‘Central Park’ Creator Josh Gad on Molly’s Puberty Journey: From Periods to First Bras, We’re ‘Allowing This Young Girl to Grow’

Though Season 2 of Apple TV+’s “Central Park” features a slew of changes for the lovable Tillermans, one family member has a harder time than most. Not only is daughter Molly — now voiced by Emmy Raver-Lampman to provide accurate representation for the mixed-race character — navigating puberty, but she also goes shopping for her first bra and has her first glimpse of romance.

Josh Gad, who voices Birdie and co-created the series alongside Loren Bouchard and Nora Smith, says the addition of Raver-Lampman really allowed the writers to dive into the character, using her experience to help the character grow. He says, “The second season was really Molly’s season.”

Here, Gad and Raver-Lampman reflect on Molly’s evolution this season and how the show’s catchiest ear worm, by Bobby Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, came together.

One of the highlights this season was seeing Molly evolve and go through puberty. What were the conversations you had about her path this season?

Josh Gad: We were blessed — but blessed is too late a term — for Emmy Raver-Lampman’s addition and contribution to the show because it completely changed the dynamic of Molly in a way that we felt allowed us to grow that character exponentially. A part of that discussion, around the time Emmy agreed to grace us with her brilliance, was that we wanted to not be afraid of allowing this young girl to grow.

Our writers’ room has some amazing voices in it, and in particular, some amazing female voices we wanted to talk about their own experiences growing up and encountering the various things that come along with going through puberty. It could be getting your first bra, having a period and a lot of these things that are sometimes taboo in general. In an animated musical, you have to do a trust exercise and jump in.

There’s just something about Emmy that inspired so much of the stories we wanted to tell. There was this element of Emmy being able to comedically take you along for the ride so that nothing felt weird or uncomfortable — if you’re watching it with a family, it just all felt authentic. Whether it was the comedy, the pathos or, in particular, the incredible music that was brought to life by this individual and our amazing writing team.

The most powerful episode of the season is Molly going through her own process creatively and singing the song called “Trying Too Hard,” which is about anxiety and all of the things we feel as we’re going through the growing pains of figuring out how and where we belong. Frankly, I had nothing to do with any of it.

Emmy Raver-Lampman: It’s a highlight of my career to be a part of the show and to work with Josh. I’ve been a fan of his and have been wanting to be a part of the animated space. Puberty is weird, it was weird for everyone, so if someone tells you it wasn’t, they’re lying. The show found such a brilliant way of caring for this period, no pun intended, with such grace. All of the people around her were celebrating these moments, even though it’s so cringe-worthy for her and it’s so embarrassing.

The fact that she goes bra shopping for the first time with her dad is — that’s something that seems so not normal, that’s like a girl’s thing, but let’s break those norms. Power to the girl dads. It doesn’t have to be this mother-daughter experience. Families look different now, and I think [the show is] normalizing a lot of these moments for young people and opening these conversations about them and celebrating your period, as opposed to this thing that you’re supposed to go in the bathroom and hide from everyone and never talk about it and never learn about what’s going on in your body. The show did such a great job of using Molly as this coming-of-age voice.

Voice work is often isolating, especially during the pandemic, when you’re just in this booth or a closet at home. What was that experience like for you?

Gad: When you have an extraordinarily talented cast, it doesn’t matter if they’re in a booth together or they’re at home. I think it’s a testament also to our brilliant sound engineers, who were able to record actors. Emmy was in Australia, doing a lot of her dialogue and singing under a pillow in a hotel. It’s a testament to Adam, our sound engineer, and Patrick, who does music, and everybody else. It’s a testament to our brilliant showrunners that they were able to make everybody feel comfortable and confident despite the unprecedented nature of all of the shifts and changes. They walked me through setting up my little makeshift sound booth at home. It was scary, but at the end of the day, it was much easier than it ever should have been.

One of my favorite musical highlights is “You Are the Music,” which is written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Bobby Lopez. How did that all come together?

Gad: I’ve been blessed to work with Bobby and Kristen on three projects, “The Book of Mormon” with Bobby, “Frozen” and “Frozen 2” with Bobby and Kristen, and they’re like family now. Kristen’s sister Kate is one of the most unbelievably gifted musicians [and] is the main staple of our show. But with Bobby and Kristen, they’re the busiest composers I’ve ever met. I was expecting them to say, “We don’t have time,” but again, a testament to our cast and what the show is, they immediately jumped on board.

As Birdie and Molly, what’s it like to be in dialogue one-minute, then burst into song the next?

Gad: You’re asking the wrong people, because we come from theater [laughs]. We’re used to bursting into music spontaneously.

I had to record a song yesterday. And I wanted to do it first, because I love the process of recording a song with these guys. This is the song that finishes Season 3, and it is just so high. It’s so outside-the-stratosphere high for my voice. When I heard it, I wasn’t satisfied with my vocals and I asked if I could do it again. The brilliance of this team and that collaborative spirit is that they want to you to win — they don’t ever settle for anything less — so they’ll come back again, and we’ll be in the booth again and again until it feels this is exactly the best version of what this could have been.

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