Netflix

There’s no shortage of explosive bodily fluids on Big Mouth, the raucous Netflix comedy about a group of teens fumbling their way through puberty. But early in the first episode of the newly released third season, the series presents a more shocking visual than usual. During wood-shop class, Jay (voiced by Jason Mantzoukas) gets distracted by a female classmate’s bare shoulder and accidentally slices off the tip of his friend Andrew’s (John Mulaney) finger with a saw.

Despite all the blood, the incident is merely an unfortunate mishap—a case of a teen boy’s mind wandering a little too far. But the school’s dean of student life responds with a bizarre overreaction, calling a meeting to address the problem of “toxic masculinity” and young men who can’t control their lust. “To protect our strong, empowered women from the white-hot male gaze, we’ll be implementing a dress code,” the dean announces.

Unsurprisingly, the girls aren’t happy about the rule or the administrator’s patronizing rhetoric. So they organize a campus SlutWalk, marching in revealing clothing to protest being forced to adapt to the boys’ alleged lack of self-control. This gesture only perplexes the boys, who respond to the procession by leering in song: “You’re fired up and filthy / And we like it a lot / Who knew that civil disobedience could be so hot?” In a single, often tense episode, Big Mouth shows how profoundly teen boys are influenced by adult institutions that subtly teach, justify, and offer outlets for sexist behavior.

After being told that the SlutWalk wasn’t orchestrated with their desires in mind (“Keep it in your pants, boys / It’s not for you”), the boys express confusion that curdles into hostility. When Jessi (Jessi Klein) tells Andrew to stop being a creep, he snaps at her: “You’re the ones that dressed up all sexy, and then you get mad at us for saying you’re sexy. It’s like … what do you bitches want from us?” Nick (Nick Kroll) tries to calm him down by insisting that the girls aren’t bitches—they’re sluts, per the name of the march. When Jessi tries to explain that only the girls can call themselves that, as a way of reclaiming a derogatory term, an exasperated Nick gives up, saying, “Look, I’m just trying to be an ally to women.” Andrew and Jay immediately turn on him for this meek expression of solidarity and call him a “pussy.”

Fortunately, Big Mouth regularly grants its young characters the opportunity to become wiser about the grown-up world—and to challenge their instinctive responses to its seeming contradictions. Sometimes that means being confronted with a more extreme version of their nascent beliefs. After Andrew vlogs about how hard it is to be a boy these days, a stranger invites him to a meeting of similarly fatigued men. The other attendees of “Men 4 Equality” seem at first to empathize with Andrew—until their complaints escalate into wider-ranging anger about “PC bullshit.” Andrew, who is Jewish, leaves aghast after the group’s ostensible leader declares that they must create “a patriarchal ethno-state of pure European blood.”

The scene is as ridiculous as it is harrowing: Andrew witnesses one Men 4 Equality representative telling another character that he can’t purchase a Nazi dildo because his credit card has been declined. There are even two nonhumans on-screen (a “hormone monster” and a “shame wizard”) while Andrew witnesses the hatefulness that his resentment brought him close to. Big Mouth retains its characteristically goofy and surreal elements, while making the insightful case that groups such as Men 4 Equality are often motivated by overlapping forms of hatred toward marginalized groups.

Andrew may be the only character who unwittingly aligns himself with Nazis by nurturing his indignation toward his female classmates, but Big Mouth emphasizes that the boys’ regressive attitudes are informed by the men around them. The teens borrow heavily from the language of their administrators at school, and from their parents’ behavior: Jay repeats that boys like him are “animals,” insisting that it must be true because their dean said so. Later, his father yells at the mother of Jay’s friend Missy: “God, you’re so shrill! You sound like a goddamn teapot!”

Big Mouth’s choice to directly address toxic masculinity is welcome in part because the series draws natural connections between different kinds of intolerance—and their solutions—without equating them with one another. When Andrew ultimately confesses to Nick that he wound up at a white-supremacist meeting, he tearfully admits that the experience of being around people who “hated Jews so much” showed him just how irrational his rage toward the girls had been. The moment shared between the two boys is an earnestly rendered depiction of Andrew’s growth, but they’re not the heroes of the dress-code saga. Even after his personal wake-up call, Andrew gets a necessary dressing-down from Missy, an ex whom he has harbored unfair resentment toward since the end of Season 2. Big Mouth gives the boys the chance to shake off some of the dangerous influences around them, while also giving credit to the difficult work their female classmates have to do to simply be treated as equals.

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