Netflix’s delightful animated series Big Mouth may involve a running gag about furry dildos with a mind of their own and procreative sex with pillows, but it’s not merely some crass cartoon. It’s also a thoughtful and earnest comedy that looks at one of our most fraught periods — puberty, shudder — with a lot of love. That same tension between blue humor and true warmth was on display at the comedy’s New York Comic Con press conference Friday afternoon.
“I think I just had a lot of fear about my teen experience,” star Jenny Slate, who voices ultra-optimistic tween feminist Missy, told reporters. “Now I look back on it — I think really because of doing this show — with a very, very useful amount of tenderness. Doing this show has been nice for me because it’s allowed me to be like, ‘Yeah, that’s not happening anymore.’”
Upon watching Big Mouth season 2, which premiered the same day as its cast's NYCC appearance, it becomes obvious the new batch of episodes isn’t about merely helping one of its stars come to terms with her least comfortable feelings about growing up. Big Mouth season 2 is about tackling our collective shame associated with girlhood.
Yes, you might be thinking the Netflix favorite is technically about the flailing puberty troubles of Andrew Glouberman (John Mulaney) and Nick Birch (creator Nick Kroll), of the titular big mouth. But, Big Mouth's brand-new season builds on last year’s already expansive cast, and gives a real spotlight to the tween girls populating its cast. If you don’t believe that, you simply need to press play on season 2’s second episode, “What Is It About Boobs?”
The installment introduces Gina (American treasure Gina Rodriguez), a girl at Andrew and Nick’s school who no one notices until she develops breasts. While the boys quickly begin melting down over Gina’s curves, it’s the girls who are truly affected. Slate’s super innocent Missy, formerly immune to society’s pressures, folds. In one especially moving scene, Missy’s mean reflection, now made anthropomorphic, absolutely roasts “real” Missy and compares her chest to a spoon. Soon, Missy begins exclusively wearing a sweatshirt to cover the body she’s ashamed of (until her mom takes the middle schooler and her BFF Jessi to an empowering, full-nude, all-women spa).
Still, Jessi (Jessi Klein) tries to push her feminist ideals until she eventually lashes out by season’s end over her many shames. Mean girl Devin (June Diane Raphael) continues to mean girl and encourage her yes-girl Lola (Nick Kroll, again) to do the same. Gina is painfully aware of why she's getting all of her unwanted attention and hate. All because of boobs. On top of all of this tension, the Shame Wizard (the Harry Potter franchise’s David Thewlis, doing his best Voldemort impression), a new slithery character who lives up to his name, lurks.
Yet, towards the end of the season, many of these girls rebel against their most shameful impulses and let their freak flags proudly fly, in the most public, joyful way possible. All together, it's an honest, hopeful, albeit slightly magical, look at what it feels like to be a tween girl. And it drags all of the fears associated with that time into the Netflix light.
“Teen shame, especially in the female experience, it’s usually [presented as], ‘Here, hold this … It’s a secret.’ That is really sad to me.” Slate said at NYCC. “Teen shame and personal shame is very specific, and women are usually encouraged to not talk about it or only talk about it in ways that are pre-approved.
“It feels really good that we are expressing it and showing many different types of ways women react to becoming themselves.”
Jessi Klein, who voices Jessi, the character who arguably goes through the most radical changes throughout Big Mouth season 2, agrees with her co-star. “Especially for girls living in the culture we live in, the images you’re surrounded by — it feels like there’s such a small way to acceptably be a girl, and if you’re not that, [it’s like], ‘Oh, I’m somehow on the outside,’” Klein added. “That dissipates when you can just talk about it. That feels great if the show can make someone feel less alone.”
While so much of Big Mouth is about his girls’ deepest shames, creator and star Nick Kroll does hope everyone can grow from watching his characters’ adolescent travails. “The idea of the show … is showing kids now, and also to adults who are still dealing with the stuff that happened to them in middle school and through their adolescence and puberty, that they’re not alone going through it,” Kroll said. “A lot of the things that make you feel shameful grew out of that time in middle school and adolescence, and hopefully this kind of stuff will make you feel less ashamed.”
So, yeah, the show about a sex-obsessed hormone monster with a bag of dildos and a tribunal about just how pervy a tween boy actually is, officially qualifies as feel-good TV in 2018.
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