The animated coming-of-age show is a masterpiece in how to deal with the icky-sticky of puberty
14 Febrero 2018 12:54
We can all remember that time when our bodies started to change and the world became a more bewildering place. Unwanted body hair, bouts of inexplicable anguish, sexual exploration, and all the pimples, bodily fluids and rage that goes with it. Puberty is a well-worn plot device in countless coming-of-age TV shows, but none quite master the icky-sticky stuff like Netflix’s breakout 2017 show, Big Mouth.
I came across the animated series - created by comedian Nick Kroll, Andrew Goldberg (Family Guy), Jennifer Flackett (Beverly Hills, 90210) and Mark Levin (The Wonder Years) - in the trending section on one particularly dreary Sunday afternoon. What at first appeared to be one long dick joke about growing up soon presented itself as a sympathetic, nuanced examination of puberty with truth at its core. And even more than this, Big Mouth illustrates the power of pop culture products as an educative force.
Sex education is one area where many educational institutions are failing and programmes like this can act as a stand-in. Yes, sex ed classes are awkward; it’s the stomach-churning class you may remember a very uncomfortable gym teacher giving in high school, if you had one at all. In my own experience of attending a Catholic school, the information supplied about sex, pregnancy and relationships was curated along religious lines. No sex before marriage. No gay sex. No condoms. No pregnancy before marriage.
So, given that most teenagers were not going to subscribe to such stringent do’s and don’ts, we had to find answers elsewhere. If you were lucky enough to be open with your parents, they were a great source of knowledge. But for the most part we learned about sex from TV, films, books, magazines. And let’s face it, pop culture in the ‘90s isn’t exactly known for its realism and accuracy. Therefore, Big Mouth feels like more than a cartoon show about wet dreams and periods because it actually provides a valid public service.
The show follows 7th grade best friends Nick (Nick Kroll) and Andrew (John Mulaney) who live in a New York suburb predominantly, but it also details the lives of other central characters, in particular Jay (Jason Mantzoukas), Jessi (Jessi Klein) and Missy (Jenny Slate). It spares no horrifying and embarrassing detail as the tweens navigate the confusing and emotional journey from childhood to teenagehood. Each character is plagued by their own ‘hormone monster’ - for the boys it’s a penis-nosed, crass-talker (Nick Kroll) who encourages them to masturbate whenever the chance arises, and for the girls it’s Connie (Maya Rudolph), a sassy diva who shows them how to embrace the unexplainable bouts of rage and hormones so typical for females at this stage.
Although the monsters take toilet humour to a new level, they also bring the adult tone to a middle school narrative. The imaginary monsters represent the disgusting, horny, irrational instincts of the group ,at the same time as normalising this kind of behaviour. Through all the ejaculation, period blood and inappropriate erections lies a story about growing up and how it actually feels. It is a story told with heart and sympathy. And it is emblematic of the ways education is changing in the era of social media and streaming sites. State education about sex and the body is almost meaningless when a Netflix programme provides more insight and honesty than any school guidelines ever could.
In the US, for example, 37 states have no requirement for sex education to be medically or factually accurate, and information on the whole focuses on abstinence-only approaches. Advocates for Youth say that each year, American teens experience as many as 850,000 pregnancies, and youth under age 25 experience about 9.1 million sexually transmitted infections. By age 18, 70 percent of females and 62 percent of males have initiated vaginal sex. Equipping young people with knowledge about sex is as important as it ever has been, and luckily, with shows like Big Mouth, this is now possible. Telling teenagers not to have sex clearly isn't working.
Although the series may be too rude to show in classrooms full of 12-year-olds, using Netflix is common for most kids with access to the internet. I used to stay up late and watch Eurotrash after my parents went to bed, which was frankly a ludicrous way to educate myself about sex, but young people can now easily find stories about what they are going through, and what they can expect when the grow up. The 10 episodes of Big Mouth confront first periods, sexual identity crises’, the ‘girls are horny too’ saga, consent issues (‘The Head Push’ episode), and porn addiction, to name a few.
How I wish I had a show like this to guide me through the often torturous time that is puberty. Kroll and his team of writers have managed to capture both the similarities and differences in growing up for girls and boys, as well. These characters occupy the scary spot where adulthood and childhood collide, and it does so without mocking their emotions. How you feel during this stage of life is real - but I have to admit I am happy to never go through it again.