Big Mouth. Where to begin? It’s an adult cartoon on Netflix, it’s about kids, and anyone who went through puberty can relate to it. It’s also more than that: it raises awareness about consent, Planned Parenthood, and the dangers of porn addiction. And last but not least, Big Mouth portrays these stressful pre-teen years with an honesty that no show has ever done before.
If you haven’t seen it yet (and if that’s the predicament you’re in, it’s time to rectify that), the plot centers around several pre-teens experiencing the horrors and excitement of puberty. Big Mouth taps into the most surreal form of media, animation, to explore extraordinarily real issues. And its creators are aware of Big Mouth’s power to be more than a raunchy adult cartoon; part of what makes this show so revolutionary is that it doesn’t shy away from the opportunity to educate. One of the show’s creators, Nick Kroll (creator of the Comedy Central series Kroll Show and co-star of Broadway show Oh, Hello) explains in a 2017 interview with IndieWire that although the show may seem dirty at first, that’s not all there is to it: “I’d love for parents to watch it with their kids… It is very dirty. [But] my hope is it gives kids and parents some version of tools and a language to communicate what the kids are going through and the parents are going through.”
We loved Season 1 for the way it openly and frankly discussed menstruation, sex drive, porn addiction, and consent throughout its ten episodes. Season 2 takes it up a notch and examines issues like slut-shaming, sexual orientation, guilt, and drug use; not to mention the episode “Planned Parenthood,” which manages to explain contraceptives and STDs (and the fact that Planned Parenthood isn’t “an abortion factory”) in a way that is, in the words of Coach Steve, “entertaining and informative, but not too preachy.” I’ve got to admit, I wish my sex ed in high school had been half as good as Big Mouth’s.
The show isn’t just one big PSA, though. For example, Joe Reid, in his post-Season 1 Decider article about Big Mouth, discusses the show’s potential for developing “resident gay kid” Matthew’s insecurities and inner dialogue. In his words, “Big Mouth does such a wonderful job taking the inner lives of its characters seriously” — why shouldn’t the same be true for Matthew? And in Season 2, it is. In the episode “Guy Town,” Matthew is confronted with the accusation, flung by an older gay man, that “being young, gay, and mean is not a personality” (which has since become a classic Internet quote, not surprisingly). While on the surface this might seem like just a hilarious one-liner, it’s the precursor to multiple introspective moments on Matthew’s part: he realizes he doesn’t need to conform to the sassy, sarcastic stereotype everyone expects him to embody.
The show furthers its abandonment of labels and stereotypes with Jay and Matthew’s kiss. I remember internally applauding as I watched it happen: Jay doesn’t think he’s straight, doesn’t know if he’s gay, and frankly doesn’t care at that moment. And while it’s definitely not a romance built to last (or maybe not a romance at all), the experience is certainly central to both boys’ self-discovery and understanding of sexual orientation, and a big step towards feeling comfortable in their own skin. Any show that not only understands its power to change the way we see sex but also cares deeply about the concerns of viewers and the way diversity is represented, is a keeper in my book.
While Season 1 was filled with refreshing amounts of body positivity and female empowerment, it’s impossible to ignore the next-level feminist moments in Season 2. A particularly memorable scene is characters Missy and Jessi’s experience at a Korean spa where everyone, including themselves, is completely naked — the scene is not sexually charged, all the better to portray women’s comfortableness in their own bodies without fear of objectification. The cherry on top is a musical number reminiscent of “I Will Survive” sung by none other than the Hormone Monstress (a personified depiction of the pre-teens’ sex drives and mood swings) herself, replete with lyrics like “every curve and swerve is beautiful, every stretch mark, every scar.” And let’s not forget Missy’s imaginary Star Trek-esque space mission with her two crushes, Nathan Fillion and her classmate Andrew, which provides inspiring yet subtle tidbits of empowerment: for example, when both of her crushes offer to protect her from an alien attack, Missy replies with a simple and proud “Though I’m flattered, I’m fully capable of protecting myself.”
But perhaps Season 2’s biggest contribution is the introduction of the Shame Wizard. “That was really Andrew Goldberg [one of the show’s original creators], who was like, ‘I think it would be good to integrate shame into this process,’” says Nick Kroll about the new character in a recent interview with Gothamist. “Because it feels to me with something like puberty, it’s sort of part in parcel that you’re gonna get that as you start to get these urges from hormones. Shame goes alongside of it, they seem to go hand in hand.”
In fact, Season 2’s eighth episode presents one of shame’s darkest sides, as the female characters experience slut-shaming for the first time. In an iconic moment portraying impeccably the way gossip spreads, the entire high school auditorium dims as students whisper about Gina being a “slut.” Their whispers are joined by the eerie voice of the Shame Wizard as the word “slut” travels from the mouths of the gossiping kids, across the floor, and onto Gina’s body, branding her as she watches in disbelief and helplessness.
“Teen shame, especially in the female experience, it’s usually [presented as], ‘Here, hold this … It’s a secret.’ That is really sad to me,” says Jenny Slate, the voice of Missy, at the 2018 New York Comic Con. “Teen shame and personal shame is very specific, and women are usually encouraged to not talk about it or only talk about it in ways that are pre-approved.” But it’s not long before the creators of Big Mouth make sure the infamous Shame Wizard is defeated at the hands of teamwork, pride, and body positivity. Granted, defeating our own personal “Shame Wizards” takes a lot longer in real life… but maybe the process would be a lot shorter if we all had Big Mouth to help us out.
If you haven’t already quit this article to open Netflix and begin to binge-watch this genius show, here’s one final fun fact to change your mind: in Mark Levin’s and Andrew Goldberg’s (two of the original creators) first conception of the show, it was called “Bar Mitzvah Boys.” Yep. That’s how Jewish it is. So do your people a favor, and watch one of the only animated shows that contributes a heck of a lot more than just raunchy humor to the TV world.