As many rom-com parodies have done before it, the Valentine’s Day special of Netflix’s Big Mouth opens with a parody of when Harry Met Sally. The various seventh graders of Bridgeton Middle School recount the moment when their hormone monsters first ravaged them with puberty and sexual desire. It’s the ultimate meet-cute, if your dream partner is a hairy creature who curses you with chronic masturbation and seems to carry around an endless supply of sentient dicks. So, all in all, very Big Mouth.
The animated comedy by Nick Kroll and Andrew Goldberg has become one of T.V.’s true surprises, thanks to its mixture of crude-cringe humour, format experimentation, and a genuinely progressive desire to demystify the horrors of adolescence we try not to talk about. Sure, the sex jokes are plentiful but so is the real pathos for how much it sucks to deal with rampant hormones and unfamiliar emotions in a world where most of the authority figures have decided to play the fool. Some of the kids have been raised with enough confidence to get through it and others are smart enough to bypass the terrible examples set by their parents, but what of those who are stuck in that poisonous cycle? My Furry Valentine shows that toxicity in full effect, and the results are hilarious and also possibly the darkest this show has ever been.
Valentine’s Day throws up the usual problems for Nick, Andrew and their circle of friends. Nick, now with his new hormone monster Connie, is confused as to what it means that his puberty has manifested as a sultry woman who has made his nipples endlessly hard. Andrew wants to impress Missy but has decided to ‘play it cool’ over trying too hard as he typically does. Jessi wants to avoid the sentimentality of the day as much as possible (as well as the endless sex noises her mother is making with her new girlfriend). Matthew laments being the only out gay kid on a day obsessed with coupling everyone off, and Jay, ready to bone down with his newly discovered bisexuality, is doing what he loves the most: F*cking pillows.
The day, with all its cheap cards and forced performativity, is the perfect backdrop for emotional hell. It’s not enough to be happy or in love, as evidenced by Devin’s demands to be ‘devastated’ by her exhausted boyfriend’s efforts. You have to be joyous and then rub it in everyone’s faces. Nobody can escape the pressure, be they kids, parents, or primal representations of pure id. When you’re put in these positions that demand you fit into archaic gender and romance roles, how do you react? For the Big Mouth ensemble, it’s a very mixed bag.
While the show has moved its exclusive focus away from Nick and Andrew, they are still very much the core of the series and its strongest representations of the different ways to grow into manhood. Nick, who has developed much later than his best friend, still feels the urge to be a ‘real man’, even though he’s keenly aware that such notions are nonsense and damaging as all hell. Despite being empathetic and unsuited to the alpha crap, he craves some of that adolescent normalcy, or at least what he thinks should be the typical teenage boy experience. That means having a hormone monster and not a monstress, but really, Connie is kind of perfect for him (and I will never get sick of Maya Rudolph’s ability to make every word sound both hilarious and oddly sexy). Having never worked with a young man before, she’s more attuned to the emotional side of puberty than the purely sex driven side of it, which is a good fit for Nick, who doesn’t seem all that bothered about masturbation even though he’s now ready for it.
Things fare much better for Matthew, with this special essentially functioning as the Andrew Rannells spotlight hour (he gets to sing a lot and we’re thankful for it). It took until the second half of season two for Big Mouth to give Matthew more to do than be the token snarky gay kid, and his storytelling potential offers some of the show’s richest possibilities. He’s had his first kiss, he’s been more open about his loneliness and ‘only one’ status, and despite knowing how stupid Valentine’s Day is as a concept for teenagers, he can’t help but feel left out of the madness. Instead, he and Jessi pair up for a friends day, offering a reminder of how friendship can be just as emotionally helpful as romance. However, there is a hint of love in the air after he meets another gay kid and they swap Instagram follows. Watching Maury (who seems to be the go-to hormone monster for the tri-state area) get genuinely giddy over Matthew meeting someone else like him was a moment of earnest joy, as well as a reminder that he’s not always making people do horrible things (sorry, Andrew).
Last season, the series asked a pertinent question: Can you be a good person while also being endlessly horny? This conundrum hit home hardest for Andrew, whose hormones have left him wanting to endlessly masturbate. His sex drive aids him in his bad decision making - as evidenced by his truly nasty treatment of Lola in season 2 - but he’s also still an autonomous being capable of doing what he wants with his life. That’s what makes his downfall in this special so tough to watch. The signs were always there, even when wrapped in a funny exterior. Andrew’s predicament has mostly been posited as tragicomedy, the endless struggles of a young man who only ever seems to receive bad advice and seems predestined to a life of shame.
This time, rather than being overtly clingy with his crush Missy, he decides to go full pick-up-artist, cloaking himself in faux-disinterest and hoping his negging will make him irresistible to a young woman who is, frankly, far too good for him. When that doesn’t work and Missy seems to get closer to another student - although really, she’s just showing kindness to others without expecting anything in return - Andrew immediately flips. Watching him literally throw money at Missy and emotionally intimidate her in front of their friends was genuinely tough to watch. For a cartoon that is so deliberately cartoonish in its approach, this was a moment that hit so very close to home. If the show has an answer to that question of whether barely controlled adolescence can go hand in hand with basic decency, it may be that Andrew isn’t capable of that, at least not now. It’s a risky move to commit to the idea that your lead character is a true piece of sh*t but this was always going to happen. Have you seen Marty Glouberman? His toxicity isn’t irrevocable but when even the pillow f*cking Jay has found a healthier outlet for his emotions than Andrew, there’s something to be said about how dark things have gotten.
Not every joke lands in this special - there’s an extended bit about conjoined incestuous twins that goes nowhere - and, as is always the case with the series, it’s overstuffed with ideas and gags it doesn’t give room to breathe. But savvily organized chaos has always been this show’s speciality. Big Mouth has been pretty savvy about showing the ways toxic masculinity is passed from parent to child since the beginning, but seldom has it done so with the sheer brute emotional force of My Furry Valentine. This is where it hits home that some of these kids probably won’t grow out of this behaviour because none of the authority figures in their life are doing anything to refute it. they’re merely repeating what they themselves learned from generations past. Boys like Andrew grow into men like Marty and that ‘jokey’ act of being the player becomes a hell of a lot more frightening when you’re the woman on the receiving end and society continues to tell you that you’re the problem for being upset by it. That Big Mouth remains so empathetic for these kids’ plights is the sliver of hope we have for their futures.
Big Mouth: My Furry Valentine is now available to watch on Netflix. Season 3 will premiere sometime in late 2019.
Header Image Source: Netflix