If I asked you to name your favorite R-rated raunchy teen sex comedy movie, there are quite a few titles that likely come to mind. From Meatballs and Animal House and the classics of John Hughes, to the genre-rejuvenating American Pie and more contemporary takes, every decade has a handful of standouts and game-changers, followed by many more copycat titles. But in the realm of television, examples of this sub-genre are traditionally much tamer due to network censorship and demographic sensibilities. We may have learned a lot from family sitcoms over the years, but even the best of them, from The Wonder Years to The Goldbergs, rarely directly tackle the taboo realities and all the awkwardness surrounding sex during this transitional time.
And then there’s Netflix’s super-NSFW animated comedy Big Mouth, with the newly premiered Season 2 now available to stream. This unabashed approach to the teen sex comedy sub-genre is hyper focused on puberty and adolescence, and all the awkwardness that comes with it. Big Mouth succeeds as a comedy by staying in its lane, mining generations’ worth of shame, guilt, perversion, confusion, rocky relationships and dating disasters to deliver an absolutely bonkers portrayal of what it looks, feels, and even smells like to be a teenager transitioning into adulthood. But it also succeeds as meaningful storytelling by delivering these sex-crazed snippets in an earnest way. That’s a tough line to walk when you have Shame Wizards and Hormone Monsters popping in to channel the inner confusion and chaos of the adolescent mind, but it’s something Big Mouth does better than any similar story out there, and it takes things up another level in Season 2.
The half-hour animated comedy series from co-creators Nick Kroll and Andrew Goldberg stars Kroll as Nick alongside John Mulaney as his best friend Andrew. Other veteran voice actors lending their talents to the all-out adolescent insanity are Maya Rudolph, Jason Mantzoukas, Jordan Peele, Fred Armisen, Jenny Slate, Gina Rodriguez, David Thewlis and Jessi Klein, among others, like epic meta guest star Nathan Fillion. Along with Kroll and Goldberg, screenwriter-directors Mark Levin & Jennifer Flackett are also credited as creators and executive producers on Big Mouth, a Netflix production. This season sees the kids continuing to deal with their physical, psychological, and social development, especially as some of them, like Andrew and Gina, develop faster than the others, like Nick, Jessi, and Missy. When differences among the kids start to make themselves apparent (in very, very awkward ways), hormones start to take control over their behavior and shame ultimately creeps in, through an unexpected vector.
Kroll deserves awards recognition for shouldering numerous different voice roles, varying from Nick to Coach Steve, Hormone Monsters Maurice and the slobbering Rick, the assertive Lola and, of course, a pair of Dutch twin teens; the show also uses Kroll’s many voice roles as an avenue for some of the best meta humor in the series. The rest of the cast also delivers full-on insane and hilarious performances, whether it’s Mulaney saying some depraved things with an air of innocence that perfectly matches his character, or Rudolph growling and purring her way through Connie the Hormone Monster’s wild lines or delivering some overbearing sweetness as Nick’s doting mother Diane, or Mantzoukas being Mantzoukas (Jay is like a concentrated animated version of all of his horndog roles). Newcomers Rodriguez and Thewlis perform exceptionally well as the suddenly developed and hilariously sarcastic Gina, and the creepy, silky-voiced, and kind-of-sad Shame Wizard.
The use of otherworldly creatures like the Hormone Monsters and Shame Wizards is a brilliant way to illustrate the tumultuous time in the lives of Nick, Andrew, and their friends. Like an adult version of Inside Out, or a more teen-focused story in the vein of BoJack Horseman, in Big Mouth our protagonists are given a bit of a pass on their bad behavior because of these somewhat supernatural intervening forces. Wisely, the show keeps the rest of the storytelling more or less grounded in reality, except for the occasional drug trip or anthropomorphic pillow/couch cushion/bath mat/glow worm toy. This keeps the “invisible friends” that only the kids can see and communicate with squarely in the minds and bodies of the kids themselves.
But Big Mouth also offers animators a chance to do something you never see on TV. In a similar manner as Fritz the Cat or Belladonna of Sadness, nudity is prevalent throughout the storytelling. The difference here is that it’s, ironically, not meant to titillate or tell a tale of adult sexuality, but rather to heighten the humor and reinforce just how awkward puberty and adolescence are. So whether it’s Jessi and Missy experiencing dozens of nude female forms in all shapes and sizes as part of a musical number at a Korean spa, or Andrew daydreaming that he’s flying through a colorful world populated only by boobs, or Nick summiting the “boob mountain” before any of his friends (boobs factor into this season a lot) or getting pantsed in front of the entire school, the animators pull no punches when portraying nudity of all ages and genders.
On par with the fantastic animation and no-holds-barred approach to the visuals in Big Mouth are the stories themselves, so real that they have to be pulled from the writers room’s collective experiences. There has to be some incredible trust (or a powerful lack of shame) present in the creative phase to open up those kinds of old wounds. A lot of the plot points here strike either embarrassingly or depressingly close to home, and no, they’re not all just silly stories of teenage infatuation or first-date disasters. An undercurrent of Big Mouth this season is that all of these characters, kids and adults alike, have personal issues that are not necessarily caused by puberty and adolescence, but are aggravated by it. There are parents on the verge of divorce, parents whose romantic history gets a tragic reveal, and even a developmentally stunted man-baby (Coach Steve) who manages to reach a milestone in his 40s, but also reveals a pretty traumatic experience from his past. The kids are also in bad shape from their relationships with these supposedly capable adults, from Andrew’s overbearing father and Nick’s own often ineffectual father, to Jessi’s fracturing family ties that lead her into rebellion and ultimately depression, to Jay’s complicated and incredibly sad home life. There are some bright spots, like Missy’s supportive mother and Gina’s jokey but good-natured brothers, but there’s a lot of darkness hiding behind all the laughter. All of these parts work together to make Big Mouth one of the smartest series on TV today.
Big Mouth Season 2 cuts uncomfortably close to the quick at times and really makes you feel like you’re reliving your own adolescence. Luckily, the show is sweet enough to take some of the sting out of the close-to-home moments, but earnest enough to make you feel a real connection with these poor unfortunate characters. It’s actually kind of nice to know that there are other people out there whose experiences were as awkward in the moment and hilarious in retrospect as my own, and I’m sure that goes for most of the viewers out there. And if not, like Rick the Hormone Monsters says, “What’re ya gonna do?”
Rating: ★★★★★ Excellent
Big Mouth Season 2 is currently available on Netflix.