Streaming services, cable TV and Primetime television are fighting for your viewership now more than ever. UnBinged is here to help you weed through it all, with reviews of the latest shows that highlight what we love, what we hate and what we love to hate-watch, too. This week we delve into the subject of mental health. It was once a taboo topic, best not discussed in either polite company or primetime, but as television and society evolves, discourse relating to emotional challenges and personal well being is no longer considered off limits; in fact, it’s become a frequent subtext for everything from animated comedies to dark docudramas to superhero fantasies. Moon Knight, Human Resources and The Girl From Plainville reviewed below.
Moon Knight (Limited Series, Disney+)
The latest small screen Marvel series to help along Phase 4 of the MCU is Marvel’s Moon Knight, a character that was first introduced in ‘70s comic title Werewolf by Night, but has since taken his place among the studio’s big guns.
Meet Steven Grant (Oscar Isaacs) – a gift shop clerk by day, and god-knows-what by night. Literally. A milquetoast figure who can barely hold down his job, or even a good night’s sleep, he straps himself to the bedpost after dark to keep from wandering around London. But it’s more than mere nocturnal adventures that are the issue with poor Steve.
The tale of Moon Knight isn’t cut and dry. Like WandaVision, we are getting the story in the middle of the story. Just as we started with Wanda and Vision living their best Dick Van Dyke life, audiences are introduced to Moon Knight by first meeting Steven (who is sadly, just not as cool as his comic-book counterpart) as one of several folks who take residence in the body of mercenary Marc Spector, who himself is a servant to the Moon god Khonshu, the true heart of Moon Knight.
Dissociative identity disorder is at the heart of Moon Knight. It is not the first time that Marvel used psychosis as a character point – both Legion and Wanda suffered from unhinged mental states and god-like powers. But Isaacs’ portrayal of Steven as a victim of his own mind creates a sympathetic character. His inability to keep a date or even keep his goldfish alive humanizes him. He isn’t a danger. He’s a fuck up. And that’s easy to relate to.
The story itself is a roller coaster ride, filled with many sharp turns before deciding exactly where it stands within the MCU. It might be unfamiliar territory for much of the Marvel movie-loving audience, but thanks to Isaacs’ heartbreaking characterizations, the unconventional premise and disjointed story breaks make it feel grounded. As the show continues, the focus on Marc/Steven’s mental state, the true nature of Moon Knight, and his role in the MCU will hopefully become part of a tantalizing mystery.
Human Resources (Season 1, Netflix)
Brought to you by the somewhat off-kilter yet amusing masterminds behind Big Mouth, Netflix’s Human Resources takes a peek at the behind-the-scenes world of Hormone Monsters, Love Bugs, Shame Wizards, and every other crazed creature that helps and hinders humanity’s many emotions.
Set in the cubicle hell of the Human Resources department, beasts of all shapes and sizes are assigned to humans around the world to help process their feelings. Though many of the characters are familiar faces from the world of Big Mouth, the series centers on Emmy (Aidy Bryant), a grade-A fuck-up love bug who is promoted after her boss is carried kicking and screaming from the office.
While still rude, crude, and brimming with attitude, there is a complexity to Human Resources that Big Mouth lacks. Big Mouth deals with the singularity of puberty and all the gross underlying issues that accompany it, while this show handles the full gamut of human emotions and life stages.
In one particular storyline, love bug Sonya (Pamela Adlon) begins a relationship with a human named Claudia (Janelle Monae). The relationship is a no-no in the creature world, and seems impossible, as most humans cannot even fathom these beasts. But as it turns out, Claudia’s fragile emotional state allows her to see Sonya, which begins to affect her mindset in a negative way. It’s a surprisingly tender episode that pulls at the heartstrings, even when sandwiched between a secondary story about an illegal cockfight that uses real cocks.
Human Resources is a bit of a revelation. Yes, it is still filled with inappropriate jokes dealing with ejaculation at almost every given opportunity. But it also has deep moments of heartfelt sadness. Issues such as dementia, grief from the loss of a loved one, and the effects of mental illness on a relationship are handled with a sensitivity unusual for any half-hour comedy, much less an animated show that runs rampant with sentient penises.
The Girl From Plainville (Limited Series, Hulu)
Inspired by the “text-suicide” case that led to Michelle Carter’s conviction of involuntary manslaughter when Conrad Roy III took his life, The Girl from Plainville explores the story of a troubled teen who meets the wrong girl at the wrong time.
In this Hulu limited series, Colton Ryan plays Roy, a teenager struggling with finding his place in the world. His family still calls him by a childhood nickname, which he clearly despises, yet he depends on them for his livelihood. He grapples with adult concepts such as relationships but is a child at heart, and the dichotomy is slowly taking its toll on the young man. Then meets Michelle Carter (Elle Fanning).
Girl provides a look at the sad, ripped-from-the-headlines tale from several points of view, but to be clear, it doesn’t attempt to build sympathy for Carter. What the series provides is potential insight into a pivotal question: why did she tell Roy to “get back in the car” when he attempted to back out of his suicide? Forcing focus from Conrad’s grieving parents (Chloe Sevigny and Norbert Leo Butz) onto herself and using the negative attention to rally her friend group, Fanning’s brutal depiction of Carter is manipulation at its worst.
Due to the skillful efforts of its cast and how the material is handled, this one stands as a grim reminder of the toll of technology can take on mental health. Depression and insecurity can be wielded and yielded with a click of a button these days, even from those we know and trust. The Girl from Plainville is a dramatization of events, but its cautionary subtext is real– the wrong people at the wrong time with the right tools can make for toxic and sometimes tragic circumstances.