Wednesday, October 3, 2018

TV REVIEW: Netflix's 'Big Mouth' - Season 2

Netflix's Big Mouth returns for its 10-episode second season on Friday, October 5. The new season stars Nick Kroll, John Mulaney, Jessi Klein, Jason Mantzoukas, Jenny Slate, Fred Armisen, Maya Rudolph and Jordan Peele.

Read on for my thoughts on the new season after screening its first seven episodes.

Big Mouth remains one of the best original series on Netflix in its second season. It is such a surreal and ridiculous comedy. And yet, it truly represents the mindset of being a teenager and going through puberty better than any other show out there. Sure, it is frequently gross and graphic with its visuals. But it also truly captures the essence of what it means to be going through these changes when it seems like the world is demanding so much from you. Bodies are changing. Peer pressure is kicking in. It's a confusing time for the entire young ensemble of characters. Things aren't just better now because they have a season under the belt. In fact, things are still just as confusing and disastrous for Nick (Nick Kroll), Andrew (John Mulaney), Jessi (Jessi Klein), Missy (Jenny Slate), Jay (Jason Mantzoukas) and the rest of their middle school classmates. The pressure is on to become sexual beings. And yet, the world and the advice that is coming for these youngsters going through changes is often so contradictory. Everyone is looking to adults for clarity and the answers on how to survive all of this. Most of the time they only get more confused because the adults are either embarrassing - like Coach Steve (also Kroll) and Elliot Birch (Fred Armisen) - or are just as confused about their lives as the young kids asking these big questions - like Jessi's parents as they face an unknown separation. The hormone monsters and the ghost of Duke Ellington (Jordan Peele) continue to help the characters navigate this minefield of social normalities. And yet, even their advice can consistently be misconstrued with it really being questioned if they are helping at all or only contributing to the confusion. That's what makes this show so great. It remains such a visual delight. It's bold and colorful. It presents such a fantastical world of vivid images. But it never loses sight of the core mission statement that grounds every single storyline. These characters are confused and just want help for how to handle their ever changing bodies.

The voice cast remains excellent as well. This has proven to be a busy month of work for Maya Rudolph with her starring roles here and in Amazon's Forever as well as her recurring work on NBC's The Good Place. All of her characters are so vastly different from one another. Connie the Hormone Monster is outrageous and emotion. But she's so powerful and strong as well with her convictions. It remains such an inspired performance. Meanwhile, Nick Kroll continues to excel with his voicing of numerous characters. Plus, there is even an incredibly meta moment where he plays one character doing an impression of another character he voices. It's so surreal and plays to the audience's knowledge of how many roles are played by him. But the central and most important one has to be Nick Birch. The supporting characters like Maury the Hormone Monster, Coach Steve and Lola are delightful as well. They allow Kroll to go to some extreme places in the search of comedy. But the season remains grounded as Nick believes he's about to enter puberty only for it to seemingly be delayed once more. The first season ended with Rick being chosen as his Hormone Monster. The show absolutely commits to that conceit as well. However, it also makes Nick worry that there is something wrong with his development because Rick doesn't seem competent or able to help him along this journey at all. In fact, he's mostly just a nuisance that Nick has to distract while he's interacting with his friends. That's so vastly different from the role that Maury and Connie fulfill in Andrew and Jessi's lives, respectively. They are so invasive and actually seem like friends whom the teenagers can count on for support from time to time.

Of course, it's also just as meaningful to welcome new voices to the ensemble as well. The biggest additions are Gina Rodriguez as Gina, a student in the same class as everyone else who has developed curves more quickly than her peers, and David Thewlis as the Shame Wizard, a new mystical creature who is able to attack and stoke the kids' deepest shames and vulnerabilities. Both of them are fantastic additions to the cast. They are unconventional roles for both to be playing. And yet, they just fit seamlessly into the ensemble. Gina emerges as a character first in a story about male objectification of female bodies. The boys don't care about her as human. They just see her new developments. But the story also makes such a smart pivot into one of female confidence with body image and the idea that one shouldn't be tearing another down for how they look. It's very empowering and boasts a fantastic musical number staged in an unexpected and extremely visual setting. Meanwhile, the Shame Wizard presents as a new facet of puberty that no one was really expecting. The Hormone Monsters have dealt with him before. But the way in which they confront him also reveals the different ways in which men and women develop through this entire process. Maury may actually only present himself as the guy who makes Andrew horny all of the time. Meanwhile, Connie stands alongside Jessi especially as she is dealing with an unknown home life. But the Shame Wizard also strikes during the opportune time to make both Andrew, Jessi and their classmates ashamed of their recent actions. This season truly confronts the fear of them becoming bad people because of the choices they are making because of their horniness or teenage rebellion. It's really quite strong and ridiculous to watch as well.

And finally, this season tackles sexual education in schools better and more honestly than any other show out there. There is one episode devoted completely to the subject that may actually be a better sexual education for people this age than the one they are bound to get in schools. It's a fantastic episode of television. At first, it seems like the show is producing some bitting commentary about the person teaching sex ed being the least equipped individual to do so. It's not hard to guess who is leading the class. But it also takes the audience on a fantastic visual journey that explains all of the nuances and responsibilities of sex. It's phenomenal to watch because it is so informative and yet visually stunning and amusing as well. It's the show operating at peak level. The remaining episodes of the season following that are able to continue that trend going as well. It presents the ordinary decisions as these fantastical glimpses into life-or-death situations. But it also pushes the boundaries by playing things for the reality of the situation as well. It's a confusing time for these youngsters. They believe they are learning who they are. The show better spreads out its ensemble this year so that even more time is spent on characters like Lola and Matthew. It's fascinating getting all of the different glimpses into puberty knowing that it's a chaotic time for everyone. These kids may feel like monsters based on their actions. But the audience will surely laugh consistently throughout all of these new episodes because the situations are just that good and insightful.