As I’m sure you remember, puberty has an odd progression to it. You spend the years leading up to it fervently wishing to change, only to find that it all makes you feel awful once it happens. Nick Kroll and Andrew Goldberg’s wildly odd Big Mouth manages to capture that turn toward awful in its second season, while somehow becoming an even better show.
If season one was all about the excitement and unpredictability that comes with the arrival of hormones, this sophomore outing was about the insecurity and frustration that comes with shame—at times literally, thanks to the introduction of the Shame Wizard (voiced with harrowing Hogwartiness by David Thewlis, aka former Hogwarts professor Remus Lupin). The Wizard pops up over the course of the season in effective appearances to each of the characters, before a squirm-inducing turn in a two-part episode late in the season that at times was physically uncomfortable to watch and compare to my own experiences as a teen.
Speaking of my own experiences, the show dug deeper to explore some of the uniquely female challenges of puberty and middle school in its second turn. I’m unsure if there were more female writers this year, or if they simply followed new storylines, but the end result feels refreshing and at times painfully accurate for girl viewers as well as boys. While the show did (and does) skew unquestionably dick-heavy; this latest batch of episodes delves deeper into female body shame, masturbation, the logistics of the Friend Zone—did you know the “Gray Area” is an actual place? It’s where you decipher mixed (text) messages—and, of course, boobs.
The last topic comes into play through the introduction of a new character, Gina Alvarez (voiced by Jane the Virgin’s Gina Rodriguez); Rodriguez holds her own as a straight-man in often zany surroundings while also showing off comedy chops in her own right. Also taking on larger roles this season are Andrew’s father Marty (a standout Richard Kind), autistic and painfully honest Caleb (Joe Wengert) and the snippy yet misunderstood Matthew (Andrew Rannells). In total, the cast continues exceptional performances that support the increasingly complex material.
The season’s standout episode, timed midway through, entitled “The Planned Parenthood Show.” It both is, and isn’t, exactly what you think it is. A series of vignettes aims to illustrate the true purpose of Planned Parenthood, to counteract the narrow talking points Jay (Jason Mantzoukas) brings to the conversation. A B-movie spoof about STDs and a Bachelor-esque reality show for picking birth control, and a 90s-tinged abortion narrative from a surprising character make it both necessary and genuinely surprising to watch; a character near the end says “I can’t believe they let us do this!” and frankly, I’m highly inclined to agree.
If there is a criticism to levy toward the show, I’d have to point a finger toward Coach Steve. Voiced intentionally gratingly by Nick Kroll, his presence is increasingly cringeworthy over the course of the season. To his credit, he’s used well in the season’s foray into sex and loss of virginity. Further, his ability to withstand the draw of the Shame Wizard is somehow impressive and terrifying at the same time. Otherwise, I found myself wondering “how’d he end up here, too?” But at the end of the day, the show is at its best when it focuses on the kids; when it does that, it meets and at times exceeds the standard it set of a cringeworthy but wholly accurate portrayal of the early teenage years.
I still don’t have an answer for my friends with preteens and teens who ask, “should I watch this with my kids?” I actually feel better about recommending this season: it has moments of empowerment, commiseration, self-reflection, and even genuine information that I know I needed when I was younger. But it also has more dicks than I know that younger me would want to see while seated next to her parents. So do with that information what you will; and for the rest of you considering it, I say give this latest batch of Big Mouth episodes a watch- younger you will cringe, but eventually thank you.