It feels weird to call a cartoon where Hormone Monsters have pet dicks, talk about bubble baths, and walk children through puberty both relatable and progressive. But, well, here we are.
Big Mouth, which debuted in 2017 on Netflix, was created by Andrew Goldberg, Nick Kroll, Mark Levin, and Jennifer Flackett. The first episode opens with Kroll’s beloved Hormone Monster Maury bursting onto the screen and getting Mulaney’s Andrew to go masturbate in the bathroom of his school. It is hilarious and filthy and was an immediate hit. It left most other animated series in the dust. The third episode of the first season had Mulaney’s Andrew sing a song about thinking he was gay — a scene that could’ve been offensive but surprisingly wasn’t. It never felt like it was making fun of this straight teen questioning his sexuality, the joke was just the absurdity of it — and the fact that he sang it with the ghost of Freddie Mercury.
Matthew (Andrew Rannells) was first introduced as the mean, catty gay side character — which he stayed but was given nuance. He became one of the main characters, developing a close friends with Jessi (Jessi Klein) and finding a boyfriend, Aiden (Zachary Quinto). Jason Mantzoukas’s Jay came out as bisexual — the show was doing a good job of making very different kids experiencing puberty at different rates very relatable.. The show had a few missteps when they introduced Ali Wong’s Ali (a lot of the characters are just named after their voice actor), who say she’s into “boys, girls and everyone in between” and that “bisexuality is so binary” — but to the show’s credit, the creator Andrew Goldberg apologized and said he was committed to doing better.
And then season 4 debuted. And they did do much, much better.
Big Mouth season 4 weirdly feels like two really great seasons of television — the summer camp season and then the back to school season. But it’s great from the top. Jay is fully accepting of his bisexuality, calling Matthew and Aiden “fellow LGBTCuties” (much to their chagrin) and we meet trans teen girl Natalie (Josie Totah). Natalie feels real in the way Matthew does — a little mean but mostly as a precaution against the stupid shit other kids will be throwing at them. But Natalie is also given more nuance than Matthew was at the beginning of the show.
The kids ask her all the typical shitty questions but the show never tries to sympathize with or normalize those comments. Natalie tells them all to fuck off, but we see how hurt she truly is. And with her we are introduced to Tito the Anxiety Mosquito is voiced by Maria Bamford. We also learn Natalie was assigned the meanest of Hormone Monsters, Gavin (Bobby Cannavale), and how traumatic that was for her. There is so much to love and relate to it’s pretty bonkers.
Tito spends the rest of the season harassing these poor kids, especially Nick Birch (Nick Kroll). It’s one of the most accurate depictions of anxiety I’ve ever witnessed in a TV show. Tito flies in and out of scenes but is very much attached to Nick and Jessi — the two most anxious kids in the group.
But Natalie develops a really sweet friendship with Jessi while at camp. Jessi is the only one who doesn’t deadname her or ask invasive questions about Natalie’s gentiles. I found myself not sure if I was shipping them as friends or a couple because their scenes were so real and so tender. Natalie even gets her first kiss with Seth Rogen’s Seth (the amount of famous people on this show is truly wild) , after being encouraged to do it by Jessi, and it blows up in her face. But it also blows up in Seth’s face literally — after telling Natalie he doesn’t want folks to know about their a kiss, a dead bird explodes in his face.
Which isn’t even to begin to talk about the truly incredible Missy plot, which coincides with Jenny Slate stepping down and Ayo Edebiri voicing her for the final two episodes of the season. Missy even jokes about being voiced by a white actress — a joke that absolutely would not have worked if we didn’t know they were planning on having her be voiced by a Black actress this season. The careful way they handled a mixed race kid delving into her Black culture, along with a freakin’ song about code switching, was stellar. I related to this as having a very white father (literally, he’s everything European and white) and a very Puerto Rican mother. If you want to read about the Missy storyline from an actual Black woman and not a white/white passing Puerto Rican, this piece by Princess Weekes is very much recommended.
Matthew also officially comes out to his conservative family this season — and while Matthew is still confident and mean, it’s nice he has the full support of the filthy Hormone Monster Maury. Maury, who jokes about having sex with literally everything, is very vocal about Matthew being his favorite of the kids. And I never thought I’d say a hairy monster who jokes about poop sex could be touching but, well, his relationship with Matthew is truly touching. He drunkenly teaches him about Stonewall and is always encouraging him to make the moves on his boyfriend. He never makes the gay jokes you’d expect from a character that feels so aggressively heterosexual (even though Maury states in the first episode he has sex with men).
Big Mouth season 4 was truly handled with care. Even the kinda sorta Pen15 crossover episode, which was absolutely hysterical, was there to teach the boys they’re not always the main characters.
The show doesn’t try to wrap things up in a happy package — we had Schitt’s Creek for that. There is no wish fulfillment in this show and to be honest that’s why it works. These kids are depressed, horny, and anxious — and if that’s not a very relatable thing to be in 2020 well then I don’t know what to tell you.
About the Author:
Ian Carlos Crawford grew up in southern New Jersey and, like most people from NJ, he graduated from Rutgers University. He then graduated from New School with an MFA in nonfiction writing. His writing has appeared on sites like Geeks Out, BuzzFeed, NewNowNext, and other random corners of the internet. He currently co-hosts a podcast about his favorite thing, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, called Slayerfest 98 and is shopping around his fiction manuscript. Follow him on Twitter @ianxcarlos!