A cross between Big Mouth, The Office, and perhaps a more unrestrained, adult version of Inside Out, Netflix’s Human Resources examines where the most intense human experiences come from. As the first season of the spin-off explores love, horniness, humiliation, and anxiety in humans, it also dives into the ways that emotions themselves develop. Hormone Monsters, Depression Kitties, Shame Wizards, Lovebugs, and more navigate a shared workplace and the human world where they take turns making each other’s jobs harder. Lovebugs can’t do their work without finding Hormone Monsters screwing each other on desks and in the office kitchen. Anxiety Mosquitoes get on each other’s nerves. Logic Rocks don’t appreciate Grief Monsters egging humans on to sob spontaneously.
Big Mouth series regulars like Maury (Nick Kroll) and Connie (Maya Rudolph) the Hormone Monsters are back in action, along with new creatures we haven’t seen before. Keith from Grief (Henry Winkler) and Pete the Logic Rock (Randall Park) make an entrance, and characters who’d had brief cameos in Big Mouth, like Emmy (Aidy Bryant) and Rochelle (Keke Palmer), the Lovebugs, get bigger storylines, showing the myriad functions of creatures from the Department Of Magical Thinking.
Without the humans they’ve been assigned to as foils for their character development, however, the creatures’ interactions instead set the stage for the complicated inner workings of humanity. Human Resources thrives in the moments when we’re allowed to see the creatures dealing with the same messy conflicts that humans often do, and grappling with how their own interpersonal struggles affect their ability to do their jobs. Chaos ensues when Rochelle the Lovebug betrays Emmy’s trust and neither of them can focus on their jobs. Tension builds as the creatures make difficult choices that are parallel to confrontations their humans face.
Human Resources demonstrates how varying moods and emotions are affected by one another. This requires the creatures to lean on other creature species, and to learn trust and humility. What’s truly funny is when we get a chance to see how the creatures excel at their jobs (or fall apart) because of each other’s antics. When Emmy the Lovebug struggles with alcohol abuse and can’t get her shit together, for example, her newly-assigned-to-her human Becca worries about giving birth and fostering a connection with her baby. These entanglements provide a much-needed backstory to the creature/human interactions in Big Mouth, showing the true stakes of all the creatures being just as fallible as people.
But like its parent show, Human Resources often struggles in transitioning between heartfelt storylines full of earnest moments. The plot lines about the difficulties of handling emotions and aligning our actions with our values often ricochet too quickly back to raunchy jokes about penises. Instead of openness, characters often lean into risqué behaviors, which flattens arcs that could have been made more bold and satisfying. As with Big Mouth’s fifth season, this new show attempts to ground itself in the creatures’ inner worlds. But when true opportunities for vulnerability pop up, that possibility for deeper understanding of why they are who they are is too frequently substituted for a sex scene or a pun about cum. As such, it can feel like there isn’t enough time for the characters to grow into something beyond tropes.
The show carries much more sway when its humor is based on more than horny one-liners, instead building on jokes with substance and acting as a vehicle for sharp assessments of who the creatures are and how they function in tandem with others. When Logic is breaking down because his emotions make him want to act impulsively, or Lovebugs fall in love with humans and contemplate giving up everything, delicious irony highlights the complexity of the characters and helps the spin-off towards accomplishing what it sets out to do.
The absurdity of it all hits in the instances that the creatures experience their own emotional reckonings, including when Simon Sex (Jemaine Clement, a newly introduced Hormone Monster) is asked whether love or sex is more integral to the human experience. Simon’s response provokes multiple reactions from Walter (Brandon Kyle Goodman), and their exchange is juxtaposed with a scene of Connie and Maury coming to terms with what works for them. These stories bring the viewer along for the ride as the creatures begin to understand how layered their functions are, why they can’t force themselves into other roles, and why solidarity is so important.
If Human Resources gains a second season to continue to poke at the nuances of the processes of thinking and feeling, it can propel the storylines into much more satisfying territory. The series shines as it dives into what each of the creatures’ own insecurities and weak spots are—and shows how an excess of any emotion can lead to their (and really, human beings’) downfalls. This animated comedy begins to unlock its potential when it focuses on the ways that shame and love have to work together to produce a desired outcome, or how logic sometimes works against processing grief. Familiarity with Big Mouth may bring in viewers, but Human Resources’ distinctive humor and commentary on humanity will keep them watching.