Review: Netflix’s ‘Big Mouth’ Gets Weirder, Cruder and More Feminist in its Second Season
In all honesty, I had avoided Big Mouth when it first premiered because it just seemed like too much for me. Despite being a fan of many people involved with the animated comedy, I couldn’t get beyond the premise of puberty literalized as monsters with hairy dicks and jokes about pre-pubescents dry humping. When I eventually decided to give it a chance on a whim, I found myself quickly won over by its crude charm. Sure, it’s as subtle as being battered over the head with a jackhammer, but that over-the-top approach to a topic that’s been practically immortalized by a thousand bad teen comedies suddenly felt not only fresh but cuttingly honest at a point where it was much-needed. We all know that puberty sucks and can leave you feeling emotionally primal, but the surprising deftness of Big Mouth’s assault of an approach left a real impression.
Season two struggles with some of the same weaknesses as the first ten episodes but it also reaches new peaks and owns its actively progressive concept: Let’s talk about sex, baby, and let’s make sure everyone knows how to talk about it properly.
Big Mouth sees the kids of the seventh grade dealing with many of the same problems as before - Andrew (John Mulaney) is still endlessly horny, Nick (Nick Kroll) is developmentally behind his classmates, Jay (Jason Mantzoukas) is still obsessed with pillows, and Jessi (Jessi Klein) is lost amidst her own burgeoning sexuality as well as her parents’ split. Now, there are new issues to deal with, such as one of their classmates, Gena, (Gina Rodriguez) having grown breasts quicker than the other girls, which leaves half the school gawking shamelessly at her while the other half sneer. The hormone monsters are doing their thing but now, there’s a terrifying addition to the roster in the form of the Shame Wizard (David Thewlis). All in all, Big Mouth is here to ask the eternal question: Can you be horny and a good person?
The smartest decision Big Mouth made in its second season was to wholeheartedly embrace the depressing reality that talking openly about sex to kids is a radical concept that must be normalized. Sure, like South Park before it, a huge chunk of the series’ humour comes from the sheer hilarity of seeing children say naughty words, but it goes far beyond that. Everyone talks about sex in the crudest and weirdest terms possible but that’s also just how we talk about sex. We’ll go out of our way to make it seem as silly as possible, partly because to acknowledge its seriousness or any of the attached clinical terms still makes us too uncomfortable. That doesn’t mean you can’t have serious discussions about things like contraception, slut-shaming, bisexuality, or consent: But maybe it’s the only language some people know.
It’s crude but oh boy is it utterly unflinching on the horror show of puberty. Bodies are disgusting! Discovering sex and that you like it is weird! Having a sex drive fucks with your brain! Oh dear lord all the boobs! The series also captures that near impossible balance teens find themselves in when they grow into this part of adulthood and must find the balance between power and guilt. This is where the Shame Wizard comes in, hovering over the kids like a spectre from a cheap fantasy movie - yes, there is a Harry Potter reference made - and clouding them in humiliation for their indiscretions. The problem is, when you’re that age, you don’t really know the difference between shame and guilt: Yes, you should feel shame when you shoplift or treat a girl like shit for your own personal gain, but there’s nothing shameful about having sexual desires full stop. When the Shame Wizard (voiced to slimy perfection by David Thewlis, who seems to be having the time of his life) combines these two issues, it only highlights the bind these kids find themselves in.
It’s a problem that’s not at all helped by the adults in their lives, who are either negligent parents, inept teachers who shouldn’t leave the house alone (Coach Steve is still a lot to take in this season), or well-meaning mothers who don’t get that they can’t be their kids’ best friends anymore. None of these adults, with the exception of Nick and Missy’s parents, are ever honest with them in anyway. Even the ones who try hard can’t help but avoid the tough questions about sex or desire. Many of their problems would be fixed in a heartbeat if someone just told them they were allowed to be horny. Issues like shame over sex, toxic masculinity and drug use are embedded in their lives because it’s what they learn from their elders. Jay’s father, a skeezy lawyer who teaches the boys to proudly use and objectify women, holds some allure as an inspiration for the boys who desperately need guidance in their lives, but fortunately that passes quickly.
The deftness of Big Mouth is most evident in the ways it gives every character a fair shake without excusing the often upsetting bullshit they pull. Nick has spent so long convincing himself that he’s a nice guy that he sees no issue in getting close to Gena just to touch her breasts, but he also has no understanding of why it would upset her for everyone to know because all he understands is the way boys are congratulated for such misdeeds. Andrew’s endless horniness clouds his decision making but not as much as his shame. Jessi wants to be a good feminist but can’t get over her instinctive hatred of other girls who get more male attention than she does. Jay is a very Jason Mantzoukas kind of scumbag but only because he knows nothing else in his life. Even the Shame Wizard has a point.
As part of the show’s proud progressiveness, there is an entire episode dedicated to the joys and necessity of Planned Parenthood. The episode does grind the narrative to a screeching halt for a Very Special Episode - something the narrative openly mocks - but hell, isn’t this exactly what we need right now? It’s a PA done only as Big Mouth could, with STD screenings contextualized as a zombie movie, contraception choices given The Bachelor treatment, and a woman’s decision to have an abortion scored to Groove is in the Heart. The whole show is providing its own twisted form of public service by being the kind of sex education that is denied to too many young people by puritanical policy makers and conservative cowards, but this episode is its own beautiful ‘Fuck You’ to a world of Shame Wizards.
While the show gets that puberty brings its problems for boys, it also understands how much crueller it is for girls. The playing field is uneven for the genders and they’re not encouraged to geek out together over their sexual desires like the boys are. When Missy tells Andrew about an internet support group for teenage girls she’s a member of, he asks if there’s an equivalent for boys and she tells him it’s called society. Things aren’t any easier for the guys - the season focuses a little more on Matthew (Andrew Rannells) and how being the token gay kid in his class still others him as a type and assumed threat - but it’s also made clear how the word ‘slut’ will never be used against them. Even their hormone monsters serve different purposes: Maurice’s major task is to keep Andrew horny but Connie (the utterly perfect Maya Rudolph who really is one of the best actresses we have) helps with and hinders emotional turmoil.
It’s a shame that Big Mouth seems squarely aimed at adults and would probably be considered too raunchy for kids by concerned parents because it’s exactly the kind of show many adolescents would benefit from seeing. Sexuality and all it entails should be talked about openly, and Big Mouth gets that. It also gets that you can do that while still making a crap-ton of jokes about semen.
Header Image Source: Netflix
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