Big Mouth is a lot of things; Big Mouth is a coming of age story; Big Mouth is a bizarre cartoon boasting monsters, murders and mid-season anthologies about birth control. Perhaps most importantly though, Big Mouth is a wildly wonderful dive into the pains of growing up and season two goes even deeper.
The second season continues as Nick (Nick Kroll), Andrew (John Mulaney), Jessi (Jessi Klein), Jay (Jason Mantzoukas), and Missy (Jenny Slate) journey through the trials of puberty. They’re accompanied by their hormone monsters — hairy creatures that are Hellbent on getting the teens to discover their sexuality and independence. The latest season gives the teens a common enemy to face with the Shame Wizard (David Thewlis) — an ethereal Voldemort stand-in whose attempts to undermine the main characters’ confidence is the central conflict of the season.
Andrew’s attempts to control his dirty thoughts are more prominent in the second season as he’s forced to confront whether doing bad things makes him a bad person. He’s driven by hormonal urges, spurred on by his Hormone Monster, Maurice (Nick Kroll) and makes several poor decisions that alienate him from his family and friends. At one point Andrew hooks up with Lola (also Nick Kroll) despite finding her unpleasant and repulsive and once the deed is done, proceeds to break up with her, setting the Shame Wizard and the entire school against him. For most of this season, Andrew is framed as a monster or at the very least an idiot; he’s held accountable for his actions and is forced to reconcile his sexuality with his humanity. For a cartoon that relishes in its opportunity to show a throbbing penis, it’s surprising that Kroll and the other creators of Big Mouth don’t shy away from the more human, difficult questions that arise during hormonal times.
Unfortunately, Nick’s storyline isn’t as compelling and seems to run counter to the show’s overarching themes, at least for the majority of the season. The bulk of season two is spent on Nick’s budding relationship with Gina (Gina Rodriguez) – Nick befriends Gina with the intention of dating her and repeatedly confesses his feelings for her. She turns him down every time until, suddenly, she agrees and it’s this plot beat that grinds up against Big Mouth‘s progressive nature. It’s odd to see the show perpetuate the “persistence as romance” trope — something that has plagued media for generations. Events that unfold in later episodes do eventually complicate the relationship between Nick and Gina, but it’s still disappointing that their early interactions are so forced and rushed.
Even at its most absurd or grotesque — and yes this show frequently dips into vile tableaus of bodily functions — Big Mouth never feels excessive. The show deftly adapts the childish, bodily function focused humor of middle school boys and elevates it (slightly) to make it more palatable for an adult audience. Of course, there are still silly scenes featuring writhing, sentient penises or anthropomorphic vaginas, but even those moments feature a more complex absurdism. “The Planned Parenthood Show” exemplifies this split; the episode is divided into several shorts that spotlight the importance of Planned Parenthood.
In the second segment Nick’s sister Leah (Kat Dennings), goes on a Bachelor-esque reality show wherein the contestants are contraceptives. It’s a perfect example of how Big Mouth can be both childish and elevated. Each contraceptive is given a personality that represents how they’re perceived in society and how relevant they are today. When the time comes for Leah to pick, she chooses the pull-out method, represented by a scruffy dirt-bag; Leah’s mother immediately intervenes and instead tells her to pick the anthropomorphic birth control pill and condom. On a surface level the scene is about sex — the simplest source of humor — but like many of the show’s jokes, it’s trying to say something about how people perceive and talk about sex.
“The Planned Parenthood Show” is also a rare case of social commentary done right. The entire episode is dedicated to advocating for Planned Parenthood, but it doesn’t feel preachy or over-the-top – granted I feel this way because my politics line-up with the show’s, but I think there’s something more going on here. The episode doesn’t sacrifice the show’s humor to make a point, and instead uses its distinct voice to back up the creator’s ideology. Political takes don’t work when they feel like the writers’ agenda is overshadowing a character’s voice, but Big Mouth doesn’t force any of its politics, allowing the writers to slip in relevant issues without spoiling the show.
There are a smattering of serious moments that balance out the show’s comedy too. Almost every character gets an opportunity to grow and change and in a show about puberty and looming adolescence, it’s important to show the stress of being caught between two selves. Jessi’s struggle to accept her parent’s divorce is the best example of the show’s moments of maturity. Though her scenes are played for laughs when her Hormone Monstress is on screen, Jessi’s moments alone are more subdued; she’s forced to confront her role in her parent’s separation, questioning whether her birth drove them apart. It’s one of several scenes that is both emotionally resonant and true to life — distraught children often lash out and question their worth and Big Mouth doesn’t shy away from the harsh reality of this.
By mixing the occasional bits of drama into a comedy-first show, Big Mouth becomes much more than an animated sitcom. Instead, it feels like a powerful encapsulation of adolescent anxiety that happens to be consistently hilarious.