Every now and then it’s nice to sit back, take a deep breath, and remember just how blessed we are to have Big Mouth in our lives. There’s no better way to put it. The show is so many things slamming together, almost all of them good. It’s a coming-of-age comedy that provides the most real and most graphically accurate depiction of how puberty can ravage the brain. It replaces the invisible hormones coursing through everyone’s veins with real, tangible hormone monsters, who show up to fill everyone’s head with terrible ideas. It’s sweet and hilarious and foul — you’ve never seen so much cartoon genitalia in your life, I hope — and, sometimes, almost educational. Season two featured a whole episode about Planned Parenthood that cut through the political hooey to explain what the organization is and does, and it included an extended Bachelor-style riff where the contestants were various forms of contraception. Do you see what I’m getting at? Big Mouth is so, so much and also exactly enough. Again: Blessed.
This breadth of it all is surprising, sure, but it gets less surprising when you dig into it. The collection of talent in the voice cast alone is staggering. The two main characters, teen boys Nick and Andrew, are played by Nick Kroll and John Mulaney. (Kroll voices something like a dozen characters on the show, from Maury to Hormone Monster to my beloved Coach Steve.) Jessi Klein and Jenny Slate play the main girls, Jessi and Missy. Gina Rodriguez is in there, as is Kat Dennings and Richard Kind and everyone who has ever appeared on a comedy podcast. Maya Rudolph plays a Hormone Monstress and gives maybe the best performance on television, cartoon or live-action. Oscar-winner Jordan Peele plays the Ghost of Duke Ellington. Jon Hamm plays a sentient collection of scallops. Go to the IMDb and spend 90 seconds scrolling through the list. It’s a blast.
(It has been and remains my position that Maya Rudolph’s pronunciation of “bubble bath” as the Hormone Monstress is the peak of human language. There are about two or three extra syllables in there along with enough breath to blow out the candles on your Nana’s birthday cake. The closest I’ve ever gotten to nailing it in written form is “bawubba bayyyyeth.” Still doesn’t come close. And I am pleased to report that she also pronounces Google as “Joojle,” which we discover in this upcoming season.)
The new season picks up where the last one left off. Actually, that’s partially true. The new season picks up when the Valentine’s special left off, with Andrew a raging jealous maniac who can’t stand the sight of Missy with another boy and Nick finally getting a competent Hormone Monster after a few years with Rick, a dilapidated abomination with a horn made of loose bandages and unhelpful advice ranging from “What are you gonna do?” to “punch her in the boob.” No one is in a great place and the story is a season-long examination of how this phase of life can push some people apart and pull others together.
Also, there are songs. Have you been looking for a full-length soft-shoe number in which Martin Short explains various identifiers along the spectrum of sexuality? I mean, who hasn’t, right? In any event, that’s in there. How about a junior high musical about sexual harassment and gender norms that is not-so-loosely inspired by the Michael Douglas and Demi Moore starring erotic 1994 tech thriller Disclosure? Yup, in there, too. Or are you more of a “loose retelling of Duke Ellington’s childhood and discovery of jazz piano in an episode-long flashback to the early-1900s, with Jordan Peele going just as over-the-top and theatrical as you can possibly imagine” person? Well, great news: That’s in this new season, too.
If there’s any complaint to be lodged about the show’s third season (and it is admittedly a small one, given the bounty of gifts that offset it), it would be that things feel a little less connected. The episodes jump from topic to topic, from phone addiction to pansexuality to masturbation to cousin-on-cousin Florida trysts, and it’s all a blast in the moment, but there’s less of a unifying thread than there was in season two, which balanced all of its issues-focused mini-arcs with an overarching examination of how shame and depression can weasel their way into your mind at that age. This is a high bar to clear, admittedly — season two of Big Mouth landed at the top of my Best Shows of 2018 list, above all the dramas and live-action competitors. It was, like, startlingly good. After one run-through, I’d say season three comes in a half-step behind that. The bits might be better and the individual jokes might be funnier, but it’s a little more scattered as a whole. Maybe that’s the point. That’s how the teenage brain works, after all. Or maybe not. We’re really splitting hairs here anyway.
Three notes in conclusion:
— This season, perhaps even more than the first two, raises an interesting question: Should parents and children try to watch Big Mouth together? On one hand, it’s such a great look at such a confusing time of life and it could start or supplement a number of conversations that are very tricky to have. On the other hand, there is a truly tremendous amount of cartoon penises and your mileage may vary when it comes to consuming that type of content in the family living room.
— I really recommend trying to explain this show to someone who doesn’t watch it. It all makes sense in your head, sure, but trying to put it into words is an exercise in futility. “It’s about these kids, and they curse and talk about sex things and… no, it’s not like South Park, exactly. And there are Hormone Monsters who represent the hormones in their systems and… yeah, they do kind of look like a perverse version of Monsters, Inc. But it’s, like, real, you know?” Impossible.
— This probably matters to no one on Earth other than me, but in this year’s brilliant “Co-op” episode of Documentary Now!, a character played by John Mulaney goes off on a whole thing about how the correct pronunciation of “ruined” is “rooned,” and his character on this show pronounces it that way, too. Again, you don’t care. But I do. Very much. Too much, almost certainly.
Welcome back, you animated collection of perverts and monsters. I missed you so much.
Season 3 of ‘Big Mouth’ debuts on Netflix on Friday, October 4