‘Big Mouth’ Is a Shockingly Honest Look at Puberty

I didn’t expect to like Netflix’s Big Mouth. That’s why it took me so long to give it a chance. I can’t stand the character design, and I’m not a fan of Nick Kroll or John Mulaney. (Not to mention that I’m apparently the one person on earth who finds their Oh, Hello characters utterly insufferable.) It looked like a simple, gross-out sex comedy — but, so many people I knew recommended the show. Eventually, one of my good friends whose tastes synch up really well with mine, unexpectedly praised the show and I finally actually watched an episode.

Big Mouth follows a group of friends in middle school going through puberty, as, well, friends in middle school are wont to do. The show takes a mildly supernatural/metaphorical approach, with figures like the Hormone Monster (Kroll) and the Shame Wizard (David Thewlis) making the anxieties of puberty flesh. At first, it looks like characters like these are merely metaphorical, but they become more-and-more a part of the real world as well and… it works?

I’m not sure how to say it, but Big Mouth is really good, you guys. I fully expected to hate it. The character designs are sort of an unholy crossover between Family Guy and Allen Gregory‘s giant, ugly heads. As mentioned, I’m not a fan of Kroll and Mulaney when they get together, and of the rest of the main cast — I can’t stand Fred Armisen either, and I’m iffy-at-best on Maya Rudolph. I figured if the cast had any saving graces it was Jenny Slate, Jordan Peele and Jason Mantzoukas. But I was shocked when everything came together. I didn’t expect to love Fred Armisen’s character, the perhaps overly-open Elliott, Nick’s dad. Rudolph as the Hormone Monstress is a bit grating, but she’s supposed to be. And, while a lot of Kroll’s voices for the show have popped up on Comedy Bang! Bang! as other characters, they’re deployed well for the most part.

The characters aren’t afraid to be unlikable in a way that makes them real — even characters like Lola (Kroll) with ridiculous voices. Though my favorite character is Coach Steve (also Kroll; picking up a pattern?), an idiot savant minus the savant part, who if deployed more would become grating. But in the amounts that he’s in the show, you end up actually caring for the idiot, and enjoying the way he sees the best in everyone — even the Shame Wizard, a metaphysical being that brings up all your most shameful moments and (figuratively) paralyzes you with self-disgust.

And, I have to admit, the promotion of Big Mouth, which leans into the adult humor, is slyly genius. The show, while not for children at all, seems designed to get teens to sneak-watch it when their parents aren’t around… and there’s some really great information in there. Not just in the second season episode “The Planned Parenthood Show,” which, as advertised, provides a lot of information about Planned Parenthood, but in telling the truth about puberty, it makes it less scary and baffling. Puberty is a rough time for everyone — seriously, there’s gotta be a better way to grow up, right? — and Big Mouth doesn’t sugarcoat it. None of that “Oh, this is a wonderous time in your life! You’re becoming an adult!” bullshit.

Educational, entertaining and a surprising amount of heart. I’m glad that, though it took me quite a while to give it a chance, I didn’t miss Big Mouth. I even stopped hating the character designs… as much. (Not gonna lie, they’re still pretty bad.)

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