Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
September 19, 2021

Big Mouth is a crude and honest view of teen life

By KANAK GUPTA | October 17, 2019

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PETER KUDLACZ/CC BY 2.0

Actor and comedian Nick Kroll helped co-create Neflix’s Big Mouth.

Big Mouth isn’t for everyone. This crude yet reflective comedy about middle-schoolers discovering their sexuality isn’t easy to digest, and, as the show cheekily admits in one of its episodes, it probably wouldn’t be able to get away with it if it wasn’t animated. But for those who make it past the shock and see the ingenious comedy behind it all, the third season of Big Mouth will be a treat. This show pulls no punches and perhaps, owing to the three-season Netflix deal, leaves no stone unturned. 

This season is highly character-driven, with all the middle-schoolers getting due attention by well-developed arcs and dynamic relationships. The show deals with topics like rape culture, incels, the spectrum of sexuality, abuse of power and even incest. 

To begin with, the show’s Valentine’s Day episode, “My Furry Valentine,” which came eight months before the rest of the season, left all of our characters in strange places. The subsequent episode since that special, “Girls Are Angry Too,” jumps straight into these storylines, with hormone monster Maurice’s poem, “A Chode to Spring.” For those unfamiliar with the show, Maurice is a rather lewd personification of puberty, along with a few other “hormone monsters” that personify human experiences like shame, depression, anxiety and ambition.

When Andrew (voiced by John Mulaney) is rejected by Missy (Jenny Slate), he has a Valentine’s Day meltdown. Enabled by toxic masculinity and his hormone monster, Maurice, he pulls Lars out of his wheelchair and becomes the subject of a viral video. Still enraged at his rejection and his newfound unpopularity, he posts a rant online, only to find himself invited to a meeting with a seemingly like-minded group who turn out to be neo-Nazi incels. 

The episode delves into rape culture and excuses for inappropriate behavior. (In Andrew’s words, “I do feel out of control all the time, and I think I’m gonna use that as an excuse for my actions.”) Meanwhile, Bridgeton Middle School enforces a sexist dress code, leading to the girls organizing a “Slut Walk” and a discussion about choice in the expression of feminism.

My favorite episode of the season is the penultimate episode titled, “Disclosure the Movie: the Musical!” It managed to be simultaneously serious and hilarious by following two parallel arcs. In one, the middle school’s misogynistic teacher Mr. Lizer takes it upon himself to direct a musical of the movie Disclosure (a 1994 movie in which a female boss files a sexual harassment lawsuit after her subordinate rejects her sexual advances), while developing an uncomfortably close relationship with his student, Lola (Nick Kroll), who has a crush on him. To offset this rather serious plotline (while still making it full of punchlines somehow), the cast of Queer Eye makes an appearance on the show, playing themselves in an episode within the show in which they perform a makeover for our beloved character, Coach Steve (Nick Kroll). The meta-episode is pure hilarity, from Queer Eye’s food expert Antoni taming a flock of diaper barge pigeons, to Bobby, the interior designer, finally speaking his truth. 

“While you guys were cutting Steve’s hair, telling him how he feels and buying him a shirt, I renovated his entire fucking home,” he says. 

What made this episode one of the best of the season was that it gave due and earnest attention to these two characters who are often exclusively played for laughs. This entire season, for that matter, did a great job of exploring peripheral characters — Andrew’s mother, Barbara, is haunted by the Menopause Banshee, Duke Ellington’s ghost had a whole episode dedicated to his story, and the show even introduced Ali, a pansexual character (Ali Wong). 

However, the time spent on the human characters did take some attention away from the show’s imaginary, mythical creatures like the Shame Wizard and the Depression Kitty, who played a huge role in the previous season but only made an appearance or two in this one. Last season’s world-building plot around these creatures was very interesting, and I definitely missed their presence this time. Luckily, the hormone monsters Maurice and Connie (played brilliantly by Maya Rudolph) remain present as ever and never miss a zinger.  

The shift in focus was definitely a good decision as the protagonists had the spotlight and showed significant growth through the season. Andrew’s close shave with incels and his attempt to gracefully rise over a rejection (despite making many, many mistakes along the way) made for a relevant and humanizing storyline of middle-school boys falling prey to toxic masculinity. And then there was his incestual subplot which, while deeply disturbing, only reinforced the show’s willingness to face taboos head-on.

While Andrew begins to devolve into a “macho” man, his possessive nature unleashes Missy’s anger and leads to her getting over the fear of maintaining her reputation as being the “nice” one. She is also assigned a new hormone monstress, Mona, who is hypersexual, even for a hormone monster. With Missy embracing her sexuality and anger, we see her becoming an assertive and confident young adult. 

By far though, the most surprising character arc of the season was Jay’s. He finally gets a break from his neglectful and abusive family when they “homo-alone” him for spring break. While Nick leaves for a trip to Florida with Andrew’s family, his parents take Jay in. With space from his family and actual parental care from Nick’s parents, Jay’s character shows tremendous growth. 

Nick’s parents have Jay see a doctor, who diagnoses him with ADHD. With guidance from a Canadian Netflix show about a magician who leaves his wife to explore his sexuality, a very informative song about the spectrum of gender and sexuality, and Ali’s support, he accepts his attractions to both male and female pillows (or turkeys or people), coming out as a “bisexual, polyamorous, cisgendered magician.” At the end of the season, we leave Jay trying to win back his family by making their house a livable space, though the lasting consequences of this are yet to be revealed. 

While Jay, Missy and Andrew all have stellar storylines, Nick (Nick Kroll) and Jessi’s (Jessi Klein) arcs aren’t quite as remarkable. Nick becomes addicted to his new phone, Cellsea (Chelsea Peretti), and ignores his best friend, which isn’t exactly a novel concept in shows about middle-schoolers (though portraying it as a romantic and controlling relationship, especially through an animated medium, does make it a little bit more interesting.) The same goes for Jessi, who has her first orgasm and deals with parental pressure to succeed, with her only pivotal plot point being in the last episode in which she finds she may be moving to the city. However, their stories do have larger repercussions — leaving the trio of friends on the brink of breaking apart and the audience thirsting for resolution.

This season of Big Mouth tests — and successfully crosses — the limits of how daring and unfiltered it can be. This show deals with puberty, sexuality and the teenage condition with honesty and love like no other show ever has. It is the perfect blend of toilet humor and snappy social satire and a must-watch. And if you hadn’t heard of it before, get out of your cave and, in the words of the show’s best character, Connie, “JOOJLE IT!”

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