Netflix’s animated comedy Big Mouth remains one of television’s most hilariously brutal series, one that blends gross-out humour with a deftly drawn take on the mental and literal horrors of adolescence. For a show that seemed so simplistically crude when it premiered - ha ha, dick jokes, I get it - the show, courtesy of Nick Kroll and Andrew Goldberg and based on their own experiences, has grown into a proudly progressive exploration of that with so much pop culture remains depressingly timid about. In its second season, Big Mouth smartly moved away from its two male leads, understanding that the terrors of male puberty have long been a favourite topic for entertainment. Instead, the show dug more into its ensemble of young women, each navigating a far trickier path to growing up. Jessi tried to juggle her parents’ divorce with her own body image issues and growing depression; Gina found herself the focus of attention, unwanted or otherwise, once she developed breasts; even Lola, arguably the most broadly drawn of the kids and the weakest character for it, got some depth when she found herself used by Andrew for some cheap thrills. Yet the woman who had the most interesting, uniquely feminine and possibly most radical arc this season was Missy.
Voiced by Jenny Slate, Missy Foreman-Greenwald is the big-hearted unabashed geek of her circle of friends. She not only loves her parents but likes them and their company, and has been nurtured by them to be a progressive young woman who likes STEM subjects, romance novels and spontaneous play dates. Her big crush is Nathan Fillion, but she also dates Andrew for a while before realizing she’s too young to be so emotionally involved with a boy. She talks way too much, should never be allowed to consume sugar, and some nights, she cuddles up with a plush glow worm in a way that gives her a tingly feeling.
It would be easy to compare Missy to her animated older siblings: She has the smarts of Lisa Simpson, the proud awkwardness and ownership of her sexuality that makes Tina Belcher such a delight, and even some of Daria Morgendorffer’s ‘who has time for that’ attitude towards conforming with her peers, albeit with a more glass-half-full approach. She even has some of the guileless enthusiasm of Mr. Peanutbutter from BoJack Horseman (but without the entitlement). Yet these comparisons still feel a tad simplistic. Missy feels part of a lineage but is still entirely her own person, the kind of teenage girl you desperately wanted to see on T.V. when you were thirteen and one whose journey of adolescence feels both agonizingly familiar and refreshingly forward-thinking.
The hormone monstress Connie, one who is seen regularly with all the girls of the show but mostly Jessi, hasn’t entirely dug her claws into Missy. She has assisted in moments like Missy’s first kiss with Andrew, but she essentially stopped their collaborations once it became apparent that Missy wasn’t yet ready for the future. She’s precocious but still relatively innocent but not ignorant to what awaits her. Where Jay brags about his infantile prowess and Andrew just seeks an end to his endlessly horny agony, Missy is mostly comfortable in her state.
Well, that is until the monster of self-image arrives. Unlike the actual hormone monsters and the hilarious Shame Wizard, Missy’s most insidious monster is herself. Her insecurities over her looks come not from a fantastical creature but her own reflection. All the self-confidence her parents drummed into her - aside from Nick, Missy may have the most well-adjusted upbringing - meant nothing when confronted with good old fashioned self-loathing. Sometimes, nobody in the world is meaner to you than you are to yourself. A well-timed visit to the Korean spa - and one hell of a Gloria Gaynor musical homage - helps put her on the right path. Yet Missy’s journey not only helps her love herself: It helps her become more attuned to the needs and emotions of her friends.
(Warning: Video super NSFW)
Missy notices before the rest of her friends that Jessi is going through a hard time, and while she gets flack for ratting our her pals’ misguided experimentation with drugs, it’s understandable that she made the right choice. She is surprisingly kind to Andrew when he talks about his unfortunate underpants accident during their first dance, but isn’t afraid to draw clear boundaries when he gets too emotionally attached. In one episode, she tells Andrew about an online community she’s part of, called Girls Are Perfect and There’s Not a Thing Wrong with Any One of Them and Anyone Who Would Tell You Otherwise Is Actually Just Afraid of Your Power.’ When he asks if there’s such a group for boys, she laughs and says it’s called Society. It’s a joke, yes, but one with real truth behind it, and you’re reminded of how weird and much more difficult adolescence would be for a young black girl geek who doesn’t conform to high school expectations.
The subject of sexuality for the adolescents of Big Mouth is a complicated one. The boys talk a lot about masturbation - well, mostly Andrew since it seems to be his primary hobby and goal in life - but Jessi’s path to self-discovery is more limited. For the most part, Missy’s sexuality has been rooted in innocent fantasies involving Nathan Fillion and romance novels where men turn into horses (Missy and Tina Belcher are BFFs in an AU fanfic somewhere, I swear). When Missy’s glow worm is introduced, a new take on the matter is also brought into the show’s narrative: What about the kids for whom this has always been a natural and accepted part of their life? The audience is shown Missy with the cuddly childhood toy she likes to grind up against and how she’s been doing this since infancy. Her own mother encourages it, albeit within the four walls of Missy’s own bedroom. She discovered this thing about herself, she liked it, she got the okay from her mother, and she grew up with maybe the healthiest view on sex one can bestow on a little girl. There is no shame until she realizes that some things are best kept private.
We could always use more proudly weird young women in pop culture, but we especially need more for whom their awkward and unabashedly sensuous approach to adolescence is celebrated. Big Mouth makes humour from the most mortifying elements of growing up, but in Missy it has found the true heart and emotional foundations that make its entire ensemble more empathetic and understandable. So, here’s to you, Missy Foreman-Greenwald. May you find your Nathan Fillion somewhere in the big bad world.
Header Image Source: Netflix