Oh, puberty. How easy it is to romanticize you. How often does young adult television and cinema like to do it. Popular stories of teenagehood are made of first kisses and life-changing friendships, crazy parties and obviously adult actors masquerading as tweens. Expectations around what it’s like to go from a child to a functioning member of society might be the biggest scam mainstream entertainment has pulled.
Big Mouth understands what puberty is like. And news flash, it’s really gross. And uncomfortable. There should honestly be a warning about it before anyone reaches their first double digit birthday. Having someone say “Hey, so it’s cool that you’re alive and all and I know you probably like it so far since all you’re doing is collect Pokémon cards and laugh at poop jokes, but just so you know you’re going to spend most of the next decade feeling angry, sad, ugly and horny, alright ? Oh, and you also won’t be able to do anything about it” feels like it could have at least alleviated the terror of teen years. And yet, generation after generation, no one does. The true nature of puberty has become a poorly kept secret.
Nick Kroll’s kinda-but-not-quite autobiographical series doesn’t exactly break the cycle of misinformation. Never does the show feel like it is targeted at preteens to warn them of what’s to come, or even at slightly older kids who might not understand the weird changes their bodies and minds are going through. But to older viewers, Big Mouth feels like a long overdue validation of how much being a teenager sucked. Finally, someone acknowledges that it’s not all butterflies and magical first experiences. Most of the time, it’s vomit and sloppy kisses and crying in the bathroom, and if you’re lucky, even more vomit.
Since the show is so intent on addressing elephants in rooms, it seems appropriate to address a big one from the get go: Big Mouth’s art style is absolutely repulsive. Many viewers who could enjoy the show are driven away by its less than appealing look. In a way, it acts as a warning: if you’re put off by bulging eyes, block colours and penis-shaped noses, you probably won’t be able to handle the rest of the show either.
Yet this is far from a meaningless gross-fest. After the initial shock has passed, Andrew and Nick’s adventures become heartwarming in the strangest way. There is something in the show’s bluntness that feels comforting. Finally, no more tip-toeing. It’s about time to admit that teenage years are embarrassing and mostly disgusting. It’s not a beautiful kind of awkward, and it’s totally fine.
Since the show is heavily inspired by Kroll’s own teenage years, there is an inevitable emphasis on male experiences. The female characters however do gain a surprising amount of attention as the season goes on. While the truly mortifying stuff is left out as far as Jessi and Missy are concerned, it is good to see that the show doesn’t neglect them. Unfortunately, feeling disgusting is not gender-specific.
This may be a hyperbolic show, but it works because of its awkward relatability. We may laugh at the characters sometimes, but it is never with a truly mean spirit. We’re grown-ups; we know that what they’re going through is just temporary. Maybe that is the beauty of teenagehood: how endless it feels when you live through it, and how easy it is to forget it once these years are done. Every twenty-five minutes we spend in Big Mouth’s world is an invitation to find the unlikely magic in the weird and the odious. The strangest part of it might be how easy it is to accept it.