With Big Mouth being yet another Netflix-exclusive adult cartoon you would be forgiven for skipping past it, due to the fact it is in an arguably over-saturated market. Why would we want to see a second-rate South Park (remember when that was relevant?) when we have stuff like Rick and Morty? Not to mention the fact it covers puberty in grotesque detail alongside weird manifestations like the (very creatively named) Hormone Monster. But, Big Mouth stands out like a teenager’s first pimple due to its cringe-inducing and all-too-real subject matter. Puberty is a taboo we never talked about at school beyond pictures of chlamydia-ridden genitals, and this show aims to break down that taboo and show that, no matter how disgusting some aspects of puberty and the body are, it’s all natural. In a sense, it is empowering.
The protagonists are too ‘tweenage’ boys called Nick (Nick Kroll) and Andrew (John Mulaney), who share their names with the two creators of the show: Kroll and Andrew Goldberg. They draw inspiration from their own experiences of puberty, with Nick struggling with his lack of development and Andrew developing a bit too much with a little moustache and a chronic masturbation issue. Guiding Andrew (and sometimes Nick) through this process of change is their Hormone Monster, Maury (Also Kroll). Maury serves as the cynical and brutally honest devil on their shoulders, giving Andrew helpful advice such as ‘Jack off twice and page me in the morning’ in between various cocaine binges. Although the Hormone Monster seems outrageous, he serves as a manifestation of Nick and Andrew’s hormonal desires, which enables us to separate the teens’ questionable behaviour and desires from their personality. Too often, teens are considered as being nothing more than these hormonal zombies as a result of puberty, so manifesting that as an actual monster helps to show that underneath puberty they are still just people. Maury isn’t the only monster playing a role in these prepubescent escapades. The Shame Wizard and the Depression Kitty explore the darker side of puberty and how life can interact and implode alongside these hormones, and all of these are played up to comedic effect, especially with the Shame Wizard’s musical number.
The show sometimes moves into point-blank bizarre territory with the ghost of Duke Wellington showing up to teach Nick the ‘birds and the bees’ and, with the help of Freddie Mercury’s ghost, help Andrew through his confusion over his sexuality. But, through coupling the daily issues of puberty with absurdity and pop-culture references, we as the audience are able to see puberty in a new light and actually learn a thing or two, especially with a ‘The Bachelor’-style episode debating the best type of contraception. It’s a lot more useful than just being told: “Don’t have sex or you will get pregnant and die.” Another character, Jay (Jason Mantzoukas), has a tendency for humping anthropomorphised pillows, which gets a bit too real when that pillow gets pregnant and (shock!) gives birth to a pillow fathered by Jay’s brother. By writing this, I am aware that I sound downright strange, but it manages to parody typical ‘soapy’ storylines like infidelity and keep the audience entertained as a suitable B-plot as well as showing just how insane characters like Jay – who Maury says is ‘his own hormone monster’ – are. But, despite Nick and Andrew being the protagonists, female puberty is given the same excruciatingly detailed treatment with character Jessi (Jessi Klein) and her own Hormone Monstress (Maya Rudolph). From getting her first period whilst on the Statue of Liberty, through awkwardly navigating her first ‘boyfriend’, there are definitely some of us out there who can relate to this.
Big Mouth might be disgusting, but it’s proportionate to the way puberty actually is and doesn’t shy away from the truth. We might not impregnate pillows or have dance sequences about body positivity, but the abstract setting of the show doesn’t detract from the fundamental message: puberty is something we have all gone through and can relate to. Big Mouth, as well as being purely entertaining, explores puberty with a new level of honesty and doesn’t shy away from it which, for me, is utterly refreshing.
Big Mouth seasons 1-2 are available to stream now on Netflix.