Season Seven of ‘Big Mouth’ Is the Beginning of the End of the Beginning
Since its premiere in 2017, the animating (no pun intended) principle of Netflix’s Big Mouth has been radical acceptance. Clearly, the goal has been to portray puberty as honestly as possible, and that’s required an unflinching gaze at the most outré sexual practices its early-teenage characters have been able to (again, no pun intended) come up with. Fondles have been fumbled. Crushes — including those involving attractive cousins from faraway states — have been crushed. Pillows, stuffed glow worms and catalogs full of workout wear for pregnant women are just a few of the items that have been violated for onanistic purposes. And though they’ve had their paths redirected by a Shame Wizard, a Depression Kitty, Tito the Anxiety Mosquito and countless Hormone Monsters, the students of Bridgeton Middle School have found it, and their friendships, a safe place to figure out what kind of people they want to be, through trial and, mostly, error. But as Jessi (voice of Jessi Klein) notes in the season’s penultimate episode, the time has come for them to start high school: “Now everything we do actually counts.”
After the first several seasons focused primarily on body horror, Season Six delved a little more deeply into the many horrors of adulthood, as perceived by kids. Andrew (John Mulaney) has to face the possibility that his parents’ mutual misery might result in their divorce. Nick (Nick Kroll) learns about his estranged grandfather Seamus (Peter Capaldi) and finds him living in filthy neglect. A longer look at Lola (Kroll) reveals exactly how irresponsible her mostly-absent and entirely off-screen mother actually is. As alarming as the kids’ sexual impulses and secretions can be, nothing is scarier than finding out the grown-ups in charge actually don’t know what they’re doing.
Often, the appeal of an animated show is that its characters can continue their adventures in an unchanging, perpetual present: As far as we can tell, the Simpson kids of The Simpsons are no older now than they were when the show premiered in 1989; in their 14th season, the Belchers of Bob’s Burgers don’t seem to be anywhere near moving on from Wagstaff School. But Big Mouth very specifically and very explicitly staked out adolescence as its area of concern. With so many of its stories revolving around firsts — periods, wet dreams, kisses, heartbreaks — producers kind of had no choice but to let its kids grow up, to encounter even more firsts. And with the show’s renewal for an eighth and final season, the seventh (dropping October 20th) is the beginning of the end of the beginning.
On the way to high school, the kids — now firmly teens — get a whole season’s worth of new firsts to deal with. There’s a first secret trip to the big city for a first hallucinogenic drug trip. Elijah (Brian Tyree Henry) makes his first visit to Reddit to find community (and only a little hate speech) with other people who identify as asexual. Caleb (Joe Wengert) takes his first steps toward friendship with Matthew (Andrew Rannells) even though taking another person’s feelings into account could introduce chaos into a life he prefers to be very orderly. Jay (Jason Mantzoukas) has to suffer through his first time seeing an ex date his brother (Paul Scheer).
With the introduction of high school comes the introduction of new characters, who give our protagonists glimpses at the kinds of problems they might soon face, or try to sidestep. Nick develops an instant crush on an older classmate named Danni (Zazie Beetz), even as he acknowledges to himself that her appeal lies largely in the excitement he experiences from her involving him in her antisocial behavior. (It’s worth mentioning that Danni’s Hormone Monster, Megan, is voiced by Megan Thee Stallion, as the show’s track record of casting standout voice talent continues.) Andrew instantly makes an enemy of “Pumbaa,” the alpha rising junior, and finds out what it’s like to fear literal murder at the hands of a bully. And Jessi is torn between falling in with Nick’s older sister Leah (Chloe Fineman), who seems nice but basic, or Lulu (Stephanie Beatriz), a sardonic, nihilistic stoner. Will Nick find appropriate ways to channel his thrill-seeking? Will a beating help Andrew learn to take accountability for his mistakes? Will Jessi figure out how to calibrate her weed use so she doesn’t end up as shiftless as her father?
Amid the sensitive and heartfelt emotional beats, the jokes fly fast and furious. Practically the first thing we hear in the new season is that Al Pacino “used to be an actor but now he’s a long scarf,” and after that I can randomly scroll to any point in my season notes to find an A+ gag — like Andrew saying the mother and daughter (Padma Lakshmi and Never Have I Ever’s Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) who just moved in across the street are “the most fuckable duo since the Property Brothers.” Matthew’s parents (Gary Cole and Julie White) return from a church field trip to the Wonder Bread factory in sweaters made of discarded bread. Trying to lay off masturbation, Andrew volunteers to go grocery shopping with his mother (Paula Pell), but the produce aisle is too horny, as he imagines the luscious tomatoes screaming, “Fuck me into sauce!”
Season Seven could have felt like it was just spinning its wheels, but it gives the Bridgeton Middle Schoolers plenty to do, and plenty to endure. I’m a little worried about Andrew. I’m not sure he is better off living with both his parents if his father (Richard Kind) is still going to lean out a window to yell negative reinforcement about his lawn-mowing technique and say he wishes Andrew had “died in the first wave of COVID because (he’s) such a disappointing bum”; he leans heavily on his friendship with Nick for affirmation he rarely gets at home, and high school is, for some, a time when friends grow apart. But I’m confident that Big Mouth will climax (heh) with a wild and terrifying freshman year before coming (heh heh) to a satisfying (heh heh heh) conclusion.