'Big Mouth' is what the fondly remembered eighties coming-of-age drama 'The Wonder Years' would look like if it told the truth.
Who is the star of ‘Big Mouth’, Netflix’s critically acclaimed coming-of-age animated odyssey? Is it The Hormone Monster Maurice Beverley and his numerous, hairy penises? Is it Maurice’s female counterpart, Constance (voiced by Maya Rudolph, a sometime member of Weezer spin-off band The Rentals dontchaknow)? The deeply, darkly, uncomfortably funny Shame Monster? Or is it in-fact the ghost of jazz legend Duke Ellington and his big boggly ghost eyes?
There’s an argument that the star of the show is actually puberty itself, in that, finally, someone – that being the quartet of writers Nick Kroll, Andrew Goldberg, Mark Levin, and Jennifer Flackett – has managed to create a piece of media that positions this essential phase of existence, from perspectives that exist across gender, as a completely normal thing. As well as articulating the absolute horror of it too. Seriously. They should show this shit in schools.
There’s a scene within an episode of season two – where the character of Missy exclaims that she’s part of an online community called, ‘Girls Are Perfect and There’s Not a Thing Wrong with Any One of Them and Anyone Who Would Tell You Otherwise Is Actually Just Afraid of Your Power’ – that sums up pretty much everything I like about Big Mouth.
Andrew Glouberman, the character who is based upon the tweenage years of aforementioned co-creator Andrew Goldberg, asks Missy if that sort of thing exists for, y’know, boys? She laughs. “It’s called ‘society’ you privileged white, cis-hetro male!”
Boom tish. Back of the net.
Missy makes a great point. But at the same time, much like I’d never watched a cartoon that articulated anything about mental health that resonated with me until I was introduced to ‘BoJack Horseman’, I’d never seen anything like ‘Big Mouth’ until I’d said to my wife, “Shall we watch this new thing that Nick Kroll has made with his childhood friend? Yeah, Nick Kroll. You know him! You do! He’s The Douche from Parks & Recreation. Yeah, okay, we can finish ‘Ozark’ and then start it” and, y’know, watched it.
Because boys are terrible and we’re only allowed to talk about our emotions when we’re listening to Oasis, and even then, only the really simplistic excitable ones that can be articulated with, “yeaaaaaah!” and “cooooooome on!” I never knew that other dudes stole a look at other boy’s dicks in the changing room at school and worried if theirs would ever catch-up. There’s nobody I would have ever told that to, growing up. I would have never told my friends. I would never have told my parents. Oh no. I’d wait until I was much older, had become a journalist and could tell the whole internet, obviously.
Netflix are currently killing it with comedy and drama that takes the weirdness of not quite being a child, and yet not quite being an adult either, and using jokes to get under the spotty skin of a time in your life that is, with hindsight, utterly ridiculous (while at the same time, feeling like the most important, serious, intense, laugh-free thing that has ever happened to anyone ever). ‘American Vandal’ might primarily be a parody of the true crime genre’s current popularity, but it’s also a show on some level about this utterly batshit, and in so many ways, underrepresented accurately, window of life. In lots of ways, ‘Big Mouth’ is what the fondly remembered eighties coming-of-age drama ‘The Wonder Years’ would look like if it told the truth.
Within five minutes of the first episode of season one, which debuted in September last year – the maybe even funnier second season went live early last month – ‘Big Mouth’ had shared with me three truths about being a teenage boy that I’d spent the majority of my life thinking I might be abnormal for having thought, felt or done. It is of course not a cartoon for little kids. There is a scene where a menstruating, chain-smoking Statue Of Liberty uses a tampon with R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe’s face on. I wouldn’t have been watching ‘Big Mouth’ during a period of my life where the issues it dissects would have been directly relatable to me.
But having grown-up having watched more hours of the ‘American Pie’ movies than I’d ever had classes of comprehensive school sex education, I felt something pretty seismic watching ‘Big Mouth’ for the first time. If I wasn’t a boy and I could feel normal emotions, I might have cried. There’s a lot about ‘Big Mouth’ that is scatological. Without poo and blood and sperm the show would just be the less funny bits with hopeless PE teacher Coach Steve in them. But there’s such charm, such heart, such tenderness applied to the discussion of these subjects, you’ll be amazed to learn that a dick joke can be tender.
It’s hard not to think that if generations can grow up with more media like this, then maybe we can put more men into the world who aren’t so full of anger, and who might understand some stuff, instead of having to blunder on pretending they know everything for fear of being caught out.
There’s a scene in a season one episode where the character Jessi gets to meet her vagina, voiced by Kristen Wiig. “Would you like the full tour?” says Jessi’s vagina, subsequently outlining what each piece of the vagina does and what it’s called. “Don’t be scared of me,” says Jessi’s vagina.
If I – a privileged white, cis-hetro male – am finding Big Mouth’s tone and content revelatory, I really cannot imagine what someone who isn’t is thinking about it.