The right kind of growing pains.
This is a spoiler-free review for Big Mouth Season 2. All 10 episodes are currently available to stream on Netflx.
The first season of Big Mouth had a great many charms, but also a knack for getting in its own way. Coach Steve, for example, often felt like he interrupted the series’ candid, surprisingly deep conversation about puberty, while the ghost of Duke Ellington living in Nick’s attic felt completely extraneous, save for one very smart, hilarious musical number. But these criticisms appear to have been heard, as the second season really hones in on the puberty angle, looping in Coach Steve along the way, while dialing back pretty much every element that doesn’t focus on the characters’ sexual awakenings. (The ghost of Duke Ellington appears in just three or four scenes this entire season). The result is a refreshed version of Big Mouth that’s smarter, more focused, and, occasionally, quite emotional.
After a shaky premiere that has the unfortunate task of resolving the Season 1 cliffhanger (Jessi and Jay ran away together, only to realize very quickly that it wasn’t meant to be and for the show to resume its status quo in episode two), the second batch of Big Mouth settles into a more confident, consistent groove early on. While Andrew and Jay are mostly thriving in their ability to pleasure themselves, Nick’s decrepit hormone monster is all but ruining his puberty, especially with the introduction of Gina (Jane the Virgin’s Gina Rodriguez), who the boys only just noticed since she suddenly developed breasts – but who, as Jessi points out, has actually been in their grade since the beginning.
Gina goes on to become one of the season’s most thoughtfully written characters (a flashback to how she felt when boys started noticing her is an instrumental part of why the season works), but her entrance initially sparks more interesting storytelling opportunities for the female characters than the male ones. Episode two has a brilliant, open-minded musical number about female body positivity led by Maya Rudolph as Connie, the hormone monstress, that delivers a strong message of acceptance to Jessi and Missy— Season 2 also triples down on the musical numbers, each of which is an absolute delight.
Though Big Mouth may be an absurdist take on male creators Nick Kroll and Andrew Goldberg’s teenage growing pains, the show rides to success on a strong message of female empowerment. In some ways, the series feels like an assured answer to the long-running South Park, which has recently been forced into some conversations by our evolving understanding of gender and sexuality that the show’s original premise about fourth-grade potty mouths wasn’t built to ever have. Big Mouth is built on the sole purpose of having those conversations, to the point where this Netflix adult animated comedy is definitely more instructional and thorough than America’s sex education practices at large (at one point, there’s a perfect Bachelorette parody about women choosing the right type of contraception). While Jessi, Missy, and Gina have to navigate how boys treat them based on their looks, Nick and Andrew are on a season-long lesson about how to not shame women.
The concept of shame plays an integral part throughout the season. To accompany the hormone monsters, a new mystical, metaphorical force is introduced this season: the Shame Wizard (Harry Potter and Fargo’s David Thewlis, deliciously leaning into the role). He pops up to feed into every character’s innermost insecurities as they grow into their bodies. The results are sometimes hysterical, and the character does eventually get a lively musical number of his own, but the Shame Wizard is also pivotal in making Big Mouth a much more human series. By having open conversations about what exactly makes the kids feel shame at different times, every character his Voldemort-like shadow creeps over instantly becomes more relatable and deserving of the audience’s compassion. His first of many cutting appearances to Matthew, Big Mouth’s resident gay character, suddenly opens the series up to a whole host of internal issues that lie outside of heterosexuality (it should be noted that out queer comedian Jaboukie Young-White joined the writers’ room for Season 2). This is a hugely important step for the series to take if it’s going to be the all-encompassing look at adolescence that it wants to be. It’s a joy to be able to write that Big Mouth Season 2 takes that step earnestly and compassionately.
Immune to the Shame Wizard, however, is Coach Steve, far and away the most improved element in Season 2. We learn early on in the new episodes, as unsurprising as it may be, that the coach is still a virgin. Where last season his character mostly interjected jokes about being a sad adult, now his arc is tied to a similar sexual coming of age that the kids are going through. Being more central to Big Mouth’s overall thesis actually brings the humor out of the character. Next to the hormone monsters, he’s the most consistent source of laughs this season. And considering how much deeper Season 2 dives into the kids’ psyches, the laughs are definitely needed.
Between all the emotions the Shame Wizard stirs up and Jessi’s late-season realization that her struggles might be more rooted in her chemical build than simple puberty, Big Mouth’s second season proves it isn’t afraid to challenge itself beyond the initial premise of kids going through bodily changes. What these new episodes accomplish, fearlessly, is widening the scope of what the show wants to cover. But it’s the sensitivity and honesty with which it covers these new elements that makes the series soar. Not every joke lands, but with introspection this deep, they don’t all have to.