There wasn’t necessarily a lot riding on the second season of Big Mouth, Netflix’s fan-favorite animated comedy from Nick Kroll, Andrew Goldberg, Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett. Its first season introduced a show that felt instantly fully-formed, and it didn’t hurt that the premise — a comedy hyperfixated on the raunchy nadir of puberty — was by all accounts a deceptively simple one. The expectation for season 2 wasn’t for the show to reinvent itself so much as expand and take a deeper look into the show’s colourful characters and their universally relatable adolescent foibles.
Season 1 introduced us to Nick, Andrew, Jessi, Jay (Nick Kroll, John Mulaney, Jessi Klein and Jason Mantzoukas, respectively) and their 7th grade peers going to school in Westchester County, New York. Vibrantly animated, the show’s first season effectively fixated on the kids’ changing bodies and developing urges by taking a no-holds-barred approach to both puberty’s most disgusting elements and to animation’s endless narrative potential. Like Adventure Time and Rick and Morty, Big Mouth succeeded in big part by leaning fully into the freedom innate to the format. This, extended through its terrific second season, has become the show’s greatest strength. Its surreal, off-the-deep-end approach to the tried and true story of adolescence has created something exciting and wholly original.
One of Big Mouth’s most memorable elements from season 1 — and the biggest reason for its online fandom — was its Hormone Monsters, voiced by Kroll and Maya Rudolph (perfect), who emblemized Andrew, Jessi and (kind of) Nick’s primal adolescent urges. In season 2 the Monsters only multiply, with a notable addition from the Shame Monster (David Thewlis), who appears in order to prevent the kids’ burgeoning sexualities from developing into a reckless hedonism. The Shame Monster, theatrical and dour, helps bring the new season into uncharted territory. If season one saw the kids mostly confused and awestruck by their bodies’ changes, season two unearths the existential humiliations of growing up in the world.
The season picks up right where last season left off, with Jessi and Jay still on the lamb together. The scene leans into the oddness of the the two as a pair, even bringing in a few polyamorous motel pillows to tempt Jay away from Jessi. The two have an inexplicable attraction to one another, but it isn’t long before personalities collide. Jessi is too orderly and Jay is too, well, insane. Before long they realise it’s time to head home. At home, Nick and Andrew are still struggling with puberty, Nick having not gone through it yet and Andrew having grown exceptionally quickly. From there, the season falls easily back into the rhythms of the season before, albeit with new developments.
First, there’s Gina (Gina Rodriguez), a girl at school whose breasts have blossomed over summer break and who becomes the (oafish, immature) object of lust for many of the teenage boys. To have a group of teens gawking at boobs is hardly revolutionary, and the show takes it to the extreme (one sequence depicts Andrew flying through a valley of giant boobs). But it also adds another layer. After Nick chats her up one day, we learn that Gina is actually completely down-to-earth and possesses a particularly dry sense of humour. Further along in the season, Gina is called a slut and shunned by her class for letting Nick touch her boob. Not until Nick apologises do we finally get her perspective: Being suddenly ogled at and objectified is alienating. Gina, despite faster development, is just like the rest of the kids.
It’s these moments of inclusion that infuse the show with a fresh energy. Much of contemporary animation is filled with raunch. However, Big Mouth doesn’t use its crude humour as a means of belittlement or mean-spiritedness. Instead, it hones in on its character’s stories to establish a sense of empathy. No character is safe from ridicule, to be fair. Yet, none feels more “important” or “real” than another. One of the best moments of season 1 centred around Jessi’s first period (in white shorts, at the Statue of Liberty), and the refreshingly matter-of-fact look into the female perspective flourishes in the new season.
In one of the season 2’s tentpole episodes, the characters discuss Planned Parenthood in the classroom with the clueless man-baby Coach Steve (also Kroll, doing his Gil Faizon voice from Oh, Hello). The episode is essentially just a series of skits that creatively explore contraceptives, abortion and STDs. Although more of a high-concept episode that halts the greater narrative, it uses the sketch talents of its voice cast to its advantage and strikes a particularly high note. It’s the most overtly political manoeuvre the show has ever made, but it fits in seamlessly with its freewheeling, non-judgmental essence.
Another episode early on features a body-positive musical number led by Rudolph’s Hormone Monstress in which Jessi accompanies the especially spazzy Missy (Jenny Slate) and her mother (Chelsea Peretti) to a nude spa. (Missy is newly self-conscious about her body, but her mother sure isn’t.) Later in the season, the catty Matthew (Andrew Rannells) finally gets a moment of introspection, convinced by an older gay man to stop being so mean and guarded. Jay, too, comes to terms with some new developments in his sexuality.
Also notable in season two are the glaring incompetencies of the adult characters, namely Coach Steve, but also Jessi’s recently divorced parents (Jessica Chaffin and Seth Morris), Andrew’s insufferable father (Richard Kind), Jay’s absent mother (Heather Lawless) and Nick’s embarrassing dad (Fred Armisen). The kids and the adults converge more and more with each episode, it seems, as the children come to terms with their parents’ shortcomings and become slightly more adult-like themselves.
Every new development in Big Mouth’s second season is just the icing on an already delicious cake. There’s not much for old fans to be disappointed about aside from Jordan Peele’s Ghost of Duke Ellington making fewer appearances. After establishing itself as a cult hit in its first season, the show’s new episodes make the case for many more seasons to come. It’d be fair to wonder how long a premise as specific as this one can sustain itself. Yet, for now, it’s clear there’s plenty more gas in the tank.