Netflix’s animated puberty comedy goes to high school and suffers some creative growing pains in Season 7.
Puberty is a mess, but not as big a mess as Big Mouth has become. This might actually qualify as part of its charm: Netflix’s anarchic animated comedy about the sex-crazed transition from adolescence to teen age, and the hormone monsters who abet the journey, has always had a tendency to carpet-bomb its gags, jamming in as many jokes per minute as possible and letting the results fall as they may. But as the series enters its seventh season, and the gang prepares for high school, the ante goes up as the efficiency levels go down. Extremity—more bodily fluids, more drugs, and, of course, more sex—is increasingly mistaken for humor. Mayhem for its own sake is the name of the game.
One might argue this was always the case. The adventures of Nick (Nick Kroll), Andrew (John Mulaney), and their friends and enemies always came fast (pun intended, at least sometimes) and strived for a sort of Dadaist lunacy. A central point of the show is that puberty is more or less insane. But at some point, the ratio of chaos to control tipped drastically toward the former. The jokes are no longer jokes so much as frenzied exercises in pushing the lenient content boundaries afforded by the streaming world. Such objections aren’t moral, they’re tonal. When you strain every muscle to be naughty you can forget to also be funny.
In this regard, the inevitable graduation from middle school to high school makes perfect sense. One reward for leaving eighth grade is a greater license to be licentious. The high-school bathroom invites bathroom humor. In the first episode of the new season, the middle schoolers take a day-long tour of their forthcoming educational digs, a sneak preview of all the pain and humiliation that awaits. As Jessi (Jessi Klein) puts it on the bus ride over, “Why should high school be good if life is bad?” That’s a great line, and an indication of what Big Mouth is still capable of when it slows down just a tick and briefly neglects its mandate to misbehave.
There’s still plenty to like here, chiefly an embarrassingly robust voice cast, most performing multiple characters. (Kroll does so many it’s not even worth trying to count.) In addition to those already mentioned, standouts include The Bear’s Ayo Edebiri as hot-to-trot Missy and Brian Tyree Henry as her asexual maybe-boyfriend, Elijah; Andrew Rannells, who gets to show off his musical talents as the proudly gay Matthew; and Paula Pell, as straining-to-be-hip parent Barbara. Lack of talent has never been Big Mouth’s problem. The animation team also get a chance to shine in episode 2, when Nick and Andrew—who now wants to be called “Drew” as he becomes a big-boy high schooler—trip on psilocybin chocolates and share a colorfully spiritual experience.
An audience for Big Mouth clearly exists; you don’t last seven seasons and spawn a spin-off (the short-lived Human Resources) without pleasing someone. Judging by the ever-accelerating bedlam, however, that audience would seem to have the collective attention span of a lost insect. A small dose of Big Mouth goes an awfully long way.
Liked this review? Sign up to get our weekly See Skip newsletter every Tuesday and find out what new shows and movies are worth watching, and which aren’t.