Middle school is awkward. No matter how much distance we get from those three long years, your mind can always resurface memories that involuntarily make you cringe on your own behalf. Big Mouth, now streaming on Netflix, offers a 22–minute portal back into that embarrassing, embarrassing world; except this time, all your friends are voiced by famous comedians. Creator Nick Kroll brings along his cabal of hilarious friends (Jenny Slate, Fred Armisen, Kristen Wiig, Jordan Peele—the list keeps going) to voice the bizarre characters that inhabit the Westchester suburb where our protagonists face the trials and tribulations of junior high.
Big Mouth does a remarkable job of mentally transporting you back to that time when eighth graders were a gangly, intimidating, alien species and finding a date for homecoming was an apocalyptic task. The show hones in on four kids: Andrew, Nick, Jessi, and Jay as they navigate the complex world of hormones unfolding before them. It’s refreshing to see an adult cartoon with a narrative, and characters that are fleshed out beyond one–dimensional tropes. The four main characters, though embarrassing themselves at every turn, are taken seriously, and their struggles form legitimate dramatic story arcs. While it’s funny to watch these kids panic about their first kiss when we have the hindsight to know just how much they’re overreacting, the show treats their anxieties as genuine issues.
The real pops of trademark Kroll humor come through side characters like the flamboyant, khaki–sporting Matthew (Andrew Rannells), the nerdy daughter of two professors, Missy (Jenny Slate) and the most popular girl in school’s manically devoted sidekick, Lola (voiced by Nick Kroll, in a voice nearly identical to another one of his characters, Liz, from his oh–so–iconic set of 'PubLIZity' skits). Big Mouth shines in moments with these bit parts that cut through the broad subject matter and deliver some of the sharpest humor on TV right now.
This series does occasionally fall into the classic animated–adult series trap of excessive vulgarity and anatomical humor. This is a series about puberty, after all, and with animation you can get away with showing a lot more than you could in live action. These gross–out moments pepper each episode and can feel discordant with the wittier, nuanced humor that serves as the series' backbone. Luckily, the crass moments that steered me away were greatly outnumbered by the clever moments that kept me hooked.
Maybe your first date wasn’t disastrous. Maybe you didn’t get your first period while wearing white shorts and walking up the steps of the Statue of Liberty. Maybe you didn’t have an anthropomorphic ‘hormone monster’ voiced by Nick Kroll or Maya Rudolph following you around. But absolutely everyone can latch on to some facet of this show that speaks to their adolescent experience. Furthermore, this show can serve as a legitimate teaching tool for this generation’s budding tweens. Of course, these kids will be drawn to the show for its crude, adult humor (just as they flock to Family Guy or South Park), but certain plot points (like the assertion that women have sexual feelings too or moments that parse the effects of unhealthy home lives on an adolescent) educate this young demographic without them even knowing they’re being taught something.
Again, puberty leaves no person unscathed. And while you might never quite get over that awkward first dance with parent chaperones watching you intently, or that time spent the better half of a high school Halloween party sitting in the basement vomiting up Svedka while dressed as Damien from Mean Girls, Big Mouth offers a forum for us to collectively exhale and laugh about it all.