The latest animated series from Netflix isn’t a subtle satire of show business, like BoJack Horseman. It’s the cartoon equivalent of a raunchy 1990s movie like American Pie. Big Mouth, created by comedian Nick Kroll and his collaborators, tells the various tales of a group of awkward teenagers obsessed with sex and, secondarily, love. Its two main figures are Kroll as Nick and John Mulaney voicing Andrew, Nick’s best friend.
Kroll and Mulaney are also the stars and co-creators of Oh, Hello, the Broadway hit (and recent Netflix special) in which they played wily old geezers. Here, they work the opposite end of the age spectrum. Nick and Andrew are smart but not especially assiduous students who spend a lot of time thinking and talking about sex — and thinking and talking is just about all they do, when it comes to that. They speculate endlessly about the attractions and charms of various girls they know, and Nick is regularly visited by Maurice the Hormone Monster, a large, goaty, imaginary figure who appears to Nick to urge him to follow his horniest instincts. (He’s voiced by Kroll with the vocal equivalent of a leer.)
You’d think all this would result in lots of tiresome, male-dominated locker-room humor, but one of the things that makes Big Mouth enjoyable is that very often, girls get their say in this show as well, most often in the form of Jessi, a redheaded girl with a strong feminist streak. (She’s voiced by comedian Jessi Klein.) The animation here is bright and functional — Nick and Andrew bear amusingly slight resemblances to Kroll and Mulaney, and the whole enterprise moves along at a pleasantly herky-jerky pace. Kroll and Mulaney have invited a raft of pals to join in on the voice work; they include Maya Rudolph, Jordan Peele, Jenny Slate, Fred Armisen, Andrew Rannells, and Kristen Wiig.
The writing is frequently very funny, with some exaggerated ideas that work well in cartoon form, such as a class trip to the Statue of Liberty. Once there, the statue is discovered to be a French-accented chain-smoker who is sick of all the vulgar Americans who troop all over her, ignorant of history. Big Mouth may not add a lot of fresh wisdom to the portrayal of adolescent sexual awareness, but it also doesn’t wallow in mere dirty jokes. It gives its characters, male and female, some rueful wit in their vigorous pursuit of carnal pleasure.
Big Mouth is streaming now on Netflix.
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