Being 13 is difficult. It can be a scary, emotional, lonely time in a young person’s life. Depending on when you grew up, being 13 meant different things: Most millennials have the cringeworthy evidence of braces and Aeropostale fits in an overflowing Facebook album from 2009. Others didn’t have social media’s living reminders, like “Big Mouth” star Andrew Rannells.
“I would’ve made so many stupid videos and taken so many stupid pictures,” he said to IndieWire.
But no matter how private or public your adolescence was, the creators of “Big Mouth” want viewers to know that we’ve all been there — yes, every one of us. To the girls who first got their period on a class trip, you are not alone. To the kids going through trials with acne, bacne, and buttne, you are not alone. Everyone gets curb-stomped by puberty, and “Big Mouth” wants to help.
Now streaming all 10 episodes on Netflix, the adult animated series follows best friends Nick (voiced by Nick Kroll), Andrew (John Mulaney), and Jessi (Jessi Klein) as they navigate the embarrassing inferno of puberty. By giving 13-year-olds the spotlight they undoubtedly deserve, “Big Mouth” isn’t only masterfully entertaining, it normalizes the behavior that our hyperaware adult selves have condemned out of pure, awkward regret.
The allure of “Big Mouth” doesn’t only stem from the bright, ornamental animation reminiscent of “American Dad” and “Family Guy”; every embarrassing story featured in the season came from a place of truth.
“We’d start off in the interview or discussion where I would talk about coming in my pants at the school dance, so right away I’ve overshared,” executive producer Andrew Goldberg said about the hiring process for writers. “I think people then feel an obligation of, like, ‘Oh, this is what this is.’ And the people who were most open and honest were the people that we hired.”
Going through changes as a teenager is nothing short of a harrowing experience, which is why the team insisted on starting a much-needed dialogue, the centralized theme being that it’s OK to be 13.
“We really created a space where we could all talk about that [what our experiences were] and certainly learn, and what we learned is that the things we feared and the horrifying experiences we had — we weren’t alone in them,” executive producer Mark Levin said about the writing process. “Hopefully from watching the show, they’ll feel that too. That this stuff I thought was a private horror is, in fact, universal.”
With their 17-year-old daughter in mind, Levin and fellow executive producer Jennifer Flackett focused on making content that was reminiscent of their wants as parents. “I really feel like [my daughter] and I have really been able to have different kinds of conversations. Hopefully not terribly embarrassing for her, but I think that she really feels like our relationship got a lot stronger,” Flackett said.
Kroll has said in the past he hopes parents and children watch the series together, assuming the parents are open-minded and the kids are mature enough. “Big Mouth” finds valuable nostalgia in scenes where characters have drama-fueled sleepovers and binge-drink candy-flavored vodka. June Diane Raphael, who voices Queen Bee Devin, shared her own horrific sleepover drama drawn from her character’s tear-filled experience.
“I remember a sleepover in fifth grade where, you know, girls were getting breasts, and we were all taking our tops off and going around one by one and rating each other’s breasts,” she said. “I mean, these were horrible times!”
“When we were going around this circle, rating each other’s breasts, I was trying to be really positive about everyone, so when they got to me I was like, ‘I hope we can just establish a culture of positivity so I’m not massacred here,'” Raphael said. “These were terrible years!”
Teenage rebellion was normal amongst the cast, though instead of breaking curfew at a friend’s house in the next neighborhood, Jessi Klein (who voices Jessi) was sneaking into the New York City streets.
“Me and my friend, without our parent’s permission, went to go see a Doors cover band on Bleecker Street and were out past 1 a.m. My dad had to come find us, and I honestly think he was more embarrassed that we were seeing a Doors cover band than the fact we were out late,” Klein said, revealing that her 13-year-old self was cooler than most people at 25. “We were really into The Doors — doesn’t everyone go through Doors phases?”
Those involved in the edgy Netflix comedy wanted an accurate portrayal of what it’s like to go through puberty today, and for the most part, it’s just that. It’s most apparent in Episode 3, as Matthew makes the statement, “No one is 100 percent gay or straight. It’s a spectrum,” highlighting a singular issue in a coming out culture.
When bringing in outside influences, the show features the ghosts of great artists, mindful of the music our parents perhaps played for us during that impressionable time in our lives: Duke Ellington gives dating advice while Freddie Mercury sings a power ballad about sexuality. “We know all about the big pop icons of today. The names on all the Instas,” Klein said, jokingly.
Nobody wants to relive their middle school years, but “Big Mouth” makes it easier to reminisce and make peace with our side bangs and gauchos. Kroll has said he hopes parents watch the series with their children And hopefully along the way, you’ll end up learning something new — even if it’s a simple as knowing what a blue waffle is.
If not, Nick Kroll recommends that you “just google it.”
“Big Mouth” Season 1 is streaming now on Netflix.