Editor’s Note: Some not so crucial Big Mouth spoilers ahead
Nick Kroll’s newest Netflix series, Big Mouth, follows five preteens who are right on the cusp of teenagehood. Two of the main characters, Andrew Glouberman (voiced by John Mulaney) and Jessi Glaser (voiced by Jessi Klein) are followed by “hormone monsters” (voiced by Nick Kroll and Maya Rudolph) that came to them both as they started puberty. If fact, they are the reason why all kids start puberty. These monsters play the roles of both the metaphorical angel and devil on adolescent shoulders, filling the pubescent preteens with advice — things like “kiss him hard on the mouth” and “burn the house down to the ground.”
Big Mouth is brilliant for a number of reasons. First, it perfectly captures the angst and mood swings of puberty along with the desire to screw any and everything with absolutely no idea how to do so. It also reveals how painful every social interaction can be. As was said in the first episode following a premature ejaculation while Andrew slow-danced with his crush, then having to wash his pants in the toilet, “Everything is embarrassing.”
But more interesting to us, Big Mouth makes poignant, hard-hitting jokes about gay people and gay culture without being offensive. It’s a feat very few shows have been able to accomplish. So often, especially when a series doesn’t center around gay protagonists, queer characters are placed on-screen as the butt of the joke. Even if they have a more substantial role, the characters are often one-dimensional — a walking gay stereotype with a high-pitched lisp and limp wrists, there to be be laughed at and nothing else.
Big Mouth goes above and beyond the usual gay tropes by not only having complex and nuanced queer characters, but also by tackling the complexity of sexuality.
The third episode of Big Mouth was super gay, thanks to Freddie Mercury
In the third episode of Big Mouth Season 1, Andrew — the timid, glasses-wearing, pear-shaped preteen — begins to question his sexuality. He proceeds to talk to the only other gay person he knows, a boy in school named Matthew (perfectly voiced by Andrew Rannells). Matthew quickly corrects Andrew: “I’m the only gay person you know you know.”
When Andrew confesses that he thinks he may be gay, Matthew quickly replies, “You’re weirdly formal, like the kind of gay guy who was in the Air Force, then became middle management at IBM, and you have a condo and there’s a sad gym in the building.”
Not only is Matthew’s description undoubtedly a type of gay man we all know, it’s also a different type of gay than what’s typically shown on television. Additionally, Andrew’s response to this isn’t to be taken aback but rather to say, “Well, that sounds like a nice little life I’ve made for myself.”
That response shows there’s nothing wrong with being that type of gay — or gay at all, for that matter.
After talking with Matthew, Andrew decides to ask the ghost of Ghost of Duke Ellington (a regular character on the show, voiced by Jordan Peele), for advice. Andrew professes, “I am probably gay, and it’s scary.”
Duke, friends with tons of gay people from his years in the industry, introduces Andrew to the ghosts of a few famous queer men, including Freddie Mercury (and also former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia). Andrew and Freddie break out into song, which helps Andrew not only accept but also embrace being gay. He sings, “I’m a fabulous, flouncing, loud and proud cliché on display, and I’ve found my calling.”
Watch the song “I’m Gay” from Big Mouth here:
After embracing his identity as a gay man, and upon kissing his best friend Nick, Andrew realizes he’s actually not gay. He’s confused, like so many pre-teens are about their sexuality.
Even though Andrew realizes he isn’t gay, the show handles his confusion and the coming out process perfectly, cracking jokes throughout and without being offensive or undermining the struggle that many teens face regarding their sexuality.
Big Mouth character Matthew is a revelation
Then, of course, there’s Matthew, the snarky, sharp-witted gay who’s arguably the funniest character on the show. Matthew sums up himself perfectly when he proclaims at a high school house party, “I can’t believe I’m in the seventh grade and already over high school. These fucking people.”
Matthew is a queen, no question about it, but it’s clear there was a gay person in the writing room who helped form his character. He makes one reference to gay culture after the next, and so quickly that if you don’t listen carefully you’ll easily miss a joke. Everything from his Alaska-style “Byeeeeeeeeeeeee” to his nonstop reads screams gay culture.
While parts of his mannerisms are stereotypical, they’re still not offensive or one-dimensional. This is because there’s depth to his character, and a certain relatability that all gay folks feel from being the only gay person in the room in middle and high school. That relatability also stems from the fact that he makes references to modern queer culture. He’s not making the same top/bottom jokes of most sitcoms, which at this point aren’t even as offensive as much as stale.
Outside of the boys, there’s another, older character going through a sexual identity awakening: Jessi’s mother, Shannon (voiced by Jessica Chaffin). *FYI, spoilers ahead.* Shannon is in a loveless marriage with her husband, Greg (voiced by Seth Morris) and begins an affair with the cantor of her daughter’s bat mitzvah.
Jessi finds out about her mother’s affair, asking, “What are you, you’re like a lesbian now?” Holding back tears, Shannon replies, “I don’t know, I’m figuring things out.” It’s a poignant scene in an otherwise hilarious series, a raw and realistic depiction of the grief and confusion a woman exploring her sexuality later in life would feel. All she’s trying to do is spare her child some of the grief that she’s feeling.
Big Mouth proves that it is indeed possible to make jokes about marginalized groups in a way that’s not offensive. In a time when numerous comedians are complaining that millennials are “too sensitive,” Big Mouth proves the opposite. Comedians and showrunners who complain about PC culture are simply lazy, relying on stale tropes and unwilling to change with the times. Comedy has always evolved as political and social climates change, and Big Mouth is a show that illustrates you can be funny, crass and walk the fine line between offensive and humorous, as long as you’re smart about it.
The first season of Nick Kroll’s Big Mouth is currently available to watch on Netflix
All photos courtesy Netflix