Puberty is both a painfully awkward time and a pop culture storytelling staple, but it's never been approached like it is on Big Mouth. Created by Nick Kroll, Andrew Goldberg, Jennifer Flackett, and Mark Levin, the show follows a group of 7th graders including Nick (Kroll), Andrew (John Mulaney), Jessi (Jessi Klien), and Missy (Jenny Slate) as they fall face first into that beautifully horrifying time in every young kid's life. Think Superbad, but animated and casting a wider net on the anxieties of freshly baked teens.
There are plenty of things that make Big Mouth a show worth destroying over a 3.5 hour binge: its appealing animation, allstar voice cast, and honest reflection all mix to create something greater than the sum of its parts. But we're here for details, so what exactly is it that makes Big Mouth so special?
1. Hormone Monsters
Plenty of kids in movies, TV, books, and games have been through puberty, but Big Mouth takes it a step further by anthropomorphizing the experience in the form of two hormone monsters; Maurice for the boys and Connie for the girls. They force the boys to go on emergency bathroom runs and fight in the hallways and the girls to "throw themselves on the bed and cry so hard no sound comes out." Kroll and Maya Rudolph are clearly having a ball as Maurice and Connie, respectively turning a clever idea into gut-bustingly funny asides about Jackson Pollock and Lana Del Ray.
2. Gross, gross honesty
Puberty as an invisible monster is a great idea, but it'll only go as far as the characters are willing to take it. Big Mouth leaves no stone unturned when it comes to those fresh teen years. Wet dreams, getting your first period on a field trip, school dances, drinking candy-flavored vodka at high school parties, impregnating your pillow, competing for a friend's attention, dealing with a parent's secret affair. It's all here and it's all honest, helped in no small part by the voice cast, especially Kroll, Klein, and Slate.
One thing I wasn't expecting coming into Big Mouth was in-jokes and a strong sense of continuity. At one point, Maurice makes a joke and asks the audience if they've been binge-watching the show up to this point. Between a character constantly quoting his sleazy father's law commercials and a few catchphrases that stick more than they feel like they should, the show is very good at peppering familiar jokes to keep things familiar in new territory while keeping them from going too stale. Trust that you'll never look at scallops the same way every again.
4. The ghost of Duke EllingtonAs if hormone monsters weren't enough, this show also has ghosts. Like, real ghosts. Jazz musician Duke Ellington supposedly died in Nick's house, so naturally his ghost (voiced by Jordan Peele) hangs out in the attic and gives bad advice and spare scatting anyone who might be in the attic. The show is a more grounded and realistic version of animated, so touches of magical realism like the ghosts of Ellington, Freddie Mercury, and Whitney Houston, and the hormone monsters (they play cute with whether or not they're real) put it at just the right level of wacky. A brief sideplot involving a character impreganting his very much alive sex pillow doesn't land the way it should, though.