Nick Kroll and Andrew Goldberg’s semi-autobiographical animated series “Big Mouth” tackles puberty and all its pitfalls in a raunchy, witty and quirky way (according to the Netflix tags, at least). It is a truth universally acknowledged that middle school is a uniquely traumatizing period in one’s life, and “Big Mouth” garnered a following for its dedication to this not-so-seamless transition from childhood to young adulthood. Since its first appearance on Netflix in 2017, the show has portrayed the adolescent obsession with changing bodies and burgeoning sexual desire, while throwing the fantastical element of “hormone monsters” into the mix.
Though it has drawn plenty of fair criticism, the show has mostly earned its success. While “Big Mouth” revels in gross-out humor and pushes boundaries uncomfortably far sometimes, it approaches issues of shame and confusion with empathy. It attempts to add some nuance (couched in explicit humor) to the debacle of adolescence. In an increasingly sex-positive culture, “Big Mouth” takes on the least glamorous stage of sexual development in a refreshingly unique — if often disgusting — way. The series considers issues that either continue to affect its (hopefully) older audience or provides them with an embarrassed “I’m glad I can finally laugh about that” nostalgia.
However, the recently released fifth season of “Big Mouth” might’ve bitten off more than it could chew with its attempt to expand the supernatural element of the show’s universe. The series’s latest iteration distracted itself and viewers; it turned its focus away from the kids that serve as the audience surrogate and toward the monsters that “manage” them, all as exposition for upcoming spinoff “Human Resources.”
What’s New in Season 5?
Season 5 covers a new semester at Bridgeton Middle School, where new and old characters continue to suffer the growing pains of puberty together. A casual viewer who’d only seen seasons 1 or 2 could easily pick up the newest season of “Big Mouth” since, in many ways, the popular show’s plot hasn’t evolved much. Characters’ crushes and alliances have shifted and evolved, but the crux of the narrative — which, admittedly, exists only to highlight the mundane, day-to-day issues of puberty — has stagnated a bit.
Some new developments do occur for our main characters: Nick confesses his feelings for Jessie via an embarrassing guitar serenade only to be humiliated when she doesn’t reciprocate; Matthew breaks up with his boyfriend to begin dating Jay in an opposites-attract romance; Jessie realizes she might be interested in girls after catching feelings for her cool, new friend Ali, the on-screen avatar of Ali Wong herself; and nerdy, only-child Missy begins to rebel and embrace her darker side.
However, the plot remains held back by the introduction of even more hormone monsters, including Love Bugs and Hate Worms, who overshadow more than assist the children. But the influx of more supernatural monsters isn’t random — rather, it’s clear, unmasked exposition for a new spinoff show called “Human Resources,” which was announced all the way back in 2019.
Monster-Heavy and Moralizing
Some critics thought the shameless setup for a spin-off, a series set in the fantastical land where hormone monsters live when they’re not torturing middle schoolers, detracted from the main characters’ narrative agency. The story of “Big Mouth” is built on the fictionalized version of Kroll and Goldberg’s suburban adolescent misadventures. While side characters like Devin, DeVon, Lola, Jay, Leah and Judd add more heart and soul to the show, the influx of additional creatures adds more potential plot holes. For example, the transition of Love Bugs into Hate Worms and vice versa presents an interesting theory on the mutability of intense emotions, but it ultimately takes screen time away from all the new and old characters that make “Big Mouth” worth watching.
Another distracting pitfall of the season can be seen in Kroll himself. He appears in a smugly meta, green-screen cameo in the final episode and talks to his own stand-in main character, Nick Birch. The mix of live-action and animation — a poor imitation of cameos like David Hasselhoff in “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie” — makes the viewer want to cringe (and not the normal dark humor cringing they’ve come to expect).
However, it’s a well-intentioned scene. Kroll tells animated-Nick to stop blaming the hormone monsters for his actions and challenges his whiny, “nice guy” response to rejection that plays out over the latter half of the season. Kroll says, “We all have our own monsters, hormones, anxiety, depression, hate. It’s all about how you deal with them. Your monsters are you.”
The show seems self-aware that this scene sticks out like a sore thumb, since Kroll says, “This scene needs some jokes.” Unfortunately, the acknowledgment of the fourth wall doesn’t make the scene any less on-the-nose, like something out of an after-school special rather than the show where characters have sex with talking pillows. It’s strange to be directly preached at by a show widely accused of degeneracy.
“Big Mouth” capitalized off the trend of personifying intangible concepts and emotions set by Pixar’s “Inside Out.” However, its obsession with its own gimmick grows a bit tiresome five seasons in when the longtime viewer, who wants to root for the characters they have come to love in spite of their many flaws, only gets to see threads of their plot masked by the growing monster-verse.
In his Screen Rant article, Charles Cameron wrote, “Big Mouth Season 5 starts to feel increasingly like an audition for the new Human Resources characters as the season progresses, with the usual pitfalls of puberty and young love being replaced with a slew of nonsensical character entrances.”
In Need of Resolution
Historically, “Big Mouth” has been a brutally efficient show, hopping from bit to bit with little downtime in between — possibly because room to think too deeply about some of the plots makes the show too hard to stomach. But the show’s lasered-in focus and rapidity also draw attention to the looming distraction of worldbuilding that crops up in its fifth season. Despite the slightly tedious exposition-to-plot ratio, the show remains poised to introduce some interesting new plotlines for the students of Bridgeton Middle School in its sixth season.
Though its young characters have brought allegations of glorifying pedophilia against the show, they remain its greatest strength. Having a hormone monster only you can see and talk to is an interesting concept, but it’s the characters and their attempts to navigate the world around them that brings viewers back to watch the show in morbid fascination. That’s why the next season has to give viewers more of the emotional payoff that comes from watching the kids grow into themselves and — finally — grow up.
“Big Mouth” should end sooner rather than later and finally let the kids enter high school, but it has plenty of room to end strong. Once the main show sticks its landing, the showrunners can turn all their attention to “Human Resources” — a show co-creator Mark Levin forecasted as “Big Mouth meets The Office.” That phrase projects either a goldmine or an absolute nightmare of a show, but whichever it becomes, it is sure to do so in the admirably dirty and gutsy fashion of its predecessor.