For many TV shows, the perfunctory Valentine’s Day episode presents a unique tonal challenge. Lean too eagerly into the holiday’s conceit and you risk a frivolous deviation from the broader ethos of the series, if not also its plotline. Skewer dear Cupid too gleefully, and you might alienate viewers with a soft spot for romance (or for chocolate). Even the best examples of the genre can set up a show to later be bogged down by the same holiday-specific terror that haunts its audience: the tyranny of high expectations.
But Big Mouth, the animated Netflix series that follows a group of teens navigating the all-consuming chaos of pubescence, already combines good-natured levity and hormone-driven anguish. The show, which has run for two seasons, dramatizes the romantic and sexual anxieties of its teen characters with a signature mocktail of vulgar humor and earnest affirmations. It’s hardly any surprise, then, that the series’ entry into the Valentine’s Day pantheon is a sublime addition. “My Furry Valentine” is a hilarious romp, but it also functions as a confetti-gilded reminder of what Big Mouth does best. The double episode, which began streaming Friday, brings both genuine heart and nearly insurmountable horniness to the classic holiday special. For the show’s fans, it’s a delightful reunion; for unfamiliar viewers, it’s a raucous send-up of romantic comedies and Valentine’s Day tropes alike.
“My Furry Valentine” begins with a When Harry Met Sally–esque interview of Andrew (voiced by John Mulaney) and his anthropomorphic hormone monster (Nick Kroll) recounting the moment they knew they loved each other: Andrew’s first viewing of a pivotal Diane Lane scene in the 2003 romantic comedy Under the Tuscan Sun. The show quickly cuts to Andrew’s best friend, Nick (also Kroll), whose über-affectionate parents are spreading far too much Valentine’s cheer for the teen’s liking. When Nick begs them to tone it down, his amorous father (Fred Armisen) is aghast: “Valentine’s Day, it’s wonderful. It’s, it’s—.” Nick’s similarly sensuous mother (Maya Rudolph) then begins singing an ode to the holiday, which the show’s many characters take turns celebrating and lambasting:
It’s a day of hugs and snuggles,
A time to spread your loving seeds,
It’s a rolling, growing pink snowball of stress that no one needs.
It’s unhealthy expectations,
An opportunity to impress,
It’s a yearly grim reminder that your life’s a fucked-up mess.
It’s a dark and lurid history of deviant pagan kicks,
It’s outrageously expensive! Just stay home and watch the Knicks,
It’s a big fat middle finger to those who are all alone,
Whether sick or tired or uninspired, you still gotta bring the bone.
It’s an inspired segment for a show that had, moments prior, featured the ghost of Duke Ellington (Jordan Peele) telling Nick his family “has no boundaries—they’re like Doctors Without Borders,” and then singing a wild punch line: If the doctors ate each other out. But that commingling of tawdry one-liners and empathetic storytelling is what makes Big Mouth so charming. Where other shows’ attempts to make decisive statements about Valentine’s Day might register as corny or tonally inappropriate, Big Mouth’s focus on the hysteria of adolescence helps inoculate the series from those common missteps.
The show itself is already so outrageous that nothing in “My Furry Valentine” feels out of the ordinary—not even the repeated references to “bussy,” which is defined for audiences by a lascivious ladybug who insists that there’s a lot more where that description came from. There are new hijinks, conflicts, and simulations, like a skit that finds the preternaturally horny Jay (Jason Mantzoukas) competing in a sex-themed Ultimate Beastmaster obstacle course competition aptly titled Ultimate Fuck Machine. What other show would allow an animated rendering of Duke Ellington’s ghost to admit—and openly lament—the fact that he’s in love with the ghost of Whitney Houston, who’s in love with the ghost of Nina Simone, who’s in love with the ghost of Burt Reynolds?
While Big Mouth is full of brash humor and visual gags, the show manages to ground its episodes—including and especially the Valentine’s Day edition—with a rare appreciation for the multitudes of awkward and joyful moments that characterize all kinds of human connections. Crucially, Big Mouth pays special attention to the relationships its characters have with themselves. As ever, the teens experience a single event in vastly different ways. The When Harry Met Sally–inspired interview format, for example, finds Jessi (Jessi Glaser) sublimating her frustrations with life rather than reflecting on any burgeoning capacity for lust.
The divergences among the teens are often both funny and instructive. “My Furry Valentine” is most enjoyable when it explores these varying experiences—and smartly makes the case that difference isn’t inherently wrong. These moments are perhaps the clearest reminders that the series also serves as an educational program for its youngest viewers. (Among other lessons, “My Furry Valentine” nudges its teen characters toward the knowledge that gender isn’t defined by genitalia, and that queer men need not be restricted by the so-called old paradigms of top and bottom.)
“My Furry Valentine” doesn’t offer any unequivocal judgment on the holiday itself. Like most trials faced by the teens, Valentine’s Day presents an opportunity to reconsider the messages they’ve internalized about love, sex, and self. They don’t always succeed at establishing a new vision, but they all fail most epically when attempting to re-create the romantic scripts they’ve absorbed from the world around them. Who hasn’t?