Like many shows before it, Big Mouth has taken its second season as an opportunity to double-down on what the first season did and gives us more of everything. This season gives you more pre-teen masturbation, more Hormone Monsters, more anthropomorphized sexy pillows, more musical numbers, more bad decisions, more embarrassment, and more Coach Steve. Some of these things are good to have more of and some pave the road to madness.
Let’s start with the good. Big Mouth still excels at developing its unique, odd, could-never-work-in-live-action voice. There are so few honest (read: gnarly) examinations of these early days of puberty that the show’s existence alone is enough to make me like it. The show walks a tightrope between mostly grounded stories about teens just trying to live with themselves—while discovering who that is—and extremely absurd or surreal humor that threatens to crack the world of the characters wide open.
On the grounded side, you have stories about Andrew (John Mulaney, as expertly awkward and clammy as ever), Nick (Nick Kroll, one of the dozen characters he voices here), and their friendship as they navigate the insecurities that crop up when Andrew’s development continues to speed past Nick in every way. Nick battles a lot of insecurities this season, especially after a particularly embarrassing pants-ing that exposes him to all of his classmates and friends. A lot of juice is mined from the slow-burn friendship, then relationship, of Nick and “new girl” Gina (she’s not new, but her boobs are, explain the boys). Voiced by the inimitable Gina Rodriguez, Gina adds another strong, complicated young woman to the cast and presents more opportunities to explore life-after-menarche, as well as the complex dynamics between boys and girls, men and women.
Perhaps it’s partially personal bias, but some of the best episodes or plot lines tend to be the ones about the girls’ experience of puberty. Last season had a couple, notably the second episode in which Jessi (Jessi Klein) has her first period on a class trip, and the mid-season mind-blower (literally, lots of animated heads blew up) “Girls Are Horny Too.” This year, we get more insight into the lives of Jessi, Gina, Missy (Jenny Slate, using this voice, but chipper) and, surprisingly, Lola (also Nick Kroll, doing this voice) as the writers are able to move around characters and establish long arcs this season after laying the groundwork in the first.
Jessi is not handling her parents’ slow separation well and is acting out by letting her worst instincts take over. Lola, still mostly a joke for the writers—as there are some characters they kind of refuse to treat like real people—still invokes some pathos when she rightfully points out how one of the boys was wrong in just using her for “rubbing fronts.” Sweet, wise Missy suffers from periods of self-hatred, and later self-disgust, and Gina’s newfound notoriety as “The Girl With Big Boobs Now” puts her into the unwanted spotlight and eventually earns her the worst kind of attention from the boys, but even more so the girls, of her class. In general, whenever the show expands its worldview beyond that of a young boy’s experience of puberty, it hits some surprising highs. That’s not to say that following the journey of Andrew and Nick learning how to be good men (Andrew in particular) is not worthwhile, but American culture is not lacking for stories of straight white boys in their youth.
For a few moments this season, we get a glimpse at the younger days of some of the parents. In one of the most charming, creative and bittersweet scenes, we get a montage of Andrew’s mother, Barbara, in her young, club days through to her chosen motherhood, all set to “Groove is in the Heart” by Deee-Lite. In a later episode, we see a sweet night when Jessi’s parents got high and saw The Truman Show together. Outside of peeking into the world of young girls, and grown women, we also get a couple of intriguing beats for the token gay teen, Mathew (Andrew Rannells). Frequently used for catty asides and stirring the gossip mill, in a late-season episode Mathew has a moment of guidance from an older gay man (voiced by Harvey Fierstein!) he encounters at the otherwise grim “Guy Town” divorcee and bachelor apartment complex the boys move Jessi’s Dad into.
Mathew is also given some internal life during the tense episode “Dark Side of the Boob.” A major element of this season is the introduction of the Shame Wizard. Voiced magnificently by David Thewlis, this creation visits every student and whispers in their ear the harshest realities about themselves, distorting the smallest moments into reasons to feel shame, self-hatred, or guilt. The Wizard has his biggest moment in “Dark Side,” in which he takes advantage of a school sleepover to get inside of every kid’s head and push them to their limits. In the end, he gets his own arch-villain song (which somehow becomes a Blur song during the chorus? But no matter), which is a standout among several musical moments this season.
There is one character that the Shame Wizard—or as this character misidentifies him, Shane Lizard—can not affect and that is Coach Steve. Voiced by Kroll, again, this creation’s success depends on what you find funny. This character verges so far into the grotesque, the pitiful, and the alarmingly sad that his absurd, ridiculous comments are more worrisome than entertaining. The world of Big Mouth is complicated and its reality is not our own. However, the reality often appears quite like ours, so when we have characters like Jessi, or her parents, or Nick and Gina, who quite regularly act like real people, bumping up against Coach Steve who lives on a diaper barge and “barfs diarrhea,” it becomes difficult not to see Coach Steve as a real-life person. And when you see that, his whole “thing” becomes very dark.
There is an entire episode with Steve as the protagonist—he takes over the credit sequence to tell you so—and it centers around him having sex for the first time at age 47 (or, as he calls it, “making thick in the warm!”). The exploration of having sex at a later age than expected could be an interesting area of exploration for this all-encompassing human sexuality guidebook/joke book, but when done with Steve it turns into an uncomfortable affair (“whoever had sex with you should probably be arrested,” opines one of the students). Mainly, the impression is that Kroll just enjoys doing the Coach Steve voice and improvising disgusting trivia while doing it.
If you have seen the first season of Big Mouth, you know what you like and what you don’t. Don’t expect your opinions to change in the second season, but whatever you do like, you will have more of and it’ll outweigh more of what you can’t quite stand. Overall, the comedic sensibility—sometimes referential, sometimes irreverent (a running bit with Jay’s dog gets me giggling for no good reason) and, quite often, meta—is a silly, enjoyable coating around the hard center of the show. Puberty and the ongoing exploration of one’s sexuality is a thorny topic with countless avenues of discussion. It can be tough to talk about or see represented for what it is.
There is a sweet scene near the end of the series that has Andrew comforting Missy by sharing one of his shameful secrets. She is caught doing what she deems “the wiggle dance,” and now thinks of herself as the biggest pervert in the world. Andrew assures her that that cannot be because “I am he” and proceeds to tell her how he came in his pants when dancing with her at the school dance. They both feel better and are able to laugh about both of their embarrassments while feeling the burden of shame lift. Big Mouth aims to do the same with all of us. Let’s talk about and animate wildly all of the youthful moments we were once so embarrassed by. Once we realize it’s happened to all of us, in one way or another, these moments don’t seem so bad after all.