Warning: spoilers ahead.
Few shows have been able to encapsulate the mortifying, disgusting realities of puberty and the middle school experience like “Big Mouth.”
Nick (Nick Kroll), Andrew (John Mulaney), Jessi (Jessi Klein), Missy (Jenny Slate/Ayo Edebiri) and friends have been suffering through dramatic changes to their bodies and behavior for three seasons now, portraying fragile egos bruised irreparably by a brutal social hierarchy and mostly well-meaning family members.
The fourth season of “Big Mouth” premiered on Dec. 4, picking up promptly at season three’s end where Nick, Andrew and Jessie are shuttled off to summer camp. After eagerly consuming all 10 episodes, I found myself saddled with a startling emotion: I was touched. Not in the way the show’s crude sexual humor would typically indicate, but deeply moved — even a little tearful.
In previous iterations, the preteen cast of characters in “Big Mouth” has coexisted and struggled with embodiments of shame, depression and hormonal impulsivity, all of which have successfully created and driven the show’s conflicts.
Tito the Anxiety Mosquito (Maria Bamford), a new addition, proved to be one of the most apt portrayals of anxiety disorder that I have ever seen, to the point that I was cringing even at the sight of him. Like the Shame Wizard (David Thewlis) before him, Tito lingers around every character, incessantly voicing their insecurities and further isolating them, despite the universality of their fears.
While new characters, on-point references and relatable, perfectly frank explorations of the taboo and gross are to be expected from “Big Mouth,” what ultimately makes the fourth season so exceptional is a focus on external circumstances and unavoidable things beyond anyone’s control.
“Big Mouth” seems to be making up for some missteps it has taken in past seasons by giving its characters arcs in which to learn and grow. Missy’s journey to Atlanta sees her cousins helping her to acknowledge her Black identity, even timelier with the eventual replacement of Jenny Slate with Ayo Edebiri as Missy’s voice actress. Missy’s slow and steady progression toward maturity culminates in her acceptance of the multitudes she contains in one of the most rewarding and powerful moments “Big Mouth” has ever showcased.
Matthew’s (Andrew Rannells) struggle with his sexuality brings another emotional twist. We have seen our confident, self-confessed “token gay” condescend and dazzle his way through all obstacles, but Matthew’s shiny veneer cracks when his relationship with Aiden makes his formerly loving mother shun him. “Horrority House” forces Matthew to watch a community theater production, featuring his mother and Aiden suspended from the ceiling, begging him to choose one of them to save their lives.
Season four covers some truly dark and complicated subjects, but manages to navigate safely through with wonderfully absurd humor and compelling narratives.
DeVon’s (Jak Knight) musical number on code switching begins with an audience dial that mysteriously includes “pretzel.” The episode “Four Stories About Hand Stuff” is a heartfelt testament to the importance of bodily autonomy and communication in sexual encounters, complete with a blue-balls ward and a fantasy sequence, starring Lola (Nick Kroll) and Jay (Jason Mantzoukas).
It makes sense that “Big Mouth” should mature and blossom alongside its pubescent stars. After all, the characters are in eighth grade, a time for intense introspection where identity crises lurk around every corner. Right behind them are genuine moments of vulnerability, with some short-lived, but all touching and sympathetic.
Vitally, “Big Mouth” took the time to examine its mistakes, coming back stronger, more polished and funnier than ever. Characters that seemed to be passed over for opportunities to grow are graciously given the spotlight, and those who were headed down dark paths find themselves equipped with the strength to face their demons.
It is clear that “Big Mouth” cares deeply for each of the fragile lives it contains, giving it a depth of soul rare for a show that does not run five minutes without mentioning genitalia. If season four is a reliable indicator of the trajectory of this chaotic gem, the future is bright indeed.