Understanding how to navigate human sexuality is complicated, but it’s really complicated for preteens first experiencing hormonal surges and unfamiliar, uncontrollable urges involving their nether regions.
Big Mouth, the animated Netflix series about the birds, the bees, and the boys who can’t stop masturbating, captures this truth better than any work of pop culture in recent memory. It depicts the shocks and shame of going through puberty with exceedingly frank honesty, fast-paced humor — oh my God, this show is hilarious — and genuine sensitivity toward the young men and women reeling from the changes happening to their bodies. This was all true in season one, and it continues to be true in season two, which debuts Friday. The second season officially confirms that Big Mouth, co-created by Nick Kroll, Andrew Goldberg, Mark Levin, and Jennifer Flackett, deserves a spot in the Coming of Sexual Age Hall of Fame right next to Judy Blume books and every incarnation of Degrassi.
As the series picks up again, its cartoon 12-year-olds — Nick (voice of Nick Kroll), Andrew (John Mulaney), Jessi (Jessi Klein), Missy (Jenny Slate), and Jay (Jason Mantzoukas) — are still struggling with many of the same preteen demons that haunted them in season one: body insecurity, frustrations with their parents (Jessi’s mom and dad are walking a slow and ugly road toward divorce), and the thrilling highs and dispiriting lows that come with realizing you have the hots for one of your peers. Nick, Andrew, and Jessi also have their respective hormone monsters and monstresses — voiced by Kroll for the boys, and Maya Rudolph for the girls — constantly egging them on to succumb to their absolute worst pubescent impulses.
But there are new challenges as well. A fellow student, Gina (Gina Rodriguez), has suddenly developed a set of breasts that can’t be ignored — not by many of the boys who find her newly alluring, nor the girls, especially Jessi, who view her as chesty competition. And then there’s the Shame Wizard (David Thewlis), yet another fantastical creation that joins the hormone monsters and the ghost of Duke Ellington (Jordan Peele) as one of Big Mouth’s otherworldly manifestations of the voices kids hear in their heads when they’re trying to figure out who they are. As voiced by Thewlis, the Shame Wizard conjures thoughts and behavior designed to make these middle-schoolers feel even more embarrassed about who they are than they already do. He’s basically a personal Voldemort that makes you feel bad about yourself, which is a pretty accurate way to depict what it feels like, psychologically, to come of age.
There are so many funny details and moments in this season of Big Mouth that I don’t even know where to start in terms of highlights. Perhaps with Nick being commanded by one of his two pubic hairs to destroy his own woefully insufficient hormone monster. (The fact that one pube is voiced by Jack McBrayer adds one more dash of ridiculousness to an already ridiculous situation.) Or Coach Steve, also voiced by Kroll, bragging to his class of sex-ed students that he’s finally lost his virginity, an act he describes as “making thick in the warm”? Or maybe the entirety of episode five, which cleverly stitches together several vignettes in an effort to convey all the services that Planned Parenthood provides.
“Is there some kind of sketch that we could watch that would be both entertaining and informative but also not too preachy?” asks Coach Steve.
“Ooh, that is a fine line we’re trying to walk,” Nick says, to which Missy replies: “Well, we’re going to do our best!” And the show does do its best, with a bit that conveys information on contraception while riffing on The Bachelorette, a mini-horror movie about STDs that references Get Out, and Star Trek reimagined as a feminist work of sci-fi in which Missy mans a spaceship that administers pap smears while trying to dodge alien dude-bros attempting to stop her. (“We’ll lose them in the Fallopian tubes!” she cries. “I guarantee it!”) There are other clever references to film and TV sprinkled throughout the season — episode two offers its own take on a famous scene from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and if you look closely in episode nine, you’ll spot an American Vandal Easter egg — that add additional sprinkles of welcome meta-ness.
The voice-work on the series also remains top notch. Everyone is so, so good that there’s no way to pick an MVP. Kroll technically wins for the sheer volume of characters he plays, including Maury the Hormone Monster (who remains a dead ringer for Will Arnett, or, if you prefer to keep this in the Netflix family, BoJack Horseman on one of his more serious benders). But Mulaney’s droll exasperation is also a perfect match for Andrew, whose body is maturing far more quickly than his emotional intelligence, as is the mix of little-girl innocence and Nathan Fillion–inspired randiness that Jenny Slate vocally conjures as Missy. Literally everything that Andrew’s perpetually irritated dad says is funny because Richard Kind is the one shouting his words. And then there’s Maya Rudolph as Connie the Hormone Monstress, who I can’t even talk about without rising from my chair to launch a long, loud round of applause. Sometimes that beast purrs honey in Jessi’s ear; other times she barks at her. (“You’re going to be one of those weak women who goes for bad guys with stupid brains and garbage dicks,” she tells a despondent Jessi. “Oh my God,” Jessi cries. “I’m going to end up living in Tampa, Florida!”) In a couple of instances, Rudolph even gets to belt out musical numbers and does it with so much gusto, it’s like she’s channeling the rage and power of the entire feminist movement. Just listen to her sing an “I Will Survive”–style body positivity anthem — “I love my body, I love it all!” — and try to do anything other than bow down to that monstress.
All of that stuff is what makes Big Mouth great. But what makes it truly special is its insistence on showing the struggles that both gay and straight boys and girls face, while treating all perspectives with equal reverence. This silly cartoon sends the very important message that there’s more common ground between the two genders and on the spectrum of sexuality, even at a young age, than there are differences. It even shows boys and girls talking to each other about what they’re going through: When Nick, the only dude in his group of friends capable of talking to Gina without staring at her rack, develops a relationship with her, she explains how her sudden blossoming has made her feel isolated. He listens, then acknowledges he hadn’t thought about how the boys’ obsession with her boobs must feel from her perspective. It’s a tiny, natural moment that would probably be played too big and didactic on any other sitcom. Here, it says something eye-opening: Imagine how much better off we all would be as grown-ups if, as boys and girls, we were encouraged to talk to each other this way.
In that sense, Big Mouth is performing a public service. I’m dead serious when I say that this series deserves a Peabody Award. Even though it’s about 12-year-old kids, most parents would probably deem it way, way too explicit to show to an actual 12-year-old. But even high-schoolers and older “kids” — which is to say, adults — can learn something from this show. It’s pretty clear that, despite that song by Salt-N-Pepa, as a society we still don’t know how to talk about sex. Big Mouth reminds us it’s still possible to change that by starting the conversation when we’re young.