Anyone who expected “Big Mouth” to offer up a familiar, mushy Valentine’s Day special either has never seen an episode before or is about to be extremely disappointed. Either way, the double episode “My Furry Valentine” picks right up where the show’s fabulous Season 2 left off, giving a pretty good overview of what this animated treasure can do with the freedom it’s earned.
At the risk of recapping the entire premise of this love-themed two-parter, it’s fair to say that each of the show’s core beloved characters gets a helpful refresh in their respective anxieties. Nick (Nick Kroll) is still trying to get out of the shadow of being a late bloomer. Jessi (Jessi Klein) is still adjusting to life with mom and her new partner. And Jay (Jason Mantzoukas) is still trying to figure out the best way to pleasure inanimate objects.
Aside from maybe the sleepover episodes of Season 2, the show rarely gets an excuse to use one episode to check in with every single character, major and supporting, all at once. Here, from The Ghost of Duke Ellington to Nick‘s brother and sister it to Andrew’s parents (Richard Kind’s verbal indignation is in rare form, as per usual), the show uses the universality of this holiday to take a look at its players from all angles.
It helps that, in true “Big Mouth” fashion, the show is able to have it’s giant chocolate heart and eat it too. The show has always thrived on a mixture of sweet and messy, and “My Furry Valentine” builds on the idea that for a lot of people, this holiday is the purest embodiment of that potent combination. The first of a handful of musical numbers encapsulates everything that’s exciting, frustrating, and backwards about pinning all of your romantic hopes and expectations to a single day on the calendar.
One of the reasons that “Big Mouth” has become such a valuable part of the animated TV world is the way it’s always embraced as fact that puberty is not the same for everyone. These characters don’t succeed or fail as a group. At every point that Jessi or Nick or Andrew (John Mulaney) achieve some positive emotional breakthrough, there are a ton of other disappointments and confusing moments for all of the people inside this friend group. “My Furry Valentine” is no exception.
The starkest example of that here is in Andrew’s new self-imposed direction. Not content with waiting around to be the subject of Missy’s (Jenny Slate) affection, his proactive, pickup-artist-adjacent actions curdle his initial good intentions. “Big Mouth” has never shied away from how societal expectations of masculinity are formed at a young age, but “My Furry Valentine” might be the clearest example yet of the potential consequences of nice guy entitlement. Even for middle schoolers, things can go wrong when people treat relationships as something deserved rather than nurtured.
Amidst the ongoing tribulations of student, parents, and Coaches Steve, “My Furry Valentine” periodically returns to a “When Harry Met Sally” framing device, with kids and hormone monsters seated together on a couch. This has been parody fodder a number of times in the thirty years since that film was first released. But there’s something about the way this episode uses those “confessionals” — not just because of the prime Billy Crystal reference later on — that underlines just how much of this time in everyone’s life is dictated by things entirely out of their control. Trying to get an unwieldy puberty train back on the tracks can sometimes cause more harm than good.
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That’s where having the Hormone Monsters as the series’ official agents of chaos always help. “My Furry Valentine” spends more time on the humans than their counterparts, but this is proof that even in small portions, Maurice and Connie still provide a sturdy foundation for all the puberty-related anxieties to flourish in all their many forms. Even for dramatic turns, like Andrew’s increasingly concerning behavior, can be conveniently explained away by having these creatures at the hormonal controls. There’s a little bit of decentralized tragedy to go along with the laughs, which still feels pretty close to how life often works.
For however Netflix feeds this episode to the general viewing public, the team of writers on this special — including Emily Altman, Victor Quinaz, Gil Ozeri, and Jaboukie Young-White — has sprinkled in enough context to make this a decent start point for anyone trying to get into the show. It ties up a few loose ends and gives the impending Season 3 plenty to wrestle with. Where “Big Mouth” might have gotten a little cute with its fourth-wall breaks through Season 2, this episode finds a right balance between staying invested in what’s unfolding for these characters and the occasional zoom-out to let a small insect narrate some side gags.
There are even a handful of callbacks to things from earlier in the show’s run, whether it’s those opening credits or the Season 1 show-stopper “Life is a Fucked Up Mess.” That latter one is the most helpful, because as the rest of the episode shows, the constant acknowledgment of life’s many imperfections is still the series’ driving force. To have that a constant presence and continue to make this show as frequently delightful and funny as it continues to be is one of TVs oddest achievements. If “My Furry Valentine” is an indication what the show plans on doing going forward, that trend won’t be stopping anytime soon.
“Big Mouth: My Furry Valentine” is now available to stream on Netflix.
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