It is a testament to the range of Big Mouth that its two stars, co-creator Nick Kroll and frequent Kroll collaborator John Mulaney, are playing a pair of twelve year olds after having spent the last two years playing septuagenarians in their stage show Oh, Hello! Credit where credit is due: that shows some range.
Big Mouth itself shows a great deal of range: it’s a sharply written and deeply funny show about puberty that I know I never would have been allowed to watch during my own “special journey.” Based on the childhood exploits of Kroll and his co-creator Andrew Goldberg, the storylines are ideally suited for pre-teens and teens navigating the perils of first periods, questioning sexuality, and the revelation that “girls get horny too.” A lesson in sexual coercion called “the head push” is a particularly apt one for this point in time- and, I should note, has convinced me that the only way Zach Woods can play the “jerk” is if he’s animated. Even a tutorial on the lady parts as voiced by Kristen Wiig would have been incredibly useful half my life ago.
But there are plenty of jokes for adults, not just in context (a wildly specific self-love strategy that includes, among other things, Amy’s Organic Lentil Soup), but also in content (how would I even begin to explain Garrison Keillor to a twelve year old?). Kroll’s Nick is counseled on life by the ghost of jazz musician Duke Ellington, voiced exceptionally by Jordan Peele. Even self-referential jokes about their home on Netflix and its associated binge-watching culture stand out as pretty unique to a “kids show.” Viewers of MTV’s dearly departed Clone High may recognize the confusing territory of a show designed for young viewers but occasionally speaking over their heads or outside their knowledge base.
Make no mistake, Big Mouth is a wildly entertaining show that has the potential to illuminate some truths for young folks…while teaching a few “extras” in the process. And yet, a show with a pair of Hormone Monsters (voiced hilariously by Kroll and Maya Rudolph), one of whom throws dicks as a defense mechanism, might raise some alarms about how much of the show is for kids. It’s that interesting twist on the “our bodies, ourselves” theme that has had many a mom on my Twitter feed wondering aloud, “Can my kid watch this?”
My take: realistically, they could. There’s nothing in these ten episodes that will scar or damage teenagers, though there are several things that might spark questions. The voice talent is exceptional, and brings fun and vulnerable voices to the topic at hand. In addition to Kroll and Mulaney, Jessi Klein (Inside Amy Schumer) shines as bat mitzvah bound Jessi, Jenny Slate continues an exceptional voice acting career as the brilliant yet awkward Missy, and Jason Mantzoukas embodies the resident pervert and budding magician Jay. They bring an adept comic timing to the fast-paced dialogue and gently surreal storylines, while also bringing forth a level of heart and sweetness that’s needed to accurately portray this stage of human development.
The bottom line: puberty is, as a song near the end of the season asserts, “a fucked-up mess.” Whether you’re watching Big Mouth during the throes of that mess, or looking back on it not so fondly, there’ll be something here for you to love. Season 2 was just announced for a 2018 return, so there’ll be plenty more to love in the months ahead. Do as the Hormone Monster says, and give this a binge- you won’t regret it.