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'Big Mouth' Goes Through Some Big Changes

To some, the hit comedy series Big Mouth might seem immature and silly in its crude but relatable portrayal of puberty. The latest ten-episode season, released on Dec. 4, follows the show’s trademark style, including vulgar dialogue, bizarre plots, and quirky characters voiced by some of today’s most celebrated comedians. Yet, from a more critical viewpoint, the show finds its merit in the ways it addresses important but taboo topics, with the latest episodes surpassing previous seasons in tackling issues like racism, gender, sexuality, and mental health.

One of the most significant character arcs this season involves Missy, who grapples with her racial identity while growing up in white suburbia. Back in August, the Big Mouth creators announced that Jenny Slate would be stepping down from voicing the biracial character in order for Black comedian Ayo Edebiri to more appropriately play her. Slate voices Missy for the initial eight episodes of the season, during which Missy questions her experience with blackness, even breaking the fourth wall in the fourth episode, exclaiming, “I’m really struggling with my racial identity right now. My mom’s white; my dad’s Black. I’m voiced by a white actress who’s 37 years old. Ugh, it’s all very overwhelming.” Over the course of the season, Missy surrounds herself with her Black cousins from Atlanta, tries out an unfamiliar hairstyle, chooses more mature fashion choices than her beloved overalls, and discusses racism with her parents. She learns about “code-switching” from her Black classmate and popular-kid Devon, who also confronts the pressure to assimilate to white cultural standards.

This season also introduces a new character named Natalie (Josie Totah), a trans teenager, whose four-episode appearance thoughtfully tackles issues around gender identity, especially during puberty. Her hormone monster is particularly aggressive until she finds support from other trans people online and begins to take hormone blockers. When reintroduced to her male summer camp friends after transitioning, they fixate on her genitalia, while the girls critique her for not fitting into the feminine gender roles they try to construct for her. Feeling misunderstood, she sparks a caring friendship with Jessi (Jessi Klein), who likewise is disillusioned by the culture at the camp. Instead of focusing on how other characters feel about her transition, the writers thoughtfully center Natalie’s feelings and narrative, though they do make note of the societal stigma attached to being in a relationship with a trans person in a cisnormative culture. However, she was only present in four episodes of the season, which makes her character feel a bit like an add-on instead of a more developed, essential character. Big Mouth could do more by reintroducing her story again in the next season. 

Tackling the issues of mental health that often arise during adolescence, the latest season features Tito the Anxiety Mosquito (Maria Bamford), who plagues several of the characters with his presence. Just as the Shame Wizard (David Thewlis) of the second season tormented the pubescent teens with feelings of self-disgust and unworthiness, Tito victimizes the characters with anxiety. He forces characters, particularly Nick (Nick Kroll), to emotionally spiral, overthink, and loathe in insecurities. As Jessi adjusts to her new school in New York City, her emotional distress resulting from the presence of Tito and the Depression Kitty, who has followed her around since the second season, causes her to enter a coercive relationship. In addition, Andrew faces obsessive-compulsive tendencies in relation to his grandfather’s death, bringing forth a conversation about grief and loss.

Though the characters of Big Mouth are always “going through changes,” as the theme song puts it, the growth portrayed in this season brought a sense of self-awareness to the characters alongside their emotional changes. As they push themselves to understand their identities and relationships, the show has become increasingly more relatable in both its silly and sincere moments.

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