Big Mouth — The cartoon making a joke out of puberty

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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.

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 Big Mouth: respecting teenagers while at the same time humiliating them. Illustration: Courtesy of Netflix

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.

Originally published at www.theguardian.com on October 23, 2017.
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Little Evil: A Review in Conversation.

Bro 1: Hey, have you heard of this film, ‘Little Evil’?

Bro 2: Nope, cinema or online?

Bro 1: It’s on Netflix so it came up as super highly recommended, but it’s a Netflix original so…

Bro 2: So they hijacked the whole system to basically force you to watch it?

Bro 1: Probably yeah. I mean, afterwards it came up telling me to watch a Netflix documentary on firefighters, which did seem a little shifty…

Bro 2: Well I have no idea what this film’s about yet, so can’t help.

Bro 1: Oh right. It was alright, it’s basically a satirical horror concept I guess. There’s this kid who might be the antichrist and there’s loads of deaths and tension and suspicion, but it’s cool, because it’s done to be funny.

Bro 2: So, like Hot Fuzz.

Bro 1: No no, right, so it’s that Adam Scott guy — you know, Ben from Parks and Recreation — So he’s an estate agent and has a super boring life, and then he marries this woman — Evangeline Lilly, pretty but super boring — has this life-changing event, and then after some tornadoes and bad speaking in tongues, starts to realise that his son is the actual antichrist, shit goes down and he has to save the day.

Bro 2: So, kind of like in Shaun Of The Dead where Simon Pegg’s girlfriend breaks up with him, he realises his life was terrible and it takes him an age to realise that there’s a convenient zombie apocalypse going on, thus providing a way for him to prove himself to his soon-to-be-once-again-girlfriend?

Bro 1: Huh. Okay yeah. Little similar. But it’s not just Adam Scott right, he’s got this funny best friend played by Bridget Everett, who’s like his sidekick all the way through and she’s super blunt…

Bro 2: …and a bit overweight and funny in a crude, self-deprecating way but don’t worry, they always come through when you need them to, as long as it’s in a stupid way like with an oversized gun, as a zombie or in some giant car? Like Nick Frost in both Hot Fuzz and Shaun Of The Dead?

Bro 1: It’s actually a monster truck but okay, I see where you’re coming from. It is pretty funny in parts though — there’s this really good bit where it starts raining blood after Scott’s character’s been buried alive and he’s all like “Great, now it’s raining blood… Not cool Lucas, not cool!” … no? Seemed funny at the time. There’s these quick shot close-up sequences too though, with like, dynamic sounds to add tension and switch scenes. They’re pretty cool.

Bro 2: Mmm hmmm…

Bro 1: What?

Bro 2: Firstly, that line doesn’t sound funny. Secondly, picture those shots in a sequence where someone’s buying a Cornetto. Like Edgar Wright does. All the time.

Bro 1silence

Bro 2: Getting it now huh?

Bro 1: Holy shit. It’s just an Edgar Wright film. But American. And not as funny. God, some of the script really was bad, but Adam Scott’s so charming you know? Oh god, they literally had the demon-hunter be a dwarf just for a cheap laugh, because of course, how could a dwarf ever be a demon-hunter?! I don’t think any of the women did anything but nag. And the antichrist is converted with love and ice cream. Oh god, I actually sat through that kind of movie. What happened to cinematic progress? Oh, poor Edgar Wright. What have I done?

hangs head in shame and horror

Bro 2: Yup. There it is.