Raunchy or gross-out humor is perhaps the genre most suited for the phrase “your mileage may vary.” Some people will look at the hormonally-charged humor of Netflix’s “Big Mouth” and turn away in disgust. I get it. It is a show in which the raging sex drives of its characters push the boundaries of good taste at every turn. The show’s creators clearly realize they could never do this show live-action and so take the opportunity provided by animation to really go there. The voice cast is incredibly strong, but your enjoyment of Big Mouth really comes down to your tolerance for jokes about bodily fluids and horny teenagers. Personally, I think it’s hysterical.
Nick Kroll voices Nick Birch (as well as a half-dozen other characters), a shy kid who’s growing a little slower than his classmates—he has two lonely pubic hairs who talk to him—and he’s got overprotective parents who are a little bizarrely encouraging of his growth. On the other hand, Andrew Glouberman’s (John Mulaney) dad think he’s gross—and he’s not really wrong. Andrew spends almost all of his free time masturbating, spurred on by the devil on his shoulder, a hysterical creation known as the Hormone Monster (also voiced by Kroll). We also hang out with other pre-teens in the sphere of Nick and Andrew, including Jessi (Jessi Klein), Jay (Jason Mantzoukas), Missy (Jenny Slate), and the ghost of Duke Ellington (Jordan Peele). Yep, it’s a weird show. Season two introduces another classmate named Gina (Gina Rodriguez) and another imaginary creation known as the Shame Wizard, hysterically voiced by David Thewlis. The voice cast is one of the best on TV, but every episode is stolen by Maya Rudolph, who voices the female version of the Hormone Monster, and makes me laugh every single time.
Being a pre-teen boy is an absolute nightmare. Your body is changing in ways that make you a total mess just as you’re realizing how much you want to impress people at your school. “Big Mouth” is insanely raunchy, but it’s also more truthful about the horror of life in junior high in ways that TV and film rarely are. It understands what happens when kids are trying to become adults but terrified to really express themselves or confidently talk to other people. It takes a lot more ability to be both dirty and funny than people think. There are dozens of awful movies and cable shows made by people who thought that the gross-out moment was all they needed to make people laugh, but “Big Mouth” is smarter than that in every episode. Most of all, it’s one of those shows that constantly surprises you in its approach. You’re never quite sure where the next joke is coming from. In fact, that may be the way it’s most like adolescence, a time when every day feels dangerously unpredictable. As with every raunchy comedy, not every joke works—we spend way too much time with Coach Steve in season two for my taste—but this is a fearless, clever comedy more often than it’s not.
Netflix’s continued plan for world domination apparently now includes cornering a market once led more by Adult Swim and Comedy Central—animation for adults. “Bojack Horseman” has an incredibly loyal following and most people who watched “Disenchantment” agreed that it will be interesting to see where that show goes. My favorite of the bunch remains “Big Mouth,” but, as the saying goes, your mileage may vary.