What “Big Mouth” Gets Right (And Wrong) About Puberty

When you’re a platform that has created shows like “House of Cards” and “BoJack Horseman,” the bar for quality is higher than most. That’s the benefit/burden of being successful. Say what you will about how Netflix has evolved over the years, it has produced some amazing content in an age that some call the third golden age of TV.

Then, there are shows like “Big Mouth.” I’m not saying that Netflix is lowering the bar for the sake of balance, but I’m still struggling to make sense of this show. When I heard about it, especially with comedian Nick Kroll attached to it, I hoped I had found another show to pass the time in between seasons of “BoJack Horseman.” I’m won’t say I was disappointed, but I do feel like I took the quality of Netflix content for granted.

I’m not going to say that “Big Mouth” is a bad show, but I won’t make excuses for it. It’s the kind of show that goes out of its way to be crude for all the wrong reasons and not in the traditions of “South Park” either. It doesn’t go for the cheap laugh or even the mid-priced laugh. It’s a show that just goes out of its way to sensationalize teenagers going through puberty.

On paper, it sounds like a great concept. Going through puberty is wrought with all sorts of craziness, some funny and some embarrassing as hell. I’ve shared some on this blog, including a story about the most awkward boner I’ve ever gotten.

Big Mouth” tries to extract humor from similarly awkward situations. It takes a lot of swings and it misses a lot of pitches, but it does manage to hit a few balls here and there. Yes, I also mean that in a literal sense. This show does resort to that kind of humor.

It may not be the kind of high-concept insight you get from an episode of “Rick and Morty,” but it does at least try to send a message about the horrors of puberty. Even if the product is crude and exceedingly exaggerated, that message is relevant, so much so that it’s worth talking about.

I honestly didn’t expect to write about “Big Mouth” in any capacity, especially when writing about sexy memories from my college years is so much more interesting. However, after gritting my teeth and watching the show, I feel the horrors of puberty are worth talking about, especially with ideas about toxic masculinity being so prevalent lately.

Big Mouth” doesn’t attempt to wade too deeply into those kinds of issues. It’s too crude and too crass a show to even attempt that kind of commentary. However, it does do a good job at showing just how powerful and, at times, overwhelming that flood of hormones can be to a young person. For some, it’s downright traumatic.

Throughout the show, the main characters, Nick Birch, Andrew, Glouberman, and Jessi Glaser, are often hounded by literal manifestations of a monster that personifies their hormones. It’s never clear whether the monster is invisible or not, but this creature basically says everything the FCC won’t allow teenagers to say out loud.

For the boys, the monster is named Maurice and his advice usually amounts to things like, “Go ahead and jerk off!” or “Look at her tits!” or “Too bad, buddy! You’re getting a boner!” I’m not going to lie. That monster kind of triggered some awkward moments from my teenage years where I found myself thinking thoughts too crude, even for my novels.

The girls aren’t spared from that awkwardness either. There’s another hormone monster every bit as crude, but reserved for female characters. Her name is Connie and she embodies all the alpha bitch, hyper-feminine extremes that Sam Kinison ever joked about. She’s emotional, dramatic, and demands that every female character be confused or overwhelmed by her body. That’s basically puberty in a nutshell.

In a sense, “Big Mouth” is unique in its balanced approach to showing how boys and girls both struggle to endure puberty. That’s rare in most coming of age stories that either focus on horny guys trying to get laid or bitchy girls trying to get popular. This show doesn’t give a pass to either gender.

This is what “Big Mouth” actually gets right about puberty, to some extent. It’s not just overwhelming and frustrating for one gender. The male experience is unique. They have to deal with constant erections and that annoying voice in their head urging them to think dirty thoughts about anything that even looks like a beautiful women.

Since I’m a man who has more than his share of bad memories from my awkward teen years, that’s a sentiment I can appreciate. However, it’s the female perspective in “Big Mouth” that I found most intriguing. The idea that girls are just as freaked out about the changes in their bodies, minds, and everything in between shouldn’t be such a novel concept, but this show goes out of its way to belabor it.

Now, I don’t know for sure that the girls I went to high school with had an actual hormone monster on their shoulder, telling them to cry irrationally at a moment’s notice or lash out at anyone who dared to look at them the wrong way. It’s just somewhat refreshing to think that teen awkwardness knows no gender.

If gender balance is a strength in “Big Mouth,” though, it’s biggest weakness is portraying how the characters deal with it. The show is so over-the-top with the extremes of puberty that it’s hard to glean a meaningful story from it all.

It’s not just that puberty takes the form of actual hormone monsters that sound like uncensored commentary from a bad porno. It’s not that the show makes puberty sound overly traumatic either. There’s never a sense that the characters, even Jessi and Nick, actually grow through the experience. That’s kind of a big oversight with puberty.

From a purely biological standpoint, puberty is the maturation of a child into adulthood. That maturation part is never even hinted at in the show. After watching the first season of “Big Mouth,” it’s hard to imagine any of the characters involved growing into functioning adults.

In the real world, puberty tends to bring out the best or worst in a person. If someone starts becoming an asshole in puberty, they usually stay that way into adulthood. If someone shows an ability to deal with it and grow, as a person, then they’re usually in good shape. It can even get pretty hilarious when both kinds of people have to deal with one another. Unfortunately, we don’t get that with “Big Mouth.”

I won’t go so far as to say the show is terrible. It does have its moments and some of those moments are genuinely funny or insightful. It is, as the end of the day, an overly comedic take on the rigors of puberty. It doesn’t try to be coy or deceptive. It doesn’t try to use colorful metaphors involving flowers or cucumbers. It gets right down the dirty, gritty details.

I can see the show appealing to those who suffered more during puberty than most. I can even see the show appealing to “South Park” and “Family Guy” fans. It’s hardly a guide or a warning with respect to the rigors of puberty, but it reflects a common truth. Being a teenager sucks and puberty is a big reason why.

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Filed under gender issues, Marriage and Relationships

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