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Thursday, October 6, 2022

Dame Helen Mirren as the Shame Wizard: Human Resources is Big Mouth’s star-packed spin-off | Television

Netflix’s Big Mouth set out to perform a very specific task. An animated comedy featuring teenagers who are visited by hormone monsters, it planted its flag as a frank exploration of puberty as it objectively is; an awkward, horny, non-stop body horror nightmare.

However, over the course of its five seasons, Big Mouth took its eye off the ball just a little. As the episodes wore on, you sensed that the creators were starting to lose interest in their human teenage characters, while growing more and more enamoured with the flamboyantly crude monsters that came to represent all their various adolescent desires and urges. This was reflected in the acclaim it received; for the past two years, Maya Rudolph has won Emmys for her portrayal of Connie the Hormone Monstress, a sort of horned griffin who – among other things – exists to teach teenagers how to masturbate.

Which brings us to Human Resources, a new Big Mouth spin-off, designed to show what the monsters do when the children aren’t around. Think of it as a workplace comedy or, as one character says before the opening titles of the very first episode, “‘Big Mouth meets The Office’ is how we sold it”.

Maya Rudolph as Connie the Hormone Monstress in Big Mouth.
Maya Rudolph as Connie the Hormone Monstress in Big Mouth. Photograph: Courtesy of Netflix

However, fans of The Office probably shouldn’t get too excited by the comparison because, unless my memory has failed me, no episode of The Office ever revolved around an employee slipping and injuring himself in a giant pool of ejaculate. In short, despite the change of location, the unrelenting crudeness of Big Mouth remains completely intact. This is a series where a giant spider will drop a bowl of hot soup on his crotch and yell: “Ow, my spider dick!” It’s a series where a small army of detached penises will have a birthday party. You probably already had a good idea about whether or not you were going to invest your time in Human Resources, but those last two sentences have probably hardened it into concrete resolve. You are either in, or irreparably out.

Hopefully it’s the former, though. Because, once you’ve got past the sex stuff and dick jokes and swear words, which appear to have been tossed into the script at random, Human Resources becomes quite sweet and – very occasionally – quite profound.

Now that the overwhelming bulk of the characters are monsters designed to reflect various aspects of the human personality, they are all very clearly defined. There are creatures who represent love, shame, ambition, logic, and addiction. Each of them isa little one-dimensional, but this is deliberate, and the joy of the show comes from watching them at work: finding a human and quarrelling with each other about how they should make it behave. In that sense, you should try to think of it as a riff on Pixar’s Inside Out, albeit a riff on Inside Out that you would deliberately go out of your way to avoid in a pub.

Ali Wong as Becca and Aidy Bryant as Emmy the Love Bug in Human Resources
Quite sweet and very occasionally profound … Ali Wong as Becca and Aidy Bryant as Emmy the Love Bug in Human Resources. Photograph: Courtesy of Netflix

It’s worth mentioning the cast, too, which is just phenomenal: Nick Kroll, Maya Rudolph, Randall Park, Ali Wong and David Thewlis are joined by Jermaine Clement, Maria Bamford, Thandiwe Newton, Jean Smart, Henry Winkler and – slightly incredibly – Dame Helen Mirren as Shame Wizard, Rita St Swithens. Seemingly, even the tiniest walk-on role has been given to a figure of immense talent. It’s remarkable.

That said, I’m not sure whether Human Resources would – or should – replace Big Mouth in the affections of its viewers. The broader remit means that the new show gets to splash around in a wider spectrum of the human experience, giving us episodes about weddings and childbirth and parenting. But this means that it also lacks the laser focus of its parent show. Big Mouth has been able to mine 51 episodes from the horrors of puberty, but Human Resources deals with childbirth in one quick scene. As such, it all feels a bit more surface level and a lot less rich.

Despite this, there’s still plenty to enjoy about the new show. Admittedly, that enjoyment will hinge upon the amount of satisfaction you are able to achieve from hearing Thandiwe Newton refer to herself as a “hairy insatiable jizz monster”. If that’s a lot, though, Human Resources is yours for the taking.

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