Trash and treasures: Abominable art in ‘Big Mouth’

One of the "hormone monsters" with exaggerated features and horns is crossed out by a red circle and line
Graphic by Natalie Bauer

Netflix’s “Big Mouth,” a television series that revolves around middle schoolers Andrew (John Mulaney), Nick (Nick Kroll) and Jessi (Jessi Klein) maturing and going through puberty, receives plenty of praise for its bumbling, blunt approach to the awkwardness of budding adolescence and romance.

On top of Kroll, Mulaney and Klein, the show also features famous comedians Maya Rudolph and Jordan Peele. With this amount of star power accompanying a unique perspective, “Big Mouth” had pretty much everything going for it.

There’s just one problem: it’s ugly.

I’ve heard people discuss how much they hate “Big Mouth” based on its art alone. Each character is given a head the size of a pumpkin, a horrifyingly large mouth, a bad set of teeth and bulging, bulbous eyes. Plenty of people defending the show chalk this up to being a stylistic choice, like it’s supposed to mean something.

I know some people will argue that the art in “Big Mouth” isn’t bad, it’s just stylized — but that’s a terrible excuse for bad art. There can be bad styles, and seeing consistently ugly art on screen is the byproduct of having one.

I’ll give the artists some credit: The characters’ exaggerated facial features are thematically coherent with all the other exaggerated aspects of the show, from the fact that hormones are depicted as impulsive “hormone monsters” (ew) to the fact that they frequently encourage middle schoolers to masturbate on-screen (ew).

But, if the basis of humor for this show relies on me sympathizing with puberty-stricken, vaguely human-shaped characters, then exaggerating aspects of puberty was the wrong way to go. This show makes puberty seem foreign, not relatable.

And, to be completely honest, I don’t care that it’s thematically coherent. The artwork would still be gross if it wasn’t. A lot of people tend to think this level of criticism is shallow — that, for some godforsaken reason, criticizing the visuals of an animated show is missing the point.

I’d argue that that is exactly the point.

One of the hallmarks of a quality television show, which is a visual medium, is to have … wait for it … good visuals. Or, at least, visuals that don’t make me want to look away from the screen every time they appear.

I legitimately don’t understand why a show about puberty has to be this gross, either. There are better ways to illustrate the uncomfortability of puberty than having an animated tween masturbate to get a monster out of their head. The show shouldn’t have to rely on a gross-shock factor to get me to relate, because I (and most of the people watching) already know how strange going through puberty can be.

That being said, there is a good portion of the audience watching that are currently going through puberty and genuinely like this show. Maybe I would’ve liked it back when I was 12 because it could’ve answered some questions I was too afraid to ask in my middle school health class. But I’m 18, and I can barely relate to middle-school me nowadays.

I’m sure plenty of (pretentious) people will argue that the more unpleasant parts of “Big Mouth” serve some symbolic purpose. But trust me, between the exaggerated visuals and the unconventional tactics employed by the main characters when dealing with hormones, “Big Mouth” is gross simply for the sake of being gross.

Brooke Sparks PO ’22 is TSL’s TV columnist. She never thinks before she speaks and mains Zelda in Smash Ultimate.

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