Aside from the lilo-shaped-like-a-sanitary-towel product pitch, I can’t think of any meeting I’d rather spy on than the commissioning of Nick Kroll’s new animated series, Big Mouth, to Netflix.
My guess is, it went something like this: “So, you’ll know me as ‘the Douche’ from Parks and Recreation and I want to make a show about a bunch of super horny 12-year-olds who drink, make out and hallucinate giant hairy hormone monsters that make them watch pornography and masturbate all the time. It will feature all the gross stuff that happened to you and your friends as teenagers but are too embarrassed to talk about. And we’re showing everything.”
A brief silence follows. “Sorry, Nick, just to confirm, you want us to run a NetflixOriginal showing explicit underage drinking and sex?”
“Oh, right. D’oh!” (At this point Kroll mock face-palms). “It’s animated.”
And just like that, Netflix gained one more great original.
Arriving late to the cartoon craze, Big Mouth has learned its craft from the best. Taking the Rick and Morty and Bojack Horseman “sad-com” structure of crass-yet-clever humour and emotional vulnerability, Kroll, Goldberg, Flackett and Levin take on those most untouchable of topics: periods, penises and pubescent lust.
We all remember puberty being awful: developing too quickly, too slowly, too openly, too shyly; no one wins. All, it seems, anyone can hope for is to maintain a shred of dignity at the end of it, or to move far away soon after. That doesn’t mean that we remember how it feels, though. That’s where Big Mouth transcends. It puts the stories of teens on an emotional par with those of their parents who, between marijuana addictions, sexual awakenings and physical changes, seem to be experiencing a second adolescence of their own. It respects teenagers while at the same time humiliating them.
Since watching Big Mouth, I have found that teen memories have flooded back with such nauseating violence that I feel the need to sob and listen to loud Paramore. It’s all so horribly relatable: the boys’ heads exploding at the news that “girls get horny, too”; the girls sneaking a mirror “down there” to see what the deal is; the boys realising that they can get heartbroken, too. We have all been there (although admittedly, we’ve never had those experiences voiced by Kristen Wiig. All women everywhere are jealous).
But it’s not just about cringey nostalgia. What sets Big Mouth apart is the way it positions itself firmly within today’s generation of teens – a world of mean hashtags and internet pornography addiction. At one point, the female lead, Jessi, goes through the trauma of having her first period in the Statue of Liberty while wearing white shorts. Then her dorky best friend, Andrew, vomits at the mention of “the P-word”. As Bodyform announces its intention to use red blood in its adverts, REM the tampon (don’t ask) sings “everybody bleeds”, and Jessi punches a guy in the throat for mocking her period.
It all feels wonderfully relevant. Another particularly horrible encounter sees Andrew declaring: “Look at all these houses. You never know how many people might be eating jizz inside them.”
It might be simple gross-out comedy, but it also feels like we should be talking about this stuff more openly and more often. It’s either that or people will still think an Ookie Cookie is a good idea and that women bleed blue. Your call.