To anyone who suffered through the trailer for Netflix’s new animated show Big Mouth you would be forgiven to think it was going to be a more crass version of Family Guy. Fortunately, the actual show is much better than the trailer suggested.
Big Mouth follows a group of 7th Graders from Westchester, New York as they start their joyous journey into puberty. Within this group is everyman Nick Birch (Nick Kroll), his best friend Andrew Glouberman (John Mulaney) who is tormented by Maurice the Hormone Monster (also Kroll), Jessi (Jessi Klein), the girl has her own Hormone Monstress, Connie (Maya Rudolph), the innocent Missy (Jenny Slate) and wannabe sex-hound/magician Jay (Jason Mantzoukas).
Big Mouth was co-created by Andrew Goldberg, best known for his work on Family Guy and that acted as a red flag for many people. Episodes he has written include “Herpe, the Love Sore” where Brian knowingly gives Stewie an STD and “The Giggity Wife”, the episode which sees Quagmire accidentally marries an old prostitute. Big Mouth has even more graphic humor than Family Guy, having a menagerie of bodily fluids on screen as well as human and hormone monster genitalia. Yet Big Mouth has one big advantage over modern Family Guy: the characters are likable.
Goldberg and Kroll co-created the show and based it on their own experience growing up. Considering this background information and the nature of the show being about teens exploring love and their bodies it makes Big Mouth an American version of The Inbetweeners: it certainly better than the actual American remake of The Inbetweeners. The character of Jay is like his namesake in The Inbetweeners, an overly confident who talks about subjects, i.e. sex, like they are expert but don’t know a thing. Yet this is a front because they are the product of dysfunctional families, The Inbetweeners‘ Jay is constantly humiliated by his father, whilst Big Mouth‘s Jay is bullied by his brothers. One moment when Jay snaps towards his brothers felt all too real.
Big Mouth does provide a healthy amount of the laughs. Despite the awfulness that the trailer suggested. There are of course plenty of sex humor but some of the funniest moments are the verbal gags that are unrelated to sex. There are short moments that are hardly going to challenge the likes of The Simpsons and Family Guy during their heyday but I would be lying if I said I didn’t chuckle.
The Hormone Monster was clearly designed to be the breakout character of the show. He is overly vulgar and unfiltered as he acts as a devil on Andrew to jack-off at any given opportunity. A little of his shtick goes a long way. The Hormone Monster funniest moment was when Andrew had the chance to play seven minutes in heaven with his girlfriend and he has a non-verbal reaction.
Because the show is made for Netflix it had few restrictions on what it could show. In the first episode Andrew’s penis was flashed at the audience and Nick visualized playing against a bunch of dicks. One of the most infamous moments was when Jessie talks to her vagina. Just because something can be done doesn’t mean it should. The same can be said about the show’s swearing which has a liberal use of the f-word. When it comes to swearing, especially in comedies, I am of the view that less is more, making the words more impactful where it is for a comedic or dramatic purpose.
The show also had a fondness for musical numbers which were hit and miss. The best were “I’m Gay” which was an excellent parody of the rock legends Queen and “Life is a Fucked Up Mess” simply because the lyrics were all too relatable, even if the singing is god awful. Other songs failed to land like the song “Everybody Bleeds” which parodied R.E.M’s “Everybody Hurts” and its famous music video – it was just changing the lyrics of the original song. Like my point involving swearing musical numbers should be used sparingly.
The show had a great voice cast, having the likes of Maya Rudolph, Jordan Peele, Kat Dennings and Richard Kind in the main cast or supporting roles and other stars in guest roles like Kristen Bell, Kristen Wiig, Mae Whitman and Jon Hamm. Most of the cast are fine in their roles, Rudolph was great as the Hormone Monstress. However, Kroll’s voice was ill-fitting for Nick, sounding too old to play a pre-pubescent boy and his voice one of the worst sounding characters: a popular girl called Lola.
If you can get pass the awful first episode Big Mouth does have some heart and emotional moments. The show does continue plotlines like the relationship between Andrew and Missy and a storyline involving Jessi’s mum. All of this comes to a head in the penultimate episode “I Survived Jessi’s Bat Mitzvah” which is one of the best episodes in the series. Big Mouth also addresses some serious issues like young teenagers having relationships too early, boys and girls having embarrassing incidents because of puberty and sexual behavior between older teens and the themes of girls’ reputation. Big Mouth has much more heart and sincerity than modern day Family Guy.
One of the biggest black marks against Big Mouth is its animation. The most obvious are the character designs: all the characters have big fish lips, horrific eyes and the main characters are so small they look like they are five-years-old instead of 12/13. It’s made even worst because Nick has a 16-year-old sister and she is nearly as tall as the adults.
The show also has some loose rules having a supernatural element with ghosts making a regular appearance and Jay impregnating a pillow. Goldberg worked on Family Guy which has a baby genius and a talking dog but Big Mouth is meant to be a little more grounded: the only wacky element should have been the hormone monsters and they should have only been seen by the person they are attached to. The show also had some cartoony visual jokes which were also a mixed bag: it was funny when the boys’ heads explode when they find out girls are horny too is funny, but a joke involving when Nick’s eyes pop out of his head just didn’t fit.
Goldberg has improved a lot since his days on Family Guy making a show that has some substance beneath the sex jokes. Big Mouth is the closest an American show could get to be like the original The Inbetweeners and overcomes the awful character design and marketing.