The third season of Netflix original Big Mouth premiered last Friday; and obviously (I mean, it’s a show about young teenagers coming of age. And in turkeys.) the controversy mill has been dusted off and is rustily churning out some strong opinions. From the crudely drawn animation style to the… well, crude discourse; this overtly sexual series has unsurprisingly become a highly criticised investment on the part of Netflix. Here, I want to be the seemingly lone voice of optimism. The sexual enabler in a society of individuals who feel as if their genitalia might dissolve in a burning bush (‘whew. I’ve had that before!’) if they so much as mention the word ‘masturbation’.
Reader, I want to be the Andrew to your Nick for the next few paragraphs. If you’ll have me.
The Ugfuglio Side of Puberty
One of the most frequent complaints to crop up in the world of Big Mouth is the concept of thirteen-year-old children having sexual thoughts. I know this probably sounds like unadulterated (literally), despicable, criminal content already; but stay with me here. This series portrays the sexual side of puberty incredibly well, including subtle reminders to the viewer that these seemingly sex-crazed maniacs are still children. In the scene where Jessi Glaser (voiced by Jessi Klein) shoplifts for the first time; Connie (voiced by Maya Rudolph) suggests that the rush of getting caught is comparable to ‘screwing a stranger at a baseball game!’. When thirteen-year-old Jessi expresses her disgust at such a notion, Connie reiterates ‘you’re right, baby steps!’. There’s no possibility of Big Mouth – where a teenage boy breaches the trust of his girlfriend by beguiling his group of friends with his boob-grabbing tales – implying the mythical ‘sexual maturity’ of minors. Jay Bilzerian (voiced by Jason Mantzoukas) doesn’t create a makeshift fleshlight out of a pillow, a sandwich bag and a can of warm chicken soup because he’s emotionally ready to have sex – but the opposite.
Puberty is a rush of self-hatred, acne and getting a wide-on because the emo boy from year eleven glanced at you, briefly. Big Mouth is an accurate portrayal of hitting puberty because these chemical changes are happening in the bodies of those concerned. Think back to when you were aroused for no good reason. When you were so aroused, all you could think of doing; all you could dream of doing was to… kiss someone under the slide. With tongues. Welcome to being thirteen.
Girls Are Horny, Too!
Big Mouth is the sex-positive show we all needed when we were teens. Growing up with my middle-class peers, masturbation was rarely spoken about. If it was; you were either a shameless boy, or at the centre of an unfortunate rumour about you ‘playing with your beaver’. At the age of thirteen, the idea of masturbation terrified me as much as it bewildered me. The shame monster was rearing it’s ademdem’d head, warning me that a masturbating girl was a slutty girl; a strange little creature with no real friends and a filthy mind to match. This level of shame, working simultaneously with a lack of media normalisation (all millennial coming-of-age coverage surrounded white, pretty girls kissing white, hunky boys) lead to me developing Vaginismus, and an internally misogynistic opinion of sexually active women. Big Mouth shows us, in 2019, that even the most popular girls (see: Lola Skump-humping Andrew Glouberman) feel that familiar wave of whim.
From Missy Foreman-Greenwald (voiced by Jenny Slate) doing a ‘worm dance’ with Wiggles the semi-sentient glow-worm to Jessi learning how to Do! The! Thing! In cahoots with – I think it’s safe to say – the friendliest vagina I’ve ever met; girls get the horn just as much as everyone else. It’s normal, and nothing to be ashamed of.
Much like Gordy, the Canadian moose-masseuse-turned-bi-magician (voiced by Martin Short); Jay ventures onto a life journey of his own at the end of series two. Having kissed Matthew MacDell (voiced by Andrew Rannells) – the only ‘out’ gay person at the school – he realises how attracted he truly is to men and women. Or, as Jay put it; ‘I. Wanna. Fuck. Everyone!’. Jay’s self-discovery is sensitively handled. From the period of questioning (I mean, was DeLiloh the turkey a boy or a girl?), to self-realisation (‘I, Jay Bilzerian; am a bisexual, Cisgendered, polyamorous magician!’) and through to the toxic backlash (‘bisexuality just feels different for boys than girls… it’s a double standard, but standing right here with you half-naked – I feel a little uncomfortable!).
The elements of toxic masculinity vs. hypersexualisation in biphobia are explored in series three; which seems simple on paper – but the fact that this has been bought to light is progress in itself. When Ali (voiced by Ali Wong) comes out as pansexual; she instantly reaches the top of everyone’s lists of attraction. The imagery of threesomes is spotlighted within the first minute of the announcement. Women being attracted to other women is about as augmented to the patriarchy as conquering the wage gap, yet men are conditioned to flip the script until lesbian, bi and pan women are centrefold in the male gaze once again. Jay’s announcement, on the other hand, is presented as a threat towards the status quo. Jay’s bisexuality is seen as predatory; as if his attraction towards any of his friends might ‘convert’ their own sexual orientation. Thus, unravelling another layer of portrayed puberty; reminding us that there’s nothing like the fragile maxculinity of a teenage boy to make you wonder why their opinions ever mattered to you in the first place!
Admittedly, Big Mouth could’ve done more for me eight-to-ten years ago than as a fully blossomed twenty-one-year-old. But, the show is still necessary, and perhaps more relevant to our current narrative of sex positivity than ever before!