So much focus in popular culture is given to the teenage years. Hardly surprising, it’s a period of everyone’s life that is rife with the new and confusing. But in modern times arguably the move into adolescence starts that little bit earlier. Big Mouth’s characters are 12 years old. ‘Tweenagers’ on the cusp of puberty. Except in Big Mouth puberty isn’t just an internal process; large anthropomorphic personification ‘hormone monsters’ cajole the blooming boys and girls into new thoughts and behaviours.
Big Mouth is an adult animated comedy that gets very frank and freaky into the sexual awakenings and confusions of its cast. It was created by real life friends Andrew Goldberg and Nick Kroll from The League (review here). Big Mouth Season 2 carries on that very near the knuckle attitude.
We have Nick; a late bloomer who is worried his body is going to stay small forever (in more ways than one). His best friend Andrew, who has developed very early and spends quite a bit of time, er, taking care of himself. Jessie, whose hormone monster drives her to scream at her mother and start shoplifting. Missy, a nerdy girl with a thing for Nathan Fillion which makes her get rather too close to a soft toy. And Jay, who is so full of “bro” sexual energy that pillows are his constant lovers.
The ‘anthropomorphic personification’ part is something Big Mouth really commits to. Pillows talk (and seduce), pubic hairs have personality, and the hormone monsters themselves vary from hair-trigger chest thumpers to decrepit old idiots, depending on their ‘human’. Later in the series this expands nicely with such appearances as the ‘Shame Wizard’ (voiced by David Thewlis) and a large engulfing pussy cat from the ‘depression wing’ who envelops Jessie in paralysing comfort.
For a show that is so coarse (think the gross-out teen cringe-fest The Inbetweeners, but even stronger) there is surprisingly effective depth in Big Mouth. Puberty spurts, mental health, peer pressure, and self destructive tendencies are all covered with the appropriate amount of gravitas. Under the veil of comedy, serious themes are explored, and done well.
One episode covers all the services that Planned Parenthood offers using the medium of a variety of movie styles (Horror! Sci-Fi! 90s comedy!) with effective and genre stylised panache. When Nick and Jessie try edible marijuana the resulting giggles versus paranoia freakout is balanced and deceptively realistic. Jessie’s decent into delinquency is fuelled by her roaring hormone monster egging her on but also her parents’ strained separation. Usually such shows are painfully male gaze (again, I’m looking at you, Inbetweeners) but Big Mouth is carefully and successfully even-handed, even when dealing with extreme perversions.
Most episodes have a song and dance number which range from female body positivity, masturbation, and crippling shame. None of these themes are covered cheaply, which is a big strength of the show. The second series has an overall plot line about social pressure by introducing the characters of Gina and the Shame Wizard. Gina is a friendly and beautiful girl who, over the summer, has suddenly developed an ample bust. This leads in to the obvious attention from the boys (“Boobs! Boobs!” etc), but also jealousy from the girls to the point where ‘slut shaming’ is a major theme of later episodes.
The Shame Wizard, conversely, appears to each student to be the crippling monkey on the shoulder. He whispers affirmation of their fears, he humiliates them for their failures, and he delights in their embarrassment: all in the name of protecting them from themselves.
But, dear reader, I need you to ask me a question. A question about this comedic show. And the question I want you to ask me is this: “did you, at any point, laugh?” No, I did not. At all. Not once.
Big Mouth Season 2 is so utterly thrilled with covering sex and puberty ‘warts and all’ that it paints with a very wide body fluid brush. The gags come thick and fast (*ahem*) but the central joke is always “hahaha isn’t this disgusting?!”
I’m no prude by any means and have guffawed at many a dirty joke in other shows, but Big Mouth is just relentless to the point of desensitisation. There’s no humour in shock value when it is the default setting. Humour is notoriously subjective and although Big Mouth didn’t get any more than a few nose snorts out of me this doesn’t mean that it won’t tickle your fancy. And whilst I never actually found it funny I still found plenty to like to the point where, at the point of writing, I’m actually half-way through the first series. This is due to, oddly enough, how maturely it actually covers most subjects. Big Mouth takes the most confusing part of your life and exposes itself for all to see…….pun fully intended.
Words by Michael Record