There are a lot of television programs—especially animated ones—that attempt to tell the stories about the ins and outs of growing up. Netflix’s new series Big Mouth happens to be an especially exciting take on the subject matter. It chooses to celebrate the ugly, awkwardness of puberty and these quintessential—albeit icky—moments of our youth.
Big Mouth’s specific perspective and its elastic hold on make it something more than just children being vulgar. The show comes from the minds of Nick Kroll, Andrew Goldberg, Mark Levin, and Jennifer Flackett. Kroll and Goldberg pull some of the material from their real-life childhood friendship.
The series also has tremendous vocal talent. Kroll’s distinct vocal stylings are heavily present throughout the series, but he brings with him practically every name from the alternative comedy scene. Comedians like John Mulaney, Jason Mantzoukas, Jenny Slate, and Maya Rudolph all deliver highly enjoyable performances, too.
We had the opportunity to catch up with Andrew Goldberg, the show’s co-creator and co-showrunner, about crafting this unique universe, the horrible joys of puberty, and what these kids and their raging hormones can expect next.
DEN OF GEEK: How long had you and Nick been developing this idea and trying to do something with it and how much did it end up resembling that original vision that you guys had?
ANDREW GOLDBERG: Nick and I met when we were six. We’ve been friends since the first grade. So that’s when we truly started developing this. But a few years ago I was originally thinking about it as bunch of kids at a Jewish day school and I was calling it Bar Mitzvah Boys. I was talking to Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett—who Nick and I co-created the show with—about all of this and at some point they were like, all these stories you’re telling us are about you and Nick, so let’s get him involved, too.
Once we all got together and started talking about this, it all very quickly came together. The show didn’t change that much from those first conversations. Early on there was the question of if we were going to set it in the past or make it contemporary and Netflix were the ones that really pushed that we make it contemporary. I think that was totally the right call in the end and opens the show up to telling all sorts of stories. Then there was the element of being really adamant about using the animation to represent the angst of puberty and how all of these hormones are flying around. Later the day I said the words “hormone monster” and instantly I got the sense of the entire character.
Talk a little more about the Hormone Monsters because these guys are absolutely wonderful and such a nice presence to the show.
So they came about very quickly from that kernel of an idea. The Hormone Monster came first. When we went out and pitched the show we created a two-minute black and white piece of animation that Nick, Fred Armisen, Maya Rudolph, and a few others were in, but it included the Hormone Monster. So he came very early and then quickly tried to establish the character. Such a big part of that period of growing up is having all of these huge, horny feelings coursing through you, but it’s not socially acceptable to say out loud. So for us to have a monster that can get away with all of that is great. One of my favorites moments from the season is when Andrew and the Hormone Monster are at odds with each other and Andrew’s like, “This is enough,” and the Hormone Monster says, “Hey, I’m here. You must want me around on some level.”
Then the Hormone Monstress came a little later for us, even though she pops up in episode two. She was harder for us to figure out. It was challenging for us because hormones for women ARE more complex. So finding her took a little more work but a lot of it came into focus once Maya Rudolph came in and started doing the voice. Jessi Klein, who writes for us, showed Maya Rudolph this Diana Ross clip, which I think might have influenced a lot. There’s definitely some Diana Ross and maybe some Elvis in there.
A thing that I love about this show is that it feels like children could watch it and actually benefit from what they’re seeing. Was that mentality at all present when you guys were writing the show, or is it just a nice bonus?
I think it might not have been present from the start, but it did evolve pretty quickly. There’s a woman, Peggy Orenstein, who writes a lot about girls and female sexuality. We try to read a lot of articles and be informed in that area to inspire stories. She has this book though called Girls & Sex, which is really this brilliant, beautiful book that kind of opened out eyes to things. For instance, our first episode is all about ejaculating and masturbation, but our second episode—the girl episode—is all about Jessie getting her first period. So after reading this stuff by Orenstein, we were able to correct course a little bit and refine our ideas with “Girls Are Horny Too.” It’s not just boys that are running around horny, it’s something girls experience, too.
I’m not sure if you’re at all familiar with Bobby’s World from the ‘90s, but I got a weird vibe of that from the show and how it goes about presenting kid culture, but like a better, cooler version of Bobby’s World.
That’s so, so funny. We didn’t talk about Bobby’s World at all when writing or conceiving the series, but Nick and I definitely both totally watched Bobby’s World when we were kids. What we were talking about and wanting to pull from though was stuff like Superbad, Freaks and Geeks, and The Wonder Years, but bringing an animated sensibility to that stuff.
It’d be so stupid if each episode started with a live-action version of you and Nick talking to your characters.
Well no, it would obviously have to be a live-action Howie Mandell and he’s like, “I don’t know why I’m here, but we’re going to watch this girl have her period, I guess?”
In the future, are there any big thematic or structurally different types of episodes that you’re eager to attempt to do? Like do you have a big childhood film that you’d love to do a riff on, like E.T. or The Goonies?
One thing that I think we’d really like to do that we couldn’t crack in season one is doing an episode about breasts. About girls getting breasts, how that makes them feel, the tension they get because of it, and everything that comes along with that. So in season two it’d be nice to do a “Girls Are Horny Too” approach to that topic.
I mean you work in Sylvester Stallone’s amateur porn, so I think you’re pretty successful in what you manage to fit in this season. On a few occasions the show moves into more serious topics like the episodes on consent and sexual abuse. Do you think it’s important to get into that side of growing up and sexuality, too?
I think it’s important in the sense that—our show is about many things. It’s not just about puberty, but rather all human sexuality. So yeah, I think every different facet of it that we explore is important. We’d be remiss if we didn’t look at things like consent or porn addiction. That’s the thing about this show. There are so many different aspects of this that make it such a complex topic.
It also leads to my favorite joke of the season, which is that damn Seinfeld gag while you’re talking about consent.
I love that so much. I grew up on Seinfeld and I have such reverence for that show. But even when we were writing episode one, Nick pitched this idea where the kids are in the diner as Seinfeld characters, but you don’t know the cast well enough at that point for it to work. But by the time you’re in the eighth episode, it’s perfect.
You dip into a few soft arcs over the course of the season, but could you see a second season moving into more serialized, intricate storytelling, or do you prefer sticking to a mostly episodic approach for a show like this?
For me, I was writing on Family Guy for eight years so I became very used to a world that reset from scratch virtually every episode. So even the small growth that’s seen over the course of season one in Big Mouth was something that I wasn’t really used to. You certainly have to work harder to pull off those kind of longer arcs, but the emotion from them is definitely more rewarding. The stuff we were able to spread out over the course of the season works a lot better than if we just put it into one or two episodes. So I think there could maybe be a little more serialization next season, but certainly no less. Our show is filthy, but it’s also very emotional and that’s where those arcs are particularly helpful.
Would you like to see these characters aging through each season, or do you plan to keep them in some sort of stasis? There are definitely pros and cons to both…
Our goal would be to age them, but not necessarily one year at a time. Mark Levin, one of co-creators, actually worked on The Wonder Years and he said one of their frustrations is that the kids grow fast. You’re left with a limited window to tell these good childhood stories. Our show is obviously animated so it’s nice to be able to have control over all of that. So the answer is yes, so we can tell more stories as they grow older, but also we want to take advantage of how quickly they’re growing.
Do you have a certain episode from this season that you’re particularly proud of and excited for people to see?
I love “Pornscape.” Just as an artist who works in moving images, I’m so proud of how that episode looks and the scope of that one. I also just love the idea of using animation to tell the story of addiction. I’m really happy with how that turned out as well as “Girls Are Horny Too.” All of the women that work on the show, whether they’re artists or writers, just killed it on that one, especially since animated shows can have a bit of a preference of leaning towards men.
Big Mouth’s entire first season is currently streaming on Netflix.