REVIEW: ‘Big Mouth’ Season 4 Isn’t Shy About the Hard Topics

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Big Mouth is back for a fourth season and this show is rock hard and going deep — into its strong and insightful discussion of the most difficult topics facing young people and society today. For Big Mouth Season 4, the series is going to summer camp (and all the adolescent trauma that entails) but it’s also going for a broader perspective. Gradually, the show has evolved from its tight focus on the sexual confusion of its pre-teen characters and opened itself up to the bigger issues that have just as much of an impact on the lives of young adults.

In what is perhaps its most mature season yet, Big Mouth Season 4 is gently unpacking issues of racial and cultural identity, transgender identity, and the importance of caring for and tending to our mental health. Make no mistake, this show is still incredibly horny and as deliciously uncomfortable as you’d like but there’s a grounding force this season that is a balm to the viewer.

Big Mouth is created by Nick Kroll and Andrew Goldberg. The immensely funny core ensemble of Kroll, Jason Mantzoukas, John Mulaney, Jessi Klein, and Maya Rudolph all return and are joined by some fun appearances by Seth Rogan, Josie Totah, Quinta Brunson, Lena Waithe, Zach Galifinakis, and Paul Giamatti. Most notably, original cast member Jenny Slate stepped down from her role as the voice of Missy and we’re introduced to Ayo Edebiri in the part.

“Stigma” is the word in Big Mouth Season 4. A central theme of the season is the stigma that exists in nearly every facet of our lives and how it is reinforced by people outside of and even within our communities. On the more localized level, Jessi faces the shame of a heavy menstrual flow and the taunting from the other girls — especially when she has to choose a tampon, for the first time. Matthew continues to struggle with being closeted and wants desperately to be accepted by his family and proudly out with his boyfriend. We even get a sweet little exploration of age gap relationships and the silly societal pressures that touch them.

In a huge moment of growth for the series, Big Mouth Season 4 also faces down the stigma associated with race and culture and the challenges faced by transgender teens — as well as addressing previous shortcomings. Despite its good intentions, Big Mouth has not always been the best at correctly communicating on nuanced subjects. Season 3 garnered a fair bit of controversy for its sloppy introduction of a pansexual character (voiced by Ali Wong), tarnishing the show’s reputation for thoughtful discussion and approach. In 2020, Big Mouth faced criticisms again for the performance of Jenny Slate (a white woman) in her role voicing a biracial character. This would eventually lead to Slate stepping down from the role.

I can happily report that Big Mouth has taken the notes and done so much better, in Big Mouth Season 4. Viewers will notice that Jenny Slate is still voicing Missy in the first couple of episodes of the season, during this time we’re treated to witty asides that nod to and address Jenny Slate herself. For this critic, it’s meaningful that the show went one step farther than simply refilling the role. It was a change that was woven in, warmly joked with, and significant to introduce Missy’s new voice actor at the same time that she is experimenting and stepping into a closer relationship with her Black identity. It shows intent and understanding and a desire to do better that is sorely lacking in the industry.

The same can be said for Big Mouth Season 4’s exploration of the gender spectrum. The start of the season introduces Natalie, a transgender girl. When she first appeared, the natural inclination is to worry for the character since teenagers are cruel and we’re so accustomed to trans stories being portrayed through the lens of trauma. While her character was not spared from teasing, stupid questions, and summer camp heartbreak, it was heartening to see Natalie portrayed as a character that’s strong and sure of herself. The trials her character faced addressed the stigma but did not dwell in trauma. It was the same social suffering as any other teen character in the show, which is honestly the most useful representation in a show like this. Really well done.

Big Mouth Season 4

For the first time ever, Big Mouth ventured into the treacherous waters of blatant politics and culture with this season’s exploration of Missy’s Black identity.  For the uninitiated, Missy is the biracial daughter of two granola, NPR liberal types. Her father is Black and her mother is white. Up to this point, Missy’s race has not been a topic of discussion in the show but Season 4 breaks the seal with Missy’s introduction to her father’s relatives in Atlanta. This is Missy’s first exposure to an entirely Black household and aspects of that identity that she previously had not been in touch with. She learns about caring for her natural hair, getting comfortable with the language of her community, and rides this moment of self-realization into a more mature and adult outlook. While Big Mouth treads lightly on racial topics this season, the show does a fantastic job of addressing elements like codeswitching, showcasing Blackness, and acknowledging racial identity as a part of growing up.

Perhaps my favorite development in Big Mouth Season 4, and a return to form in a season that has been pushing its own boundaries, is the relationship of Jay and Lola. Both characters (voiced by Jason Mantzoukas and Nick Kroll respectively) have distinguished themselves in previous seasons as absolute messes, delinquents, and generally unsavory (in the most lovable way possible). At its core, Big Mouth is a show about sex and sexual development. It’s about experimenting, understanding, and grappling with the pursuit of sexual pleasure. The pairing of Jay and Lola as a romantic item is a jarring choice  — but goddamn if it isn’t the sweetest thing!

Jay and Lola are an opportunity to show a relationship that is actually healthy. Yes, they are both sexual freaks and barely functional hot messes but they understand each other. Through delightfully cringe-worthy humor, Jay and Lola showcase ideal romantic communication and acceptance. They are a couple that talks with each other, understands their partner, and is comfortable accepting and relishing in their quirks and kinks.

Keeping with the stigma conversation within the season, Jay and Lola operate in opposition to stigma. They aren’t ashamed of their pleasure and their relationship. This is best highlighted in an oddly moving fingering scene (yes, you read that right), in which Lola communicates her pleasure and needs, and Jay listens and adapts.

The many threads of Big Mouth Season 4 are woven together in a unified picture of inner turmoil, insecurity, and anxiety. Self-doubt and societal pressures add weight to even the most pedestrian issues and the results can be catastrophic for our mental health. Each character must experience those moments of fear and disappointment, and find peace. Matthew must grapple with his mother’s discomfort when he comes out to her. Jessi has to reclaim herself after trying to lose herself in a relationship. Jay and Lola have traumatic pasts that are a barrier to being able to let go and trust another person with their heart. Missy must learn that she is a whole and complete individual, comprised of many identities.

Big Mouth Season 4 hits a more resonant note than previous seasons, based entirely upon its message of acceptance of the self and respectful communication. The vulnerable heart and gentle, but unabashed insight of the show is stitched together with a quick wit, wonderful performances, and writing that understands the moment we’re in right now. Big Mouth remains one of the most provocative and intelligent shows out there.

Big Mouth Season 4 will stream exclusively on Netflix on December 4, 2020.

Big Mouth Season 4
  • 9/10
    Rating - 9/10
9/10

TL;DR

Big Mouth Season 4 hits a more resonant note than previous seasons, based entirely upon its message of acceptance of the self and respectful communication. The vulnerable heart and gentle, but unabashed insight of the show is stitched together with a quick wit, wonderful performances, and writing that understands the moment we’re in right now. Big Mouth remains one of the most provocative and intelligent shows out there.