Polygon is kicking off its best of entertainment series, which will run through the end of December and beginning of January, coming to a close just before the 2017 Golden Globes. These personal essays will examine the best, most important and weirdest moments that occurred in television, film, streaming and YouTube/Twitch in 2017. Each will examine why the author believes that moment to be one of 2017’s most extraordinary. The series will end with Polygon’s Best of TV and Best of Movies pieces.
It’s easy to write off coming-of-age comedies as passé when every network and streaming service is trying to shove them down our throats.
Why bother sitting through another story about a group of teenagers as they learn to deal with newfound sexual urges, relationships, body changes and general malaise when it feels like we’ve seen it before? With a sea of teenage stories on just about every network, the arrival of Big Mouth on Netflix shouldn’t have been seen as this monumental victory for the genre, but it is.
The fact that four months after its premiere Big Mouth remains the most impressive series (that almost no one is talking about) to debut this year speaks volumes about how important innovation in stale genres is.
Created by comedian Nick Kroll, Andrew Goldberg (Family Guy), Jennifer Flackett (Beverly Hills, 90210) and Mark Levin (The Wonder Years), Big Mouth follows two pre-teens, Nick Birch (voiced by Kroll) and Andrew Glouberman (voiced by comedian John Mulaney), as they enter puberty. Along with their group of junior high friends, Big Mouth explores just about every topic important to people of that age: first periods, unwanted erections, sexual orientation, dating, pornography, friendship and popularity.
Big Mouth uses grotesque characters like the “Hormone Monster” and the “Hormone Monstress” as a way of really exploring how awkward puberty can be, but does so in the lewdest way possible. The jokes are crass, and the conversations are even crasser, but the heart of Big Mouth isn’t its comedy. What makes Big Mouth stand out from the dozens of other series that touch on the same subject matter is the unapologetic, genuine approach to exploring how these kids feel.
Think back to that time in your life when you were first going through puberty and trying to understand what was going on with your body. It’s literally and figuratively a messy time, but it’s the emotional complications that accompany unwanted body hair, acne, body odor and mental crises that stick out. Becoming a teenager can be pretty traumatic, and that’s what Big Mouth focuses on for the entirety of its 10 episodes.
Big Mouth turns those scary moments of uncertainty into literal monsters that only the affected tween can see. They have a bond with their hormone monster who they’re revolted by, but also rely on for centuries-old wisdom. Big Mouth gives its characters an entity to point to and blame for all of life’s mishaps; by shaping puberty as an unrelenting gargoyle, Big Mouth reinvigorates one of television’s most well-worn topics.
This isn’t South Park, and it’s not Clone High. It’s not a juvenile take on a universal subject and it’s not a show about younger characters designed for an intellectual audience, but that’s what makes Big Mouth so special. Being a teenager isn’t a cookie-cutter experience; it’s different for every person.
It could be the best part of someone’s life or, alternatively, it could be the worst. This type of nuanced behavior, the trickiness that underlines the life of teenagers around the world, is what creator Nick Kroll was trying to address with Big Mouth.
“We navigate a bunch of different tones because something like puberty and adolescence is not a simple thing,” Kroll told Thrillist. “I don't think people connect that so much of what's happening to your body is also happening to your emotions. That means there are going to be really funny moments, really angry moments, really sad moments.”
Big Mouth can be difficult to watch at times because so much of it still resonates. If you’re over the age of 17, going back to that period of your life when you thought you were the monster because of everything happening to you is like an emotional cleanse. If you’re a teenager right now, I can imagine it’s hitting home even harder. What Kroll and his colleagues manage to do so wonderfully is put themselves back in that mentality, re-experiencing what they went through as teenagers and trying to address the puberty monster again as adults.
The show is a riot and doesn’t hold back shots at the comedic sides of puberty, but Big Mouth never mocks the feelings teenagers face. Kroll reinforces that their emotions are valid; teens are allowed to feel sad or excited or angry because those feelings are real and they shouldn’t be ashamed of them. Big Mouth succeeds because its writers understand how scary being a 13-year-old is — and never tries to belittle its characters for being of a certain age.
When I first saw a trailer for Big Mouth, I was turned off by the art style and, what I assumed to be, very South Park-style jokes. It wasn’t until I was bored and decided to give it a shot that I found myself marathoning all 10 episodes in one day. I still revisit the series often, much like I do 30 Rock, BoJack Horseman, Arrested Development or Friends, and it’s become a staple for how I see the coming-of-age subgenre developing in the next few years.
Almost no one talked about Big Mouth in 2017, and that’s a downright shame. I hope by this time in 2018, Big Mouth is regarded and celebrated for the fantastic piece of television that it is.
All of Big Mouth’s first season can be streamed on Netflix.