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Big Mouth Flexes Its Newfound Maturity in Its Standout International Episode

After seven seasons, Big Mouth has acknowledged a world beyond these privileged, primarily white characters.
  • Big Mouth's Kenya-set vignette (Photo: Netflix)
    Big Mouth's Kenya-set vignette (Photo: Netflix)

    Maybe fans shouldn't be surprised it took the Big Mouth kids seven years to graduate from middle school. Netflix's animated comedy has always eagerly deviated from its format and core group of characters: Episodes like "A Very Big Mouth Christmas" and "Re-New Year's Eve" embraced puppetry and live action (co-creator and star Nick Kroll appeared as himself in the meta Season 5 finale), while Season 2's "The Planned Parenthood Show" employed a series of skits to bust myths about birth control and sexually transmitted diseases. These "very special episodes" succeeded because they acknowledged a world beyond Bridgeton Middle School, but Season 7 episode "The International Show" goes even further to offer a hilarious and thoughtful look at how children in other countries experience adolescence.

    Like the Planned Parenthood-centric episode, "The International Show" begins from a place of ignorance. When Maury (Kroll), decked out in red, white, and blue and speaking directly to the camera, informs viewers that this episode will be a celebration of the "uniquely American experience" of puberty ("Like liberty, or rampant gun violence," he adds), Connie (Maya Rudolph) shows up to teach him a lesson. "Puberty happens to everybody all over the world," she explains — why else would Netflix dub Big Mouth into nearly 30 other languages?

    As she runs through the various language options, their voices (and the actors playing them) change accordingly, and subtitles appear to translate their dialogue for English-language viewers. "Mamma mia! Is the whole episode going to be subtitled?" Maury asks in Italian. "I don't want to read TV. I want to read my phone while watching TV."

    In hopes of conveying the idea that "people all around the world are just like Americans — completely disgusting," Connie introduces a series of short stories about children in different countries navigating menstruation, masturbation, and low self-esteem. These vignettes employ the same bawdy humor that fans have come to expect from the show — hormone monster Bong Man (Chang Wook Kwon) encourages a horny boy in South Korea (Joowon Jung) to "stroke that squid" before leaving for school; Robin de Jesús performs a song about pubes written by Lin-Manuel Miranda — but with a regional twist.

    When a girl in India gets her period for the first time, her new hormone monstress (Sofia Ashraf) sings a Bollywood-inspired song about the excitement that comes with being a "Badi Baddy." In Kenya, Sharon (Nyokabi Macharia) looks forward to her first ride aboard a matatu, especially now that she's developed breasts — "Let's squeeze ourselves into the matatu with those matitties!" says her hormone monstress, played by Nice Githinji — but Shame Wizard Asha (Lupita Nyong'o, reprising her Human Resources role) convinces Sharon she's disgracing her family with her "slutty" behavior. It's only after Sharon's grandmother (also Nyong'o) encourages her to celebrate "the sexiness of [her] womanhood" that she's able to overcome her shame (and a few rude comments from Don Cheadle) and return to the matatu with her head held high.

    While the bulk of "The International Show" focuses on the shared experience of adolescence, the Swedish skit sheds light on the differences in sex education around the globe. As Connie explains, Swedes are much more open about sex; local TV even boasts a children's show featuring anthropomorphic genitals named Snippa and Snopp. The forthrightness with which Swedes discuss sexual exploration surprises Maury — and it certainly embarrasses young Niklas (Edvin Ryding), whose parents (Carla Sehn and Christian Hillborg) offer detailed advice about how to pleasure his crush, Astrid (Nikita Uggla) — but Big Mouth destigmatizes conversations like these. In fact, Niklas' insistence that his parents are "freaks" for discussing sex over dinner prompts Astrid to leave altogether. "Ugh, I didn't realize you were so very repressed, Niklas," says Astrid. "I guess I'll just have to go home and make small circular motions on my clitoris by myself."

    Big Mouth has never shied away from taboo topics, but these stories reflect the creative team's awareness that there's no one way to spread the sex and body positivity gospel. Though teens around the world are going through similar changes, their individual experiences vary depending on their community and cultural, social, and religious values. It's silly to pretend otherwise — even sillier than "the world's biggest orgy" that closes out the episode.

    The decision to cast actors who can speak to those experiences, including Yan Gesteira and Sergio Muniz, who voice Matthew and Jay, respectively, in the dubbed Portuguese version of Big Mouth, reinforces this overarching theme. It would have been easy enough to use the original cast or ask different actors to speak accented English throughout the episode (a common strategy: characters in Emily in Paris only recently started speaking French to one another), but these stories deserve to be told in their native tongues. Anglicizing them to appease subtitle-averse viewers would belittle the journeys of adolescents from countries other than the United States and misrepresent their perspective.

    Of course, when it comes to representation, Big Mouth hasn't always gotten it right. Jenny Slate was originally cast as Missy, who is Black and Jewish, and voiced the character for three-and-a-half seasons; in the wake of George Floyd's murder in 2020, Slate stepped down, and Ayo Edebiri joined the cast as the nerdy, Nathan Fillion-obsessed middle schooler. Missy has since embraced her identity as a biracial teenager, but the fact that a white actress was hired in the first place (in 2017!) still rankles.

    But "The International Show" demonstrates that producers have internalized the lessons of the Missy controversy and taken steps to address their previous mistakes. After seven seasons, Big Mouth understands the need to look beyond these privileged, primarily white characters, and Season 7 is surprisingly unapologetic in that effort. Even for a show that includes the phrase "Let's f*ck for world peace," that's some serious growth.

    Big Mouth Season 7 is now streaming on Netflix. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.

    TOPICS: Big Mouth, Netflix, Edvin Ryding, John Mulaney, Maya Rudolph, Nick Kroll