It’s no surprise that in season 3, Netflix’s Emmy-nominated adult animated comedy Big Mouth would seek to connect its characters’ often confounding and always hilarious push into young adulthood to current social movements intended to hold people accountable for their miserable actions. Though it usually likes to approach all things hormonal with an eye toward the ultra-raunchy, the series from creators Nick Kroll, Mark Levin, Andrew Goldberg, and Jennifer Flackett also has a knack for infusing its surface-level vulgarity with smart, honest, topical, and occasionally sweet storytelling. While that may belie the more outlandish nature of a series that features a pair of hormone monsters — one of whom has a seemingly endless array of pet penises (peni?) — it’s ultimately what makes the comedy a must-watch for reasons other than its mastery of prurient dialogue.
Season 3, then, is a turning point for the series — which has already been renewed through season 6 — one that puts almost all of its core relationships to the test, as teens Nick (Kroll), Andrew (John Mulaney), Missy (Jenny Slate), Jay (Jason Mantzoukas), and Jessi (Jessi Glaser) find growing up even more of a challenge than previously thought. It’s a necessary step forward for a series that has relied on the friendships — solid and tenuous — to act as the foundational bedrock of the show’s primary narrative. The shift effectively shakes up the series’ status quo, opening the door for a new beginning of sorts in season 4, one that may well see the show irrevocably changed.
While that may sound as if Big Mouth has traded in penis jokes for the ham-fisted storytelling of an after-school special, rest assured, season 3 is as funny (and dirty) if not funnier (and dirtier) than anything the series has produced so far. The new season also leans into absurdity to a greater degree than seasons 1 or 2, which allows the show’s writers to approach their stories from a number of different angles, giving the series a fresh sheen, whether it needed it or not.
That willingness to throw the audience a curveball probably shouldn’t be so surprising given the kinds of stories the series has decided to tell so far. But it’s nevertheless interesting to see Big Mouth lean into scenarios that actively accentuate some characters’ worst behavior, drawing attention to their actions, but neither condoning nor overly moralizing it. In other words, Big Mouth season 3 is focused on exploring the reasons behind all its characters mistakes - big and small - as they fumble their way through an already confusing adolescence, one made even more difficult by social movements that can seem particularly nebulous to teens — even bizarrely self-aware animated ones.
What Big Mouth attempts to do in season 3, then, isn’t so much to have a series of very-special episodes, drawing from things like the #MeToo movement, but instead to demonstrate the ways in which having an awareness of such movements impacts how these kids interpret their own burgeoning adulthood and understanding of relationships and sexuality. It sounds heavier than it actually is. Big Mouth is nothing if not eager to turn each and every situation into an opportunity for someone like Andrew or Jay to misinterpret it completely and succeed in making everyone as uncomfortable as possible.
Season 3, though, finds an unlikely pseudo-antagonist in Andrew, who had his own mini-Breaking Bad moment in season 2 after adopting a repugnant and aggressive identity (complete with a backwards Kangol cap) as he tried to woo his longtime love interest, Missy. Andrew’s descent into near-incel territory is maybe the finest line Big Mouth has attempted to walk so far, as the potential for the show to err in striking the right balance between underlining unacceptable behavior and still making it funny to watch. As it turns out, the series is up to the task as Andrew’s many failures snowball over the course of the season, putting an incredible strain on his relationships with Nick, Jessi, Jay, and Missy.
But Big Mouth isn’t interested in pointing fingers so much as it is in showing its characters navigate unfamiliar territory, meaning Andrew may be on his way to becoming an unlikable character, but the show never lets him become completely unmoored. Instead, the new season delivers a handful of parallel storylines that take some of the pressure off Andrew, and, surprisingly, put some of the onus of bad behavior on an unlikely source: Nick.
Meanwhile, the series again demonstrates its knack for inclusivity by introducing the pansexual Ali (Ali Wong) as a new student who kicks off a regrettably familiar story of middle school’s boys pulling a Social Network by ranking their female classmates against one another based on desirability. This all unfolds as Jay struggles to accept his bisexuality, Jessi develops feelings for a friend’s older brother, and Matthew (Andrew Rannells) finally finds a potential boyfriend. Oh, and there’s plenty more interference by Maury and Connie (Maya Rudolph), the hormone monsters who are consistently the source of the show’s biggest laughs and its characters’ worst mistakes.
Big Mouth has proven time and again that it can tackle some very uncomfortable material and still find a way to make it funny and relatable. That sort of sweet-natured cringe-worthiness has become the show’s calling card, and why it was nominated (and should have won) an Emmy this year. But it also gives the comedy plenty of leeway with regard to the direction its story will take, as it sometimes unabashedly draws its characters as unlikeable teens who are nevertheless all the more likable for all their animated but still very real shortcomings.
Big Mouth season 3 streams Friday, October 4 exclusively on Netflix.