“Big Mouth” is back and more cringe-inducing than ever. The raunchy Netflix cartoon series returns strong in its third season with its signature disgusting-yet-heartwarming humor and charm.
Following a group of pubescent seventh graders, “Big Mouth” explores the inherent humiliation and horror of the American middle school. This season’s premiere picks up directly after the events of the show’s Valentine’s Day special with Andrew Glouberman (John Mulaney, “Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse”) returning to school after attacking one of his classmates because of a rejection from his ex-girlfriend, Missy (Jenny Slate, “Obvious Child). This embarrassing and surprisingly violent outburst has left Andrew an outcast at his school and, because of a viral video of the incident, a popular online livestreamer.
As Andrew struggles to learn how to redeem himself, an accident in woodshop leaves him unintentionally maimed by another boy who lost focus staring at a female classmate’s revealing tank top. The girls are then issued a restrictive dress code to avoid “distracting” the boys any further. In protest, Jessi (Jessi Klein, “Inside Amy Schumer”) and the rest of Bridgeton Middle’s female students stage an impromptu “Slut Walk” with their most provocative clothing and demand the boys be held accountable for their actions, despite their teachers’s assertions that “boys are animals.” After a brief uniform policy is enforced, the girls win their right to dress however they want and teach the boys a lesson on self-control and toxic masculinity.
While the episode ends on a victorious note, it’s worth noting a disturbing subplot that finds Andrew delving into the world of incels. As Andrew siphons his anger toward the girls at school into his online rants, he catches the attention of a “Men for Equality” group that invites him to one of their meetings. Upon arriving, Andrew finds the club is actually full of white male supremacists whose neo-Nazi views shock the Jewish teenager into fleeing from both the meeting and his own journey toward a similar mindset. Andrew confides in his best friend, Nick (Nick Kroll, “The Addams Family”) that “I don’t want to have hate in my heart” and begins making amends to his fellow students. Andrew and the other boys have learned, through a series of musical numbers and cartoon hijinks, that maybe the girls they go to school with don’t exist just to be stared at.
“Big Mouth” as a whole can be summed up in one line Jessi delivers in the premiere. When faced with the confusing standards women face and difficulties men have understanding that struggle, she says “I think it might just be this long conversation we all have to keep having!” This unfortunately frustrating sentiment voices the truth that, though there might not be an easy or right way to approach discourses on gender and sexuality, it’s worth trying your best.
However admirable this message is, the Season 3 premiere abandons the show’s more cynical elements and opts for a resolution so hopeful it feels almost ridiculous, and not in the fun kind of way the show usually excels in. While the harassment the girls receive from their teachers, parents and peers is as accurate as it is hard to watch, the storybook ending of Jessi and company securing a feminist victory in their community just isn’t how these situations usually play out.
Because the show’s target audience is undoubtedly adults and not the age group depicted in the series, there feels like a disconnect between an honest portrayal of middle school life and storylines that will comfort their audience of more liberal young people. A group of seventh graders successfully rejecting extremism or sympathetically listening to each other’s feelings, at best, seems wildly optimistic and, at worst, pandering.
“Big Mouth” may be looking at America’s future through rose-colored and X-rated glasses, but even with its idealistic opening, the show remains hilarious, insightful and beautifully crude. Here’s hoping the changes at Bridgeton Middle are felt in the real world too. For a dirty cartoon, it certainly knows how hard it is to grow up.