There’s a growing consensus that South Park may have done more harm than good. The raunchy cartoon’s cynical message — crystallized in a famous episode that argues voting for president is like choosing between a Giant Douche and a Turd Sandwich — feels painfully outdated (or even destructive) in 2020.
Thankfully, there’s an even better show that ticks off all the same boxes as South Park. In case it wasn’t obvious, Big Mouth is that show, and in Season 4, the Netflix series proves it’s more than just a worthy successor; it’s a superior one.
The similarities between Big Mouth and South Park may seem obvious, but let’s run through a few key points of comparison. They’re both animated comedies about children with a sense of humor that can range from risqué to gross. They both feature a small cast but rely heavily on one or two comedians performing multiple parts. (Nick Kroll plays a handful of key roles in Big Mouth, while South Park’s co-creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone voice many of the townsfolk that make up their show.)
Big Mouth also hinges on the concept of Hormone Monsters and other fantastical creatures that represent the experience of puberty come to life. This might make South Park seem slightly more grounded by comparison, but it's still a show where a talking towel and “Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poop” are actual characters.
Most importantly, they’re both “adult animation” that’s also being watched by an audience not much older than the characters on the show. As a middle school student in the early 2000s, I remember watching South Park with my friends in secret. One classmate even burned me a CD of the movie's soundtrack. And while I can’t prove the same thing is happening with Big Mouth, there’s at least a healthy debate online over whether the show is appropriate for tweens and teens.
To be clear, I’m not arguing that kids should watch the show. That’s a decision parents need to make on their own — or, you know, just let Netflix’s algorithm decide — but at least Big Mouth doesn’t serve its raunchy humor with a heaping dose of cynicism like South Park. Instead, it takes the issues it presents seriously and provides helpful information along with humor.
This is nothing new for Big Mouth. Since Season 1, the series has always offered actual insight into real problems kids might encounter, like getting your first period or being the last one in your class to grow pubic hair. In Season 2, an entire episode explored the various services provided by Planned Parenthood through a series of sketches delving into birth control options and sexually transmitted diseases. (It sounds serious, but it was somehow both hilarious and informative.)
Big Mouth Season 4 devotes even more time and nuance to similar topics, including “code-switching” and “blue balls.” The former gets an entire episode, which begins by presenting a Black character's ability to change the way they talk depending on the context as a superpower before deconstructing the racism that makes code-switching necessary. (Bizarrely, the very public recasting of another Black character, Missy, with an actual Black actor doesn’t kick in until near the end of the season, long after the code-switching episode). A later episode titled “Four Stories About Hand Stuff” takes the opportunity to debunk the predatory concept of “blue balls.”
As an adult, these are funny stories with some truth to them. As a kid, I imagine watching Big Mouth might have actually taught me something — unlike South Park, where the most educational episode in over 20 years is probably the one that reveals what Scientologists actually believe.
Twenty years from now, Big Mouth probably won't still be around (the show is renewed through Season 6; after that, who knows), but I seriously doubt we'll be looking back from the year 2040 and arguing that Nick Kroll ruined a generation of impressionable kids with his hilarious and thoughtful cartoon about puberty, race, gender, and extremely filthy sex jokes.
Big Mouth Season 4 premieres December 4 on Netflix.