To say that Netflix’s new animated comedy series Big Mouth is not for everyone would be the understatement of the year. The ten-epsiode show, created by Nick Kroll, Andrew Goldberg, and Jennifer Flackett, follows a group of 13-year-old suburban friends, Nick (Nick Kroll), Andrew (John Mulaney), Jessi (Jessi Klein), Jay (Jason Mantzoukas), and Missy (Jenny Slate), as they navigate the physical and social changes of puberty. The storylines place one foot in reality and the other in the young characters’ imaginations. Characters in this universe are “guided” through puberty by their own Hormone Monster (Nick Kroll) or Hormone Monstress (Maya Rudolph).
Big Mouth is far from shy about its young stars’ budding sexualities. Nick accidentally sees Andrew’s penis and feels insecure when he compares it to his own. Andrew’s masturbation and uncontrollable boners are running jokes. Jessi has a conversation with her vagina (Kristen Wiig). Jay explains in detail how he uses a slit in his pillow filled with Ziploc bags of soup to make it warm as a masturbation aid and does it in a later episode. In scenes like this, the viewers will certainly be uncomfortable. It is no secret that Americans are terrified of pubescent teens’ sexual curiosity. Violence without sexual content can earn a film a PG-13 rating while sexual content without violence can earn an R. The widespread misconception that teens do not need to know anything about sex is naïve at best and dangerous at worst, yet shame-heavy, abstinence-only approaches to sex education continue to be popular in public schools across the country. In this regard, I admire Kroll, Goldberg, and Flackett’s attempt to close the gap.
My favorite episodes tackled the themes of questioning sexual orientation (Episode 3: "Am I Gay?"), women’s sexuality (Episode 5: "Girls Get Horny, Too"), and sexual consent (Episode 7: "The Head Push"). These are parts of life that many teens and adults alike do not have the tools to healthily process, but the show approaches them with honesty, heart, and humor.
In “Am I Gay?” Andrew seeks advice from a gay classmate (Andrew Rannells) after he feels turned on by a trailer for a movie starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. There’s also a “gay test” where the Hormone Monster sits Andrew down in an eye exam chair and asks him to compare images of celebrities to determine if he likes men or women better, and a musical number in which Freddie Mercury’s ghost (Jordan Peele) sings about how great it is to be gay. Andrew ultimately decides that he need not rush to figure it out and will take each attraction as it comes. In “Girls Get Horny, Too,” Nick is baffled by the popularity of a romance novel among the women and girls in his life. He and his older sister Leah (Kat Dennings) have a conversation about why many women find romance novels sexy, which includes a comical head explosion after she informs him that “girls get horny, too.” At the same time, Jessi discovers her own horniness, egged on by her hormone monstress, after she reads the novel by Missy’s recommendation. She buys a fancy red bra, feels embarrassed after wearing it to school under a white tank top, and has a conversation with her vagina, aided by a hand mirror. In “The Head Push,” the gang attends their first high school party: Leah’s cast party. While hiding in Leah’s closet, Missy and Andrew witness her making out with her crush, Daniel, until he repeatedly pushes her head down to “suggest” that she give him a blow job. Leah is upset and finds a creative way to call him out in front of the other party guests. A productive conversation about sexual consent ensues between the high school girls, the middle school gang, and Daniel. He does not seem to learn much from the conversation, but the kids take the opportunity to ask questions. In all of these episodes, the heroes learn valuable lessons: that same-gender attraction is nothing to be ashamed of and there's no need to rush to figure out your sexual orientation, that women's sexual urges are normal and healthy, and that when you want something sexually, it never hurts to ask. There are plenty of adults who still need to learn these lessons.
Big Mouth is certainly far from perfect. It's crude, bizarre, and often juvenile. Sometimes, it is difficult to tell what is real in its animated world and what is simply happening in the heroes' imaginations. The characters are not always likeable, but our culture needs it and more media like it because we are failing to address teen sexuality in a healthy way.