‘Human Resources’ takes the ‘Big Mouth’ extended universe in an increasingly unpleasant direction
Big Mouth holds the distinction of being one of Netflix’s most long-running shows. It already has five seasons, and Netflix has cleared it for three more. In addition, Big Mouth has now led to the launch of the spin-off Human Resources, a soon-to-be-impossible to search for title that’s a pun based on the job description of certain side characters from Big Mouth. And since I’m now out of ways to avoid explaining what Big Mouth is actually about, it’s an animated situation comedy about middle school children learning about the joy of masturbation. The side characters are sprites, mainly Hormone Monsters, who encourage the children to masturbate.
I really, really wish I could tell you that this is just an exaggeration on my part to make Big Mouth sound horrifying. But unfortunately, Human Resources itself describes the plot of Big Mouth in almost those exact same words. So you can probably guess what kind of show Human Resources is. There are hairy dicks everywhere. Abortions. Alcoholism. Bloody violence. Orgasms of all kinds. A whole lot of on-screen fucking. Musical sequences featuring some combination of the above. The only thing preventing the show from feeling like straight-up pornography is the deliberately grotesque art style.
The only thing preventing the show from feeling like straight-up pornography is the deliberately grotesque art style.
Now as far as the actual plot is concerned, Human Resources premises on the idea that all of the various sprites who represent human emotions work at some kind of otherworldly office. The pitch, as the first episode tells us in the first of many bland fourth-wall-breaking gags, is Big Mouth meets The Office. Structurally, though, you can more accurately describe Human Resources as Big Mouth meets Toy Story, bizarre though that may sound.
See, here’s the thing about how Big Mouth presents the sprites. It’s not clear the sprites are actually real. They might just be metaphorical representations of, say, puberty. Or possibly a symptom of schizophrenia. Likewise, the first Toy Story movie could easily all just be in Andy’s head, a child’s meta-narrative of how his favorite toys disappeared and reappeared. But every subsequent Toy Story movie makes the metaphor increasingly literal and incoherent, with the toys being seemingly immortal figures with highly anthropomorphized traits whose only unexplained purpose for existing is to serve humans.
Human Resources takes the world of the sprites to that same extreme, except even more pronounced. As far as I can tell the sprites are just people with weird appearances and weird jobs. They eat like humans, they fuck like humans, they even work in an office like humans. Yet actual humans are, for some unclear reason, entirely dependent on them for advice.
And what advice this is! If you were wondering from the first paragraph how exactly it is that Netflix has a long-running series about how important it is for children to masturbate, the show’s existence is justified by its alleged pedagogical purpose. Namely, that sex positivity is extremely important, and we shouldn’t be ashamed to discuss it. That’s why Shame Wizards are bad. I think. In one of the show’s many mixed metaphors, it clearly implies that all of the show’s sprites, be they Hormone Monsters or Lovebugs or Logic Rocks or Ambition Gremlins or Depression Kitties or Addiction Angels actually want what is best for the humans under their charge.
This is where the well-meaning advice of Human Resources crosses the line from quirky to straight-up magical thinking. I don’t mean, like, the literal tower of magical thinking the elevator at the sprites’ office goes to sometimes, I mean the actual psychological concept. The human characters can solve every serious emotional problem they have just thinking about them, in the form of schizophrenic discussions with the sprites.
The show dismisses the idea that extreme emotions are harmful and destructive both implicitly and explicitly. A sprite representing grief does turn into monstrous proportions at one point–but only because the human ignores it. The show only indirectly hints at the idea that wallowing in a single extreme emotion is unhealthy. It does this in in one plotline, faulting not the emotion itself, but rather an almost entirely arbitrary rule that doesn’t really even make sense in the internal worldbuilding.
The whole psychological premise of Human Resources is smug like that, with the constant parade of dick jokes preventing the show from ever having to come to terms with its rather glaring contradictions. Take our lead character Emmy (voiced by Aidy Bryant), a Lovebug who’s assigned her first client and who is fantastically incompetent at her job. I should note that Human Resources only promotes Emmy because it fires another character. It’s not entirely clear what exactly Emmy’s purpose at the office was up until that point.
Anyway, Emmy’s a total wreck who’s alcoholic, getting constant abortions, and doesn’t actually seem to know anything about love. So we’re supposed to be rooting for her because…she’s trying hard, I guess? When her failure could destroy the life of the human she’s supposed to protect? And she succeeds entirely thanks to magical thinking. Again, I referring to the metaphorical meaning here, not the literal physical structure that exists in the show’s continuity, the idea that making an effort, however incompetently, is enough to solve life’s problems.
Sitcoms unavoidably bake the idea of magical thinking into their structures, and for the most part it’s harmless. Where Human Resources goes horribly wrong with the idea is that it’s preaching the philosophy of minimal consequences from its tower of unfunny dick jokes, hinging on the likability of a bunch of fundamentally psychotic characters who are supposed to be relatable entirely based on their love of unrestrained sex. Listening to the pop psychology of Human Resources made me feel like a schizophrenic person who loves dick jokes was ranting at me. The show assumes that everyone else experiences life the same way it does, and any claim to the contrary would amount to sexual repression.