“Big Mouth” is the most sensitive television show ever made to feature a mustachioed five-foot tall dick trying to dunk a basketball.
Told from the terrified perspectives of three best friends, the new Netflix animated comedy honestly captures the horrors of adolescence with the sagacious perspective of an adult. Co-creators Nick Kroll, Andrew Goldberg, Jennifer Flackett, and Mark Levin are unafraid to tell the embarrassing truths of pubescence, but know exactly how to cut through the many scenes of tension, pain, and terror with an equal number of outstandingly juvenile jokes. In short, “Big Mouth” stands out for all the right reasons.
Take, for instance, that scene with the penis (who apparently takes grooming tips from Larry Bird). Nick, voiced by Nick Kroll, is a kid in junior high who gets so freaked out when he finds out his best friend Andrew’s penis looks different than his, he sees dicks everywhere. Wherever he looks, he can’t stop imagining the people around him as human-sized penises, chatting with each other and, yes, playing basketball.
Andrew (John Mulaney), meanwhile, is going through his own issues. He’s just discovered masturbation, and everything turns him on. The two are so close they can talk about anything, but this is the first awkward sexual development to sever that friendship, and “Big Mouth” focuses not just on the confusing agony of each adolescent issue, but on how these two will remain friends through such trying times. Moreover, it treats each child’s predicament as an incredibly awkward problem. The stakes are high: Nick doesn’t know much, but he knows he doesn’t want to be the kid with the weird penis, and Andrew is similarly in-the-dark, not knowing the urges every young man goes through.
Sound familiar? It should, and so should the rest of Season 1. Each episode of “Big Mouth” digs into a delicate new topic. There are story arcs on first crushes, friends who become more than friends, the sliding scale of human sexuality, love versus lust, peer pressure, growing up too fast, and getting your first period.
These last two topics bring up a vital point to the series’ success: “Big Mouth” isn’t just about Nick and Andrew. Jessi (voiced by Jessi Klein) is the third member of the trio, and her arc is her own: It’s about becoming a woman. The character’s perspective not only comes as a great relief given the onslaught of raunchy male-centric movies, but her journey often provides the richest, freshest narratives.
But let’s not forget about the penises, and by that I mean the show’s hard-R sense of humor, because one person’s “honest” and “sensitive” is another person’s “graphic” and “vulgar.” “Big Mouth” earns all of the above adjectives by embracing the most embarrassing accidents, actions, and thoughts experienced by children at their lowest levels (usually embodied by Jay, a particularly crude youth voiced by Jason Mantzoukas).
What should push viewers toward accepting the series, even through the most jaw-dropping moments, is that the writers are clearly aware of what they’re doing. Kroll & Co. know it’s a thoughtful, sex-positive series that’s so much more than its many shots of genitals in and out of action — and viewers should, too. (Now is also a good time to note that “Big Mouth” employs a lot of meta-humor, from one character stating that Netflix asked them to insert an extremely nasty joke to another bursting through a fake “skip credits” screen.)
Yet perhaps the most brilliant move of the entire series is creating a standalone character to represent Andrew’s raging hormones. Simply called the Hormone Monster (and sometimes Maury), the yellow-skinned creature with a penis-shaped nose (look closely) springs to life whenever a lustful thought crosses Andrew’s mind, which is quite often. It could be when he slow dances with a girl at a school function or when the cat clock in his bedroom catches just the right light; the Hormone Monster (voiced by Kroll) will be there, and he’s ready to take over Andrew’s life whether he likes it or not.
And he usually doesn’t. Andrew is a timid, innocent, and very, very scared young boy. Perhaps best encapsulated in the opening credits, the Hormone Monster is a dark shadow cast over two young boys who just want to kick back and enjoy their childhood. When they see the sky go dark, they’re petrified. Andrew knows from experience there’s no avoiding it; he’ll give into the Hormone Monster’s wants, suggestions, and disgusting implications, but he doesn’t want to do any of it. The hormones are making him.
As the episodes progress and Andrew becomes more accustomed to his desires, his willpower slowly lessons and even the Hormone Monster starts to question some of his decisions. It’s an ideal exemplification of puberty overwhelming adolescence; the transition to an angsty teen from a wide-eyed child; and, of course — because of the show’s adamant and oh-so-necessary adherence to equality — that also means there’s a Hormone Monstress.
Voiced by Maya Rudolph and occasionally called Connie, the Hormone Monstress is there for Jessi in a similar fashion as the Hormone Monster is there for Andrew, but via a gender-specific fashion. “Big Mouth” may have been inspired by Nick Kroll and Andrew Goldberg’s childhood, but its writers’ room made sure to feature as many women’s voices as men’s. It shows in Jessi’s endearing transition toward womanhood, and the Hormone Monstress is a big part of that.
These two creations are not only two of the funniest characters, but they may be the key to keeping “Big Mouth” on the right side of obscene. By disembodying Andrew, Nick, and Jessi’s most depraved thoughts, the show creates an obvious disconnect between who the kids are and what their bodies are doing to them. The theme is emphasized again and again, from the opening credits to the fine line between reality and imagination, but it’s never more effective than with the Hormone Monster and Monstress.
Continue reading for spoilers and a final grade for “Big Mouth” Season 1.