Family Guy to Marge on The Simpsons, Francine on American Dad, and even Linda on Bob’s Burgers, they all have some commonalities. The women don’t have much of their own identities outside the family unit, and none of them have steady careers. They are stay-at-home mothers who don’t frequently go on independent adventures. While a woman doesn’t need to have a job to have agency, the portrayal of these characters as one-note is an unrealistic depiction of women.
Conversely, Paige is written as an equal to Owen and pursues her own desires, while remaining a committed mother. While these attributes shouldn’t be unique in any television show in 2020, they add dimension and make the show unique. Hopefully, other animated series will look to the new show in how they develop their female characters moving forward. Paige is the outspoken, independent, caring, progressive mom that animated television has been missing out on. Viewers can see Paige Tillerman’s quest to become a serious reporter while tending to her children in new episodes of Central Park on Apple TV+.
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