Hilarious Florida roast aside, ‘Big Mouth’ takes a step backward with hit-and-miss Season 3 (TV review)

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lthough “Big Mouth” Season 3 (October, Netflix) ultimately delivers enough good episodes that I give it a soft recommend, it is a clear step back from its first two seasons. In the worst episodes, the writers get so caught up in their timely messages about sexual identity, dress codes and objectification of women that they forget to make those episodes funny.

Paired with their butt-of-the-joke treatment of Coach Steve (Nick Kroll), “Big Mouth” awkwardly tries to have it both ways. The mentally challenged man is to be laughed at and minimized (even when the “Queer Eye” guys improve his life in the season finale, he still lives on a trash barge), yet the audience is to be lectured to about how to treat other marginalized classes. The 11-episode Season 3 often tiptoes onto the diving board, but it rarely takes the full plunge.

The 11-episode Season 3 often tiptoes onto the diving board, but it rarely takes the full plunge.

At least the lecture-y episodes will stand as a time capsule of modern-liberal talking points. In “Girls Are Angry Too” (2), Nick (Kroll) and Jessi (Jessi Klein) literally say the phrase “have a conversation” while discussing the media’s sexualization of women. “Big Mouth” is hesitant to make a stronger statement than “let’s have a conversation.” This is probably because even a logical statement – “Women should be allowed to wear what they want, but some men might see them as sexual beings if they do” – would come off as un-PC.

The show promotes nonbinary sexual identities via pansexual student Ali (Ali Wong) in “Rankings” (8). But in the dress-code critique “Girls Are Angry Too,” the show can’t get past lazy dichotomies such as men versus women, as if all men represent something and all women represent something. “Disclosure: The Movie: The Musical!” (10), which is admittedly effective at executing a wild concept and giving Missy (Jenny Slate) needed character growth, also struggles to see males and females as individual humans.

Season 3 briefly taps into the gender double standard wherein Ali’s pansexuality makes her cool while Jay’s bisexuality confuses people, but stops short of the harsh critique it reserves for other issues. “Cellsea” (3) is a totally down-the-middle story of gay student Matthew (Andrew Rannells) entering the dating arena, as if “Big Mouth” wants to get on the board for treating gays exactly the same as straights; this ep might’ve been noteworthy 20 years ago.

When it is totally engaged in making fun of something, rather than worrying about crossing a line, “Big Mouth” can be as funny as ever. So here are the episodes worth watching:

  • “Florida” (5) – Writer Victor Quinaz goes to town on the Sunshine State in the season’s best episode. In addition to sinkholes, alligators eating elderly people and “Florida Man”-style behavior in a hilarious musical number, we also get Andrew (John Mulaney) crushing on his hot cousin, Cherry (Julie Klausner). Meanwhile, Nick can’t figure out if Cherry’s swamp-redneck friend Vicky (Emily Altman) is threatening to kill him or messing around.
  • “How to Have an Orgasm” (6) – As Andrew’s obsession with his cousin begins to weird out even his hormone monster (Kroll), Jessi learns how to masturbate in this Altman-penned episode. We get the absurdity of the talking vagina (Kristen Wiig) but it’s also an honest episode that parents could screen for their teen girls as part of a birds-and-bees talk.
  • “Disclosure: The Movie: The Musical!” (10) – The best character episode of the year finds the heretofore underused Missy (Jenny Slate) acquiring a hormone monster while finding expression through stage acting. Quinaz and Altman do a nice job of explaining the muddled sexual-harassment/power politics of “Disclosure” (1994), and then they comment on it – without losing sight of the absurd aspects of the issue.

Honorable mentions go to: “Duke” (7), the year’s best plot-driven episode, where we learn the ostensible backstory of Duke Ellington; “The ASSes” (9), where everyone reacts to Adderall in different ways, including Nick briefly turning into Beavis in a LOL moment; and season finale “Super Mouth” (11), where everyone gains superpowers, among them Andrew’s fart-triggered invisibility.

The other half of the season (roughly speaking, the first half) – including two interminable episodes about cellphone addiction – “Cellsea” and “Obsessed” (4) — is outright skippable. Season 3 is also missing a breakout new character in the way Season 1 has the hormone monsters and Season 2 has the Shame Wizard. But it should be noted that it surprisingly succeeds at making Jay (Jason Mantzoukas) likable and sympathetic once he stops humping pillows and turkeys.

When it connects, “Big Mouth” is as funny as anything on TV. But too often in Season 3, it takes a weak swing and misses.