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Netflix's 'Big Mouth' Season 4 makes up for past queer missteps in a rollicking return to form

Is “Big Mouth” perfect? No. But as far as a vulgar series about the realities of puberty goes, it’s still one of TV's best queer series.
Josie Totah as Natalie and John Oliver as Harry in the first episode of "Big Mouth's" fourth season on Netflix.Courtesy of Netflix

“Big Mouth” — created by Andrew Goldberg, Nick Kroll, Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett — debuted on Netflix in 2017 and quickly became a hit. Viewers saw themselves in the animated series, which follows teens going through puberty with help from their “hormone monsters,” the anthropomorphized, lewd version of a puberty guidebook.

This is especially true for queer viewers. In TheNew York Times, Charles Dunst noted that “Big Mouth” reflects the queer childhood he wishes he’d had. NewNowNext called the series a “queer must-binge,” and Esquire similarly hailed the impact of its queer characters.

Viewers saw themselves in the animated series, which follows teens going through puberty with help from their “hormone monsters."

From the beginning, “Big Mouth”embraced LGBTQ storylines. The third episode — titled “Am I Gay?” —features Andrew (John Mulaney) questioning his sexuality, and the series has made a point of trying to honor the full scope of the queer experience.

In season three, Missy (Jenny Slate) and Jay (Jason Mantzoukas) have a frank discussion about bisexuality. In the same episode, we see Matthew (Andrew Rannells), who is gay and out at school but not to his family, realize he has his first real crush — on Aiden (Zachary Quinto), another out, gay boy. Afterward, Matthew’s hormone monster, Maurice (Nick Kroll), cheers, singing, “For he’s a jolly gay homo.” It’s a moment that wouldn’t work if viewers didn’t have so much trust in the show’s ability to punch up, rather than punching down. For nearly three and a half seasons, “Big Mouth” was able to add nuance to the characterization of queer teenagers and to respect them as they learn who they are.

That shifted, however, when Ali (Ali Wong) joins the cast as a new student who is pansexual: She’s into “boys, girls and everyone in between” and says that “bisexuality is so binary.” With that statement, “Big Mouth” lost some of its credibility, especially among bisexual viewers — myself included. The Advocate called it a “stumble,” The Mary Sue called it “wrong, dated, and biphobic” and show co-creator Goldberg tweeted an apology, saying the episode “missed the mark” and that they “look forward to delving into all of this in future seasons.”

I was curious to see what exactly this commitment would look like in season four, released on Netflix on Dec. 4. The season opens with the teens heading to summer camp. Matthew is in his first relationship, Jay has officially come out as bisexual and we meet Natalie, a trans teen girl (Josie Totah). Natalie is deadnamed multiple times by other campers, which upsets Natalie, especially as they quiz her on why she “decided” to become trans. It’s a purposeful move that highlights various, popular transphobic arguments — and then swiftly shuts them down.

In Natalie, the show seems to be simultaneously calling itself in as it calls us out for harming trans women. As the episode continues, we see a flashback from Natalie’s point of view, as she is given a hormone monster of her own, Gavin (Bobby Cannavale). In Gavin, we see the way gendered expectations hurt Natalie. “I just know that I hate you and what you’re doing to my body,” she tells him. Later, when Natalie comes out to her parents and is allowed to go on hormone blockers, Gavin angrily shouts, “F--- you. I was gonna make you such a man.”

A man Natalie is not. “Big Mouth” honors Natalie’s identity, giving her a new, supportive friend in Jessi (Jessi Klein) and plenty of positive, fun moments, just like the other campers. But that doesn’t mean her storyline is empty of pain. Natalie has her first kiss with Seth (Seth Rogan) before realizing he’s ashamed that she’s trans. “I’m a person, not a person to hide,” she snaps, before leaving Seth in the woods alone.

In a different show, this might feel heavy-handed — do trans characters need to be defined by transphobia? But here again, “Big Mouth” makes good on its promise to viewers, and to Natalie. The adults who fail Natalie are made to look absurd, and, in the case of Seth, a bird literally explodes on his face, covering him in blood and feathers. It’s not a beautiful moment — but if it were, it wouldn’t be true to this unabashedly offensive series. Natalie’s support system is crude, as is “Big Mouth.”

Matthew’s relationship with his mom also reaches a breaking point this season. He tries to come out to her, and it doesn’t go well. “I just can’t stand the idea of you making these sinful choices,” she tells him. A Jesus character appears and says, “Whoa, easy lady. Leave me out of it.” It’s the classic “Big Mouth” formula: an edgy comedic aside that highlights the hypocrisy of painful homophobic and transphobic moments through humor.

Ultimately, season four feels like a return to the themes and voices that make “Big Mouth” one of the best queer series on TV right now. The series doesn’t turn into a hopeful after-school special just to validate its characters’ identities. Rather, it commits to presenting their lives in full, complete with dick jokes and anxiety monsters and characters who are deeply problematic alongside characters who are kind and wise. Yes, they are LGBTQ, but at the end of the day, they’re teenagers — and teenagers are messy as hell.

Is “Big Mouth” perfect? No. But as far as a vulgar series about the realities of puberty goes, it’s pretty damn close.