This is a review of Netfix’s new animated comedy Big Mouth. The short version is that the show is a fun take on puberty and all — ALL — that entails. The long version involves monsters and singing ghosts of jazz legends and cartoon penises playing sports. It’s a whole thing. Let’s dive in.
1. Big Mouth was created by the team of Nick Kroll, Andrew Goldberg, Mark Levin, and Jennifer Flackett, and is based — very, very loosely, one presumes, unless ghosts are real and can take the form of a horny and debaucherous Duke Ellington, which I’ll explain, I promise — on real-life childhood friends Kroll and Goldberg’s teenage experiences. It’s a little like The Wonder Years if Kevin Arnold was relentlessly horny all the time and the narrator was actually a literal monster named Maury who constantly pressured Kevin into pleasuring himself. Again, I’ll explain. I promise.
2. The plot, on a macro level, is super simple. A group of kids— like, in the 12-14 range — deal with puberty, and what happens when some members of a group of friends get there before others. It’s the execution where things get fun. And weird. I’m not even exactly sure how to explain it all. Let’s give this a try. Nick (Kroll) and Andrew (John Mulaney) are best friends. Andrew has started puberty, which manifests itself in the form of the aforementioned Hormone Monster (a gravelly-voiced Kroll), who visits/torments Andrew throughout the series, often at the worst possible moments, and gives voice to his most salacious and deviant desires. Nick has not started puberty and is confused about why his best friend is acting so strange. You can see how this gets awkward. Which it does. Quickly.
3. The really cool thing about the show, though, is that it’s not just a story about gross boys with testosterone coursing through their veins. The girls on the show get their stories, too. And their own Hormone Monster, voiced in sultry and sashaying form by Maya Rudolph. (Maya Rudolph appears to be having an absolute blast the entire time and I came away from this honestly happy for her.) There’s an episode about one of the characters getting her first period on a school field trip. There’s an episode about buying a bra and the male gaze. There are stories about girls battling for status and how the pace of development can throw all of that into chaos. It would have been very easy for this to become a show about two little horny dirtballs with awkward erections but, instead, it becomes a more honest and universal show about a stage of life that is weird and uncomfortable for everyone.
4. It is foul. It is so, so foul. Aggressively foul. It is not a show for everyone. It pulls absolutely zero punches in expressing the hormone-ravaged thoughts of teenagers and it goes to very dark and occasionally uncomfortable places in the process. Things get pretty messed up. It’s all pretty organic because puberty turns people into borderline sociopaths, but, like… it can make South Park look like Boy Meets World at times. Yeah. That foul. Maybe more. And with teenagers. And monsters. You will want to watch Big Mouth with your headphones in. That’s what I’m getting at.
5. It is also surprisingly sweet. Underneath all the shock — I did not expect to feel such sympathy for Garrison Keillor, and yet, here we are — there’s a really nice story about kids trying to figure things out. And it’s not just hormones, either. There are a few troubled marriages, and mean (but loving, mostly) older siblings, and all the other problems kids face in that period of life where they start to feel like adults but can’t quite handle the responsibility of being one. The show is a wild fantasy involving X-rated daydreams but it’s also very real.
6. Between this show and the also excellent American Vandal, Netflix is really owning the “vulgar and silly but also weirdly accurate teen experience” genre lately. Also, between this show and American Vandal, I have seen so, so many artistic representations of dicks in the past few weeks. This time some of them are playing basketball. Don’t let anyone tell you the window on the Golden Age of Television is closing.
7. Are you kind of a comedy nerd? Cool. Everyone you like does at least one voice on the show. In addition to Kroll and Mulaney, and Rudolph as the female Hormone Monster, we have: main girl characters voiced by Jessi Klein and Jenny Slate, the latter of whom is basically doing the Niece Denise voice from Kroll Show; Jason Mantzoukas as a magic-loving teenage delinquent; Jordan Peele as the Ghost of Duke Ellington, who gives young Nick advice, which is often terrible; Fred Armisen and Richard Kind as dads; and a collection of other notable comedy types, including Kristen Wiig, Jon Hamm, Paula Pell, June Diane Raphael, Kristen Bell, Chelsea Peretti, Rob Huebel, Paul Scheer, and many, many others. There are so many people in this. It’s a little like BoJack Horseman but for people who listen to comedy podcasts. This is a compliment.
8. Some of the things I’ve mentioned so far, in addition to this tweet…
… bring up an important point: It is really fun to picture the people in this show actually recording their voices. Especially Rudolph and Mulaney. Rudolph because, again, she just appears to be having so much fun, kind of like if Diana Ross and Jessica Rabbit had their DNA spliced together and pumped full of concentrated neon hormone ooze. And Mulaney because his character takes a handful of wildly dramatic and/or perverted swings throughout the season, occasionally in song form, and it’s a lot of fun to think about the words coming out of his choirboy face.
9. Had I not mentioned there are songs? Oh, buddy. Oh, there are songs. At least a half a dozen of them. One is performed by an anthropomorphic tampon. One is performed by the Ghost of Freddie Mercury, backed by the Ghosts of Duke Ellington, Socrates, and Antonin Scalia. Scalia is on the drums. I won’t say much else about it so I don’t ruin it for you. It is definitely something.
10. You will never look at Sylvester Stallone the same way after watching this.