Arts, Features

REVIEW: ‘Big Mouth’ underscores crude humor with heartfelt sentiment

Nick Kroll’s animated series “Big Mouth” premieres Sept. 29 on Netflix. PHOTO COURTESY WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

There are few people, if any, who will say they peaked in middle school.

For most, it’s a time best left forgotten, full of braces, growth spurts and outrageously uncomfortable first dates. It’s a time where everyone is trying to tell you something and all you want to do is ignore every single one of them. And, undeniably, it’s a time where one begins to discover their own body, as well as the bodies of others.

Netflix’s new animated adult comedy “Big Mouth” doubles down on all the uncomfortable parts of seventh grade — the good, the bad and, most certainly, the dirty and presents them in a funny, real and surprisingly touching (pun intended) way.

The show is from the minds of comedian Nick Kroll and co-creators Jennifer Flackett, Andrew Goldberg and Mark Levin.

It focuses on characters Nick (voiced by Kroll), Andrew (John Mulaney) and their classmates, a group of irreverent seventh-grade students that are slowly and painfully discovering the woes of puberty.

“Big Mouth” is unquestionably crude. It’s a show about puberty, sexual awakening and middle school romance, so there’s almost no way it couldn’t be.

But there’s a lot of heart and truth beneath the surface, and it doesn’t take long to empathize with at least one of the characters and their respective struggle. The show sells itself on a “remember when…” feeling, without becoming falsely nostalgic.

“Big Mouth” addresses puberty and teenage sexuality in a way that’s still fairly rare in television: candidly.

In its first five episodes alone, the show talks about everything and anything that pubescent teenagers face, including first menstruation and sudden urges. Once the initial shock passes, “Big Mouth” begins to create an interesting dialogue about all of these things.

The show is open and broad, and it spends as much time talking about queer issues and sexual uncertainty as it does on sexual puns. Occasionally, the jokes cross the line and spend a little too much time on uncomfortable subjects, but even then, it’s simple bathroom humor which, in small doses, can still be incredibly funny.

The show visualizes the students’ uneasy entrance into puberty as horned, hairy and invisible-to-everyone-else “hormone monsters.”

The monsters — the male one voiced by Kroll and the female counterpart by Maya Rudolph — appear at unwelcome times, suddenly changing the students’ mood or sexual desires.

The hormone monsters make for a number of the show’s best jokes, as well as some of its most relatable moments. Excellent writing can be attributed to the familiar feeling of being at odds with one’s own emotions and urges.

As the animated teens argue and eventually concede to their baser needs, an uneasy sense of familiarity creeps in that’s hard to shake.

In the show, Andrew (voiced by Mulaney) said, “You’re right. Why do you always have to be right?” after the hormone monster convinces him to pleasure himself

The writers of “Big Mouth” find plenty of humor outside of the bathroom, too.

The sign outside of the students’ school offers up a number of quick visual gags. Musical parodies of bands like R.E.M. and Queen add a hilarious absurdity to a number of the episodes. Various characters talk to the ghost of Duke Ellington, who lives in Nick’s attic.

Each one is packed with more and more callbacks to previous jokes. Clever fourth-wall breaks are used sparingly but effectively, and there are even jokes directly about the fact that the viewer is probably binge watching the episodes.

Much of the show’s hilarity comes from the incredible amount of talent in its voice cast. Mulaney, who recently starred in “Oh, Hello on Broadway” with Kroll, joins a cast that includes comedians Fred Armisen, Jordan Peele, Jason Mantzoukas and Jenny Slate.

The list of guest voices is just as star-studded, featuring Jon Hamm, Zach Woods, Kat Dennings and Kristen Wiig in roles as varied as sentient pillows and talking scallops. Many of these actors have done voice work before, and the whole show sometimes feels like a game of matching the voice to the celebrity.

Everyone watching “Big Mouth” has experienced the stage of life it is depicting, and much of its appeal is in this universality of its subject matter. It’s not a part of life that many people look back on fondly, but it’s one that is still incredibly important.

“Big Mouth” is one of the best representations of the uncertainty and embarrassment of puberty out there. If you can make it past the vulgar humor, it’s worth a watch, if not for anything else but remembering those repressed seventh-grade memories.

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