The most common way people describe going through puberty is “awkward.” But as Netflix’s new animated comedy Big Mouth would like to remind you, going through puberty is also downright disgusting.
The series spares no gross detail as it delves into the fraught world of adolescence and all the rages, bodily fluids, and knee-jerk masturbatory instincts it brings. Adding yet another layer of weirdness is that Big Mouth personifies puberty by way of opposing “hormone monsters,” with the lecherous Maury (series co-creator Nick Kroll) following meek Andrew (John Mulaney) as he frets his way through his new urges, while curvaceous Connie (Maya Rudolph) tags alongside Jessi (Jessi Klein) to prod her into indulging in vicious mood swings.
The show’s 10 episodes are overall very silly, and often ridiculous just for the sake of it. Maury in particular is a walking, talking id who takes gleeful advantage of Netflix’s lack of censors; there’s no other show I can think of that would cast the role one of its young protagonists’ closest confidants as the horny ghost of Duke Ellington living in his attic. At one point, there’s a bizarre sidebar about Jay, the resident hothead of Andrew and Jessi’s school who’s voiced appropriately by comedy’s resident hothead Jason Mantzoukas, accidentally impregnating a pillow.
But what makes Big Mouth more than the sum of its many, many dick jokes is the fact that beneath its raging hormones and truly gross humor lies an enormously sympathetic heart.
Andrew, for example, is growing almost despite himself, sporting a patchy mustache while furtively masturbating to fantasies of his father’s assistant. But his best friend Nick (also voiced by Kroll) is still firmly stuck in preadolescence, barely as tall as Andrew’s shoulders, lacking the sex drive that’s slowly but surely taking over Andrew’s brain, and confused as to why his own body is taking so long to catch up.
When Andrew’s not caught up in his lustful reveries (not to mention Maury’s encouragement to indulge every last deranged one of them), his friendship with Nick is genuinely touching, and a real portrayal of how hard it can be for teens to navigate relationships when they’re growing up at different rates. It doesn’t hurt that Kroll and Mulaney have an easy chemistry from years of performing together (most notably in the Broadway run of their two-man show Oh, Hello). And fans of the duo will appreciate the way they twist their usual roles, with the typically more aggressive Kroll voicing Nick’s wide-eyed innocence and Mulaney — whose own standup comedy is as good-boy clean as it gets these days — taking on Andrew’s increasingly crass instincts.
After watching the first episode of Big Mouth, I wasn’t sure if the show could sustain itself for 10 episodes; watching adolescent boys dwell in their own depravity for too long can get old fast. But in its second episode, Big Mouth makes a smart move by bringing both Nick and Andrew’s deadpan friend Jessi and Andrew’s nerdy crush Missy (Jenny Slate) into the spotlight.
Once Jessi is visited by her first period and her own hormone monster — which, again, is voiced to diabolical perfection by Rudolph — she starts flying into the kinds of random rages and inexplicable bouts of attraction that often define puberty for young girls, an experience that’s much more rare to see depicted on TV than that of boys like Nick and Andrew.
Meanwhile, live wire Missy (whom Slate voices like she’s constantly gushing through a mouth of marbles) bounces between her competing emotions as if she simply has way too much sparking energy for her body to contain — which, of course, she does. And throughout the season, Big Mouth is careful to not only differentiate Jessi and Missy’s experiences from those of their male classmates, but to point out how messed up people’s reactions to them going through similar stages are by comparison.
If Big Mouth were just a series of jokes about how weird and gross puberty is, it wouldn’t be much more than a decent way to kill some time during a slow weekend. But the show achieves a new, deeper level of comedy by remaining hyper aware of the fact that puberty isn’t just about bodies changing, but about what it means to grow up at all.
The first 10 episodes of Big Mouth are currently available to stream on Netflix.