Human Resources will stream on Netflix on March 18, 2022.
Netflix’s Big Mouth started as a deeply personal project for co-creators Nick Kroll and Andrew Goldberg, a fictionalized version of their own coming of age driven by raging hormones that took the form of lewd monsters. But as the series went on, the ensemble expanded to include a more diverse cast of humans and creatures representing not just sexual desire but depression, anxiety, shame, and gratitude. The result was what felt like an R-rated version of Pixar’s Inside Out.
The spinoff series Human Resources pushes that transformation even further, largely casting aside Big Mouth’s human protagonists in favor of a workplace comedy focused on the monsters. While the pieces in the “Big Mouth meets The Office” formula — which is how the show is cheekily described in a fourth wall-breaking section of the first episode — take a while to click, Human Resources winds up delivering the same mix of crude absurdity and poignant emotional stories that has made Big Mouth one of the absolute best works of adult animation.
Building on the mythology already established in Big Mouth, Human Resources takes us to the offices where an eclectic mix of creatures are assigned to manage the emotions of human clients. The show’s ABC plots are at their best when they’re focused on showing how the monsters work with humans, often fighting with each other over what’s best for their clients. They’re at their absolute worst when replicating office sitcom tropes with storylines like Pete the Logic Rock (Randall Park) developing a crush on the lovebug Rochelle (Keke Palmer), or the hormone monsters being forced to take empathy training after too many coworkers complain about their crude behavior.
But, like Big Mouth, Human Resources is so fast paced and ambitious that it quickly moves on from its misses onto big hits. A pair of senior hormone monsters that fill the same role as Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Hitchcock and Scully don’t add much to most episodes, but their presence is redeemed in a spoof on Glengarry Glen Ross that ties back into Big Mouth. The sudden firing of Jessi’s lovebug Sonya Poinsettia (Pamela Adlon) is largely used as an excuse to have an audience surrogate in new hire Emmy (Aidy Bryant), but the mystery behind her dismissal eventually pays off in a poignant tribute to Wings of Desire.
That deeply moving story about the consuming nature of love and the fragility of mental health plays alongside a spoof on Rocky featuring an underground penis fighting ring. The fact that the juxtaposition works is a testament to the brilliance of the show’s creators, who demonstrate the same skill they developed in Big Mouth for using the disarming power of absurdity to soften the blow of big emotional moments through juvenile humor.
Human Resources also leans into Big Mouth’s affinity for musical numbers. The standout is an ominous tune sung by Big Mouth Season 2’s primary antagonist the Shame Wizard (David Thewlis), who makes his triumphant return to convince career-driven new mom Becca (Ali Wong) that she’s the worst mother in the world. Becca is the human focal point for much of the show — her nursing-chapped nipples even get their own ballad — and Wong does an excellent job negotiating the complex emotions that her various monsters are manifesting as she’s hounded by her aggressive ambition gremlin Petra (Rosie Perez) and the other devastating Big Mouth villains Tito the Anxiety Mosquito (Maria Bamford) and Depression Kitty (Jean Smart).
The highly varied stories are enhanced by a ludicrously star-studded cast.
While it’s packed with single-episode pop culture parodies, Human Resources also lets original plots develop slowly over the course of the season. The highly varied stories are enhanced by a ludicrously star-studded cast including Hugh Jackman as the addiction angel Dante, who shows up to represent toxic relationships and a dieting obsession, Helen Mirren as the Shame Wizard’s haughty mother, and Lupita Nyong’o as another shame wizard involved in a bizarre noir plot. Henry Winkler is alternately kindly and terrifying as Keith from Grief, an anthropomorphic sweater who creeps into a recurring plot about a woman with dementia to offer her son comfort if he’ll accept his loss while threatening to destroy him if he keeps living in denial.
Author: Alex Stedman.