In the beginning, God created the sky, the land, and the sea… but when it came to creating the animals that would inhabit the world, He got tired and outsourced it. This is the tale of Heaven’s Design Team, which follows the trials and tribulations of the celestial design firm working hard to fill the Earth with all creatures great and small. Despite the religious framing, the presence of God and angels is little more than set dressing: the show is less about creationism and more about creative industries, showcasing and celebrating the imaginative process and all its ups and downs.
Heaven’s Design Team is a meeting of art and science. Most of the comedy comes from the ridiculous process of reverse-engineering animals—that the audience already knows—from the opaque instructions of “the client”. For example, after a period of trial and error involving flying horses, strange sticky plants, and an improbably long-necked deer, the team invent the giraffe to fulfil an order for “an animal that can eat high-up leaves”.
The series’ humor comes from a deep knowledge and love of animal biology, and among the jokes it’s genuinely educational. I’ve gathered more than a few fun animal facts across the thirteen-episode series, from intriguing trivia about hummingbirds to horrifying information about koalas. But, as well as celebrating how absolutely weird nature can be, Heaven’s Design Team is a celebration of the creative process. After all, these animals could not come into being without the tireless work of the design team, and the team members, themselves, are the true heart of the show.
Anyone who has worked in a creative industry on any kind of level will find some relatable humor in this show. The team frequently complain about the vague instructions that “the client” gives them, and lament how He often only gives feedback once they’ve submitted a design He’s not happy with. They spend sleepless nights trying to brainstorm. They grit their teeth as they wait for a response, resenting how they worked to finish an order “ASAP,” yet the client is taking His sweet time. They cringe at their old artwork and demand it never see the light of day. They drink too much coffee. Anyone who has ever been beholden to the needs and wants of a creative client—whether that’s taking freelance commissions or answering to a boss—will find some comedy here that perhaps hits a little close to home.
But while the design team has their moments of frustration and exhaustion, it’s clear that they take great pride in their work. They return tirelessly to the office because they love their jobs and they adore their creations. When designers Venus and Mercury butt heads, it’s not just because of their different aesthetic sensibilities, but because their favorite creations—birds and snakes—have been pitted against each other, and they genuinely want their beloved designs to succeed.
Mercury presents his newest model, the snake, in a slick presentation that almost brings an Apple product showcase to mind. Venus, distraught, sets out to find a way to update her precious birds and help them protect themselves. She’s dedicated to beauty and elegance, while Mercury prides himself on the ruthless efficiency of his designs. In the end, the conflict is resolved by Venus thinking outside the box and designing the secretary bird, something beautiful and deadly that stomps their workplace rivalry into the dust (for the moment, at least!).
Other characters also find themselves at creative odds: the giant squid and the whale, for example, are invented while Pluto and Neptune are trying to one-up each other with their latest, ocean-based passion projects. Jupiter routinely freaks everyone out with his dedication to the food chain and his desire to find out what every animal tastes like. And, despite him being the boss, Saturn needs to be reeled in by his co-workers when he tries to redesign the horse for the umpteenth time.
Every member of the design team has their own vision, and while it may set some of them in competition, the series also shows that each of their different perspectives is crucial for making the team work. Pluto has a passion for the freaky and poisonous, Venus loves making beautiful creatures, Neptune has a knack for cute critters, and Saturn… well, who else could have thought of the masterpiece that is the horse? Their unique sensibilities and design preferences all come together to make the variety of life on Earth possible, and often it’s putting their heads together to combine disparate elements and ideas that leads to the creation of something truly amazing.
The designers collaborate even more than they bicker, often helping each other out of slumps by suggesting out-of-the-box ideas. They support each other when they’re in a rough patch, and celebrate when designs get approved. This is exemplified later in the series, when everyone bands together to cover for an overworked Neptune. They make sure he can take a well-earned break, and even attend a staff party. When Neptune pulls himself out of his burnout thanks to everyone’s help, he rediscovers his creative spark and is so happy to be back in the groove that he weeps for joy while everyone cheers him on.
The team’s client happens to be God and their art form happens to be animals, but it’s still an earnest and often down-to-earth depiction of a supportive team dynamic—something that’s important in a field that can be as ruthless and isolating as creative work. The joy and comedy of Heaven’s Design Team is seeing the creative process at work, and how a vague idea can turn into a sketch, which turns into a prototype, which turns into a finished “artwork” after revision and collaboration.
Sometimes the final product is far from your original vision, and sometimes elements of the early drafts hang around in ways you don’t expect them to. Sometimes input from a team member sends things in a direct you definitely didn’t expect, maybe for the better.
The job of the heavenly design team isn’t always easy, but it’s always rewarding to watch. Heaven’s Design Team ends up being as much a love letter to art as it is to zoology, making it one of the most sincere and fun shows of the year.