Television Review: “Human Resources” — Self-Help for Monsters?

By Sarah Osman

Human Resources isn’t for everyone. It’s even weirder than Big Mouth (which is saying something), though this spinoff series still packs, at times, the same heartfelt punch.

A scene from Human Resources. Photo: Netflix.

Big Mouth, the crude yet heartfelt animated series created by Nick Kroll, Andrew Goldberg, Mark Levin, and Jennifer Flackett, must be one of the strangest visions of the woes of puberty to come along. Centered on a group of middle schoolers, the narrative gives each character a “monster” to represent the feelings that they are experiencing. The menagerie includes hormone monsters (and a monstress), love bugs, anxiety mosquitos, a shame wizard, and a depression kitty. These clever metaphors for very real human emotions explains that, despite the cartoon approach, Big Mouth grew to become quite poignant: we’re not just meant to laugh at the characters, we’re invited to see ourselves in them.

When Netflix announced a spin-off, Human Resources, which would just focus on the creatures in the Big Mouth universe, I was afraid that it would mean that the show would lose its heart. The monsters are funny, but what makes them work is their relationship with the tweens. Without the adolescents I wondered if the monsters would still be funny — perhaps they would become flat out annoying. Well, it turns out to be a little of both. Now the monsters are catering to adults, which unleashes a Pandora’s box of concerns, ranging from motherhood to addiction. At its best, the monsters come together to help their bedeviled human clients; at its worst, Human Resources tries, and fails, to be a workplace comedy.

In the first episode, Maury (Nick Kroll) describes Human Resources as Big Mouth meets The Office. This description is not entirely inaccurate, but it underlines where Human Resources is going to struggle: those expecting the dry wit in Dunder Mifflin’s office will be disappointed. The first few episodes start off rather slowly. We’re introduced to Emmy (Aidy Bryant), a slacker love bug who, unexpectedly, is tasked with taking care of Becca (Ali Wong), a woman who has just given birth. Becca’s grappling with early motherhood supplies some of the series best moments, especially when Emmy realizes how much she’s helped her. On her own, however, Emmy is off-putting; she’s hooked up with an addiction angel and is drinking far too much. But when she’s collaborating with Becca and the other monsters, Emmy is a heroine worth rooting for.

Emmy isn’t the only emotion that Becca, and the other humans in the series, are dealing with. Becca has her own ambition gremlin, Petra (voiced perfectly by Rosie Perez), her own anxiety mosquito, and the depression kitty (Maria Bamford). Watching these various monsters battle it out for what they think is the right move for Becca is oddly fascinating. But what’s really satisfying is when they put their differences aside and do what’s best for her. The monsters share a similar combative dynamic when catering to other humans as well. Petra and love bug Rochelle (Keke Palmer) desire completely different outcomes for one of their humans (Petra wants her to go to Berkeley while Rochelle wants her to go to Rutgers with her girlfriend). Eventually they figure out a way to assist their client — even if it is painful for her. Growth is not easy, but it is also necessary, which is a hard lesson both the humans and the monsters need to learn.

Some of the familiar faces from Big Mouth appear in Human Resources, including Maury, Connie, the hormone monstress (Maya Rudolph), Lionel the shame wizard (David Thewlis), and the depression kitty. We get an inside look at how they live their lives when they’re not helping humans. Alas, it turns out they’re not all that interesting. We already know that Maury and Connie are insufferably horny, so an episode showing them engaging in role play feels unnecessary. When the monsters attend sensitivity training they spout that same cliches as in any other TV sensitivity training session. Frankly, the longueurs remind us of shows that have done a much better job with the same material (like The Office). Human Resources‘s workplace plots, for the most part, are recycled from elsewhere: seeing monsters go through the motions doesn’t make the tried matrial any fresher. The exception to this is when Pete the logic rock (Randall Park) pops up. He is an Easter Island styled stone who symbolizes (you guessed it) logic. Pete’s attempts to explain Inbox Zero to a bored Emmy, the results are hilarious. His crush on his coworker Rochelle (Keke Palmer) is adorable. Because “the rock” behaves the most like a human working in an office environment, it makes sense that his narrative line would most effectively spoof similar sitcom trends.

Like Big Mouth, Human Resources’ best moments mix pathos and humor. In particular, the series deftly handles mental health issues, from Becca’s postpartum to toxic relationships and dementia. While some of these scenes are meant to be absurd, such as when Becca’s chaffed nipples sing their own ballad, others are quite moving, such as when Becca and her husband discuss how he can best help her. Silly songs and views of risque body parts abound in these scenes, just as they do in Big Mouth.

Human Resources isn’t for everyone. It’s even weirder than Big Mouth (which is saying something), though the series still packs, at times, the same heartfelt punch. Who knew? It turns out that monsters, like us, have their personal problems.

Sarah Mina Osman is a writer residing in Wilmington, NC. In addition to writing for the Arts Fuse, she has written for Watercooler HQ, Huffington Post, HelloGiggles, Young Hollywood, and Matador Network, among other sites. Her work was included in the anthology Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences in the Trump Era. She is currently a first year fiction MFA candidate at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. When she’s not writing, she’s dancing, watching movies, traveling, or eating. She has a deep appreciation for sloths and tacos. You can keep up with her on Twitter and Instagram: @SarahMinaOsman

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