If Big Mouth has taught us anything, it’s that adolescence isn’t just about hormones and pervy thoughts, but also growing pains. In Season 2 of the Netflix series, an endearingly filthy examination of puberty, we see 13-year-old Jessi (voiced by Jessi Klein) take a lonesome walk down the darkened hallways of her middle school. “I smiled a lot more before you showed up,” she tells her Hormone Monstress Connie (Maya Rudolph). With her parents’ marriage in shambles and her own life thus corroding, Jessi seeks unhealthy coping mechanisms to fend off her burgeoning depression. It’s a dilemma that cements the underlying theme for Season 2 of Big Mouth—the poor judgment that results from growing up. As Andrew laments midseason, “I’m horny all the time, and I’m making bad decisions.”
Season 1 was big on wonder and discovery, whether it was growing your first pube or getting your first period during a tour of the Statue of Liberty. This season looks at the post-wonderment phase and paints puberty as more than wet dreams and mood swings, but as a never-ending series of drills in how to handle the anxiety that follows. This added complexity to the hellscape that is teendom helps maintain the show’s reputation as an unglamorous coming-of-age story with gut-busting laughs. (Spoilers ahead.)
Our 13-year-old protagonists—Nick (co-creator Nick Kroll), Andrew, Jessi, Missy (Jenny Slate), and Jay (Jason Mantzoukas)—spend much of Season 2 grappling with their base impulses and desires while feelings of self-loathing and disgust bubble at the surface. The addition of Gina (Gina Rodriguez), a classmate who develops breasts early, leaves the ever buoyant Missy critiquing her body for the first time, and self-proclaimed feminist Jessi feeling bitter about Gina’s monopoly on the boys’ attention. Nick is one of those boys, who despite having the most game out of anyone in the crew, is plagued by feelings of inadequacy thanks to his teeny tiny dick and his slog through puberty’s greatest milestones. Meanwhile, Andrew’s persistent need to get off leads to a slew of embarrassing moments that lead to more guilt than he usually experiences, especially when he accidentally falls into a sham relationship with the hilariously boorish mean girl Lola (Kroll, in his best valley girl-adjacent husky uptalk). And Jay manages to put his own brazen horniness aside just long enough to reluctantly set his married mother up with his dimwitted P.E. teacher, Coach Steve (also Kroll).
Everyone is undergoing emotional and ethical gauntlets, and their feelings of despair are serviced by a new foil to the Big Mouth universe—the Shame Wizard, a roving menace voiced by David Thewlis (Remus Lupin from the Harry Potter film franchise). He’s a delightful antagonist, with a sinister drawl and haunting laugh, and his goal is to infuse guilt and humiliation into the delicate psyche of vulnerable adolescents everywhere. Unsurprisingly, he’s really fucking good at it.
After Andrew “rubs fronts” with Lola, whom he doesn’t remotely care for, the Shame Wizard is there. (“You’re not the sort of boy who rubs fronts with the world’s saddest girl and leaves right after, are ya?”) And when Nick blabs to his friends about getting to second base with Gina, the Shame Wizard is there. (“You told your friends all about your sexual conquests because you wanted to feel like a man, didn’t you?”)
Season 1 positioned the Hormone Monsters as agents of chaos, but in Season 2 they become a trusted line of defense between the teens and the Shame Wizard. Maury, Andrew’s hormone monster, tries his best to shield Andrew from the brunt of the Shame Wizard’s sorcery, but even he’s no match against the Shame Wizard’s uncanny ability to turn anything into an embarrassing ordeal to endlessly agonize over. There’s the rare moment when the Shame Wizard gets it right—calling out Jessi for being a fair-weather feminist, or shaming Andrew’s creepier moments of pure horn—but he usually acts in poor faith. At his cruelest, he plagues Matthew—the sharp-tongued token gay kid—with insecurity about his homosexuality. “There’s nothing sadder than the lonely gay kid trying to be one of the boys,” the Shame Wizard coos.
He’s not a character to root for, but this humanoid specter of our deepest vulnerabilities fits so seamlessly into the unending anarchy of puberty that it’s hard to imagine Big Mouth without him. While his terrorizing our teen protagonists is a perfect vehicle for humor, some of his best moments come when he’s caught off guard and vulnerable. This mirrors a balance that the show has mastered—moments of genuine sincerity amid a sea of erection jokes.
It’s easy for television shows to become topically heavy-handed, which is why it’s refreshing that Big Mouth manages to reference toxic masculinity and body positivity without sounding like a Tumblr post from 2013, and to dedicate an entire episode to safe sex and the ills of slut-shaming without coming across as a ham-handed very special episode. Even political and pop culture figures are referenced without the show feeling like a useless, drive-by gag from an episode of Family Guy. (“You know how I can tell you’re lying?” the Shame Wizard asks Jessi in Episode 8. “You look like Mitch McConnell.” “Shit,” Jessi groans.) Which is funny considering the fact that one of Big Mouth’s co-creators, Andrew Goldburg, is a Family Guy alum.
Elements of Season 2 feel tedious. Jay’s continued sexual explorations with home furnishings gets old, and Nick’s rookie Hormone Monster, Tyler, and his high-pitched earnestness is often insufferable. The first episode is the weakest and could be removed with few continuity issues. And while the reduced presence of the Ghost of Duke Ellington (Jordan Peele) isn’t a huge disappointment, the increased presence of Coach Steve is, at times, exhausting; his character has become noticeably stupider, an increasingly outlandish version of himself.
Coach Steve’s cluelessness about the birds and the bees, at least, is the perfect entryway to one of the more memorable episodes of the season, one that acts as an ode of sorts to Planned Parenthood, with a series of goofy skits. One of them is a Bachelorette-inspired vignette called Miss Contraception, in which Nick’s older sister, Leah (Kat Dennings), plays a contestant in search of the perfect birth control. Suitors include a high-strung pack of birth control, a suave IUD, an arrogant bro condom, and a wizened diaphragm who’s seen better days.
Jokes about sex, dicks, tits, and jizz are ample, and they don’t get old. But they’re not what makes Big Mouth great. The series is most triumphant when it’s not competing for the biggest gags, but rather finds a balance between acknowledging the inherent awfulness of teenagers and their lovable naïveté—when they actually learn a lesson. Missy learns to accept her flat chest, Nick discovers the downsides of kissing and telling, and Andrew realizes he can be horny without being a bad person. This season continued to be a pearl clutcher’s paradise, complete with enough foul moments to make an avid South Park viewer blush. But it’s also proved that the show isn’t just a gross-out cartoon. It’s a gross-out cartoon with heart.