Central Park: Loren Bouchard on Going Beyond Bob’s Burgers

by John Bucher (@johnkbucher)

Emmy-Award winning animator, writer and producer Loren Bouchard has created cult-classic TV shows such as Home Movies and Lucy, Daughter of the Devil. However, he became a pop culture icon with his creation of an animated series about a blue-collar family named the Belchers that run a hamburger restaurant. Bob’s Burgers has captivated audiences around the world and been named by TV Guide as one of the top 60 Greatest TV Cartoons of All Time.

With a feature film in the works, Bouchard pivoted to a new project that allowed him to expand the world of his storytelling and introduce a new cast of characters to the world – Central Park. The new animated musical sitcom revolves around a family of Central Park caretakers that become world saviors. The cast includes Daveed Diggs, Leslie Odom Jr., Titus Burgess, and co-creator Josh Gad.

Bouchard talked to LA Screenwriter’s John Bucher about his new show.

John Bucher: A story about caretakers saving the world seems really relevant right now. Can you speak to what the relevance of this show is for this moment?

Loren Bouchard: Thank you for asking that question. I like thinking about this stuff, even on Bob’s Burgers, where it’s just about keeping their restaurant going in theory, on paper. But the more we have told stories on Bob’s, the more we’ve realized, well, what does the restaurant mean? What does it mean to the street that it’s on? What does the street mean to the town that it’s in? What does the town mean?

When we started Central Park, we were already starting from such a bigger place. This park already means something to so many people. We were excited about telling a story about the caretaker of this very important place. Then we realized it wasn’t fragile enough. That in real life, it didn’t feel fragile enough. Because we get to invent our own reality on this show and tweak the world we want it to be. We decided it would be in danger.

What if there was a villain who was going to bring together blood money, from all over the world, put together this dark group of investors who are going to buy Central Park, carve it up and sell it? We decided that was the kind of threat that we wanted our characters to be up against. An existential threat not just to Central Park, but really to the idea of what it means to preserve public space.

Of course, now it feels maybe even more relevant when you realize how fragile everything is. All of our public life turns out to be more fragile than we thought. There are so many things that we take for granted. Obviously we didn’t plan to tell a story during the time of a pandemic, but it feels like a good story to tell, even in the best of times, to remind those of us who are making it and hopefully the people who are enjoying it that there are people who are truly heroic. They’re taking care of public space. Those are people that it’s fun to tell a story about.

John Bucher: The show also really celebrates the underdog. One of the songs on the show is called “Weirdos Make Great Superheroes.” Why is it important to celebrate underdogs?

Loren Bouchard: I think that for us elevating the underdog feels worthwhile. We don’t want to do a show just to do a show. There is a sense for us that we could just keep making Bob’s Burgers and it would keep the lights on and that would be fine. We love making Bob’s Burgers. So if we’re going to expand and do more work and take on other projects, they really have to have a reason to exist. It cannot just be to make a few people laugh and put some bright color on the screen and then call it a day. So we really came to this trying to make sure this thing has a reason to exist. The characters are underdogs to some extent. And then the park itself – we imagined a world where the park itself is fragile and needs to be protected and celebrated. We approach almost every story from that point of view.

John Bucher: Why Central Park?

Loren Bouchard: It’s like a place we all know. Even if we’ve never been there, we all feel like we know it. Yet it’s big enough that you can tell a lot of stories in that space. You’ve got this sense. Once we figured out that it would be the caretaker and his family, then it really starts to crystallize. You see that they’re worried about the sprinkler heads and the garbage pickup and all the threats to this place. So it did steamroll. It did pick up a lot of momentum pretty fast. It felt like a unique place to tell stories.

Of course, we could have picked any park, but because it’s this iconic park, it’s even more responsibility to take care of this place. When you know people are coming from all over the world to see it and take pictures of it.

You want to draw the trees and the flowers and the buildings in the back, but you also want to draw the cracks in the sidewalk. You want to tell a story where you also really feel there’s a spot where maybe there’s too much gum on the sidewalk. It’s about the beauty of it, but you can’t make it too pretty. It’s got to be about the flaws of it too. I think also the sound. If you put your headphones on, you want to hear the City, that little bit of distance, that comes when you’re getting to the middle of the park where you know you’re in New York, but it’s being filtered through the trees. So we’re hoping that’s in there too. We spend a lot of time trying to bring it to life in those ways. The small things that maybe you don’t notice right away, but that hopefully are there for you when you just relax into it.

 Central Park premiers on Apple TV+ today.

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John Bucher is a writer, speaker, and story consultant based out of Los Angeles. He is the author of several books including The Inside Out Story and the upcoming Secrets of Short Visual Storytelling. He has written for entities ranging from HBO to International Ambassadors. He teaches in the Joseph Campbell Writers Room at Studio School LA and at The LA Film Studies Center. John has also conducted story seminars on five continents. He can be reached on Twitter @johnkbucher and through his blog, welcometothesideshow.org.

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