The animated Netflix series Big Mouth is a raucous, delightfully vulgar exploration of puberty. Created by Nick Kroll, Jennifer Flackett, Mark Levin, and Andrew Goldberg, the show has never shied away from the grotesque banalities of adolescence. It’s a putrid circus of fluttering stomachs, tonsil hockey, and masturbation.
In Season 1, Big Mouth’s bumbling young protagonists stumbled through the awkward changes of their early teen years with crude, cringeworthy humor. But the second season, out last Friday, brings with it a set of slightly more grown-up concerns. As their bodies continue to shift, the eighth-graders Nick (Kroll), Andrew (John Mulaney), Missy (Jenny Slate), Jessi (Jessi Klein), and Jay (Jason Mantzoukas) gain some measure of clarity about what their corporeal changes mean for how they relate to one another—and about the major decisions they’ll need to make as a result. As they grapple with a new, nearly incapacitating sense of puberty-related shame, the teens also find they have some helpful tools at their disposal.
WE FUX WITH SAFE SEX, reads the sign outside Bridgeton Middle School at the start of the second season’s fifth episode. Titled “The Planned Parenthood Show,” the episode begins with Coach Steve (also Kroll) telling the students, in extremely colorful language, that he’s now qualified to teach them sex education because he recently lost his virginity. “I hope you at least wore a condom,” Jessi notes, beginning an exchange in which the teens warn their adult coach about the pitfalls of unprotected sex.
The girls, ever the voices of reason, also school the boys on the host of services offered at Planned Parenthood, which the always misguided Jay derides as an “abortion factory.” After Missy rebuts that characterization by mentioning the cancer screenings Planned Parenthood offers its low-income clients, Coach Steve’s confusion serves as an entry point into the premise of the sketch that takes up much of the episode: “I don’t understand,” he says. “Do you have some sort of skit that we can watch that would be entertaining and informative but also not too preachy?”
Big Mouth is well positioned to answer the question at hand—whether reproductive education can be both useful and fun to watch—but it’s still a welcome surprise to see the show lean so fully into its embrace of Planned Parenthood, despite the potential backlash that could spur. In its marriage of didacticism and comedy, “The Planned Parenthood Show” is as bold as it is hilarious. Released as access to reproductive care continues to be rolled back around the country, and on the day before Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, the episode deftly makes the case for the health provider’s importance without sacrificing Big Mouth’s central mandate: entertainment. “The Planned Parenthood Show” feels less like an after-school special and more like an in-class movie day.
In the skit that follows Coach Steve’s request, multiple forms of contraception woo Andrew’s 16-year-old sister, Leah (Kat Dennings), on a Bachelor-style game show. In quick succession, personifications of The Pill, Condoms, The Implant, The IUD, The Pull-Out Method, and The Diaphragm all court the teen and explain their functions. “This is the hardest choice I’ve ever had to make,” she says after she’s introduced to each. “You are all so special, but I have to go with my heart and pick ... The Pull-Out Method.”
After Leah’s big choice, her mother (Maya Rudolph) intervenes as a guest in the skit to overrule the teenager’s reckless decision and insist that she use both the pill and condoms. The Pull-Out Method then flirts with Leah’s mom. The Diaphragm complains she’s dying. The Implant cries her eyes out in a limo. The entire skit is a clever bit of satire, parodying both the irrational horniness that can overtake teenagers and the ridiculous pageantry of gamified dating shows.
But crucially, the performance also conveys some of the advantages and setbacks associated with the most common forms of contraception. Big Mouth offers its audience, which includes a good number of young teens, more nuanced sex ed than some schools do. The show has always underscored how isolating puberty can feel, and “The Planned Parenthood Show” emphasizes how rare it can be for educators to equip students with the information they need to make responsible sexual decisions.
It’s notable that Coach Steve, despite being the adult charged with teaching the middle schoolers sex education, is wildly unprepared for the task of explaining contraceptive options. All he has written on the board at the episode’s start is “peenas and sweeties,” the words he uses to refer to genitalia. “I think I understand Planned Parenthood now,” Coach Steve says after Leah’s skit and a clever flashback sequence that also features the teens’ parents. “They do medicine for your bathing-suit parts.”
Coach Steve’s realization is a clumsy summary, to be sure, but the show’s larger point is clear: If even the inept teacher can grasp the range of health-care offerings at Planned Parenthood, any viewer should be able to. The episode winks at its own implausibility a number of times, with Coach Steve closing things out with a monologue obviously modeled on Saturday Night Live. In his list of after-show acknowledgments, he includes “the liberal elite,” who “convinced us to do an episode of Planned Parenthood even though so many people are gonna be furious at us for doing it.” There are several moments throughout the season when Steve’s increased presence grates, but in this episode, he’s a useful stand-in for the audience.
After its mid-season endorsement of the controversial health-care provider, Big Mouth goes on to tackle the effects of marijuana, divorce, slut shaming, and therapy on its cohort of moody teens. They mess up often, and their missteps earn them visits from the eerie Shame Wizard. Still, the series remains almost impossibly humorous, with outrageous running gags like talking pubic hair and sexually active pillows. In all its hormone-driven glory, Big Mouth is a refreshing addition to the TV landscape partly because it makes serious points without ever taking itself too seriously.
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