Review: Netflix’s Big Mouth

On Oct. 4, the Netflix Original adult animated series “Big Mouth” released its third season in full. Since its premiere in Sep. 2017, the show — created by Nick Kroll, Andrew Goldberg, Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett — has received much critical acclaim and acquired a large fanbase that spans quite an age range. The show’s appeal seems to have less to do with the quality of its content, jokes and art-style, and more to do with the general concept — that is, an expansive series (Netflix has already renewed the show through a sixth season) about a group of middle-schoolers going through puberty. The plot, in summary, does not sound particularly original; the catch is that, controversially, “Big Mouth” spares absolutely no details of the reality of the experience, seemingly based on the reality of the creators’ experiences, of pubescence. The horror of hormones, in the form of humanlike “Hormone Monsters,” the less-than-innocent crushes, the discovery of drugs and alcohol and the bullying among students — “Big Mouth” really shows it all, perhaps sometimes to a fault.

“Big Mouth” primarily follows five idiosyncratic seventh graders: Nick Birch (Nick Kroll), Andrew Glouberman (John Mulaney), Jessi Glaser (Jessi Klein), Jay Bilzerian (Jason Mantzoukas) and Missy Foreman-Greenwald (Jenny Slate). The group attends middle school together, along with a colorful variety of side-characters from a wide range of backgrounds, in a New York City suburb. Of the five, Andrew is the first to be assigned a Hormone Monster, Maurice (Kroll), who, we learn in the season two finale, comes from an alternate dimension government office called The Department of Puberty. The Monsters essentially act as a physical manifestation of the voice in the kids’ heads, whispering perverted thoughts, encouraging them to act out, or, sometimes, to do the right thing. While the kids are only able to see and hear their own Monsters, their Monsters can see each other, often getting into arguments in defense of their respective trainees. The existence of the Hormone Monsters immediately places the show in a world not entirely of our own. Breaking out of the confines of reality allows the show to go pretty much anywhere it so desires. This sometimes makes for fun deviations from the norm, such as in the season one finale, in which Andrew, addicted to pornography, becomes trapped in a cyber-dimension called “The Pornscape,” and must bust out with the help of Nick. At other times, it can feel like an annoying detour from the main plot. At worst, it leads to uncomfortable and un-relatable segments — a talking vagina with a face and eyes, an anthropomorphic pillow that Jay impregnates. However, it may be these very cringe-inducing moments that allow “Big Mouth” to explore the risky territory that it does. It is probably more obscene to show a 13-year-old having sex with a pillow or discovering her anatomy if it is shown in silence, without any humor, even if this is the more “realistic” rendition. The show’s writers are also clearly aware that what they are presenting is foul and edgy, as there is no shortage of fourth-wall-breaks. In the fifth episode of season three, Andrew goes on a trip to Florida with his family where he is reunited with his female cousin, Cherry Marashino (Julie Klausner) who is of his same age. One thing leads to another, and the two cousins, shockingly, end up kissing, but not before Maurice, addressing both the audience and Andrew, says, “We’re gonna cross a line! We’re gonna cross a line!” “Big Mouth” is a crudely humored and often gut-churning series that flaunts its ability to push boundaries — and yet, I have seen every single episode, some multiple times. There are few moments that evoke raucous laughter and the animation is not particularly artful. But we all keep coming back to it because it is unprecedented television. And, sweetly, the moral of its story is that puberty and everything that it entails should not be the taboo subject that it has been for the majority of history, and that we deserve to discuss even our most forbidden feelings — the characters in “Big Mouth” never fail to remind us that the darkest recesses of our minds are still only human.