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November 05, 2018

Prep School

Andrew Goldberg’s Big Mouth traverses puberty, complete with Hormone Monsters.

Anne Easton
  • Netflix
  • Netflix
  • Netflix

Andrew Goldberg did not prepare his parents adequately.

When his folks sat down to watch the first episode of Big Mouth, the series their son created, they weren't ready, and none of them knew it. "They were enjoying it and laughing." Then, about six minutes in, a scene that would upset any parent occurred.. "The laughter stopped and the silence began," explained Goldberg.

The Netflix animated series may be a narrative about youngsters, but it's definitely filled with adult content as teenage friends struggle through both the wonders and horrors of puberty.

"I thought I had really prepped them, but in retrospect, I guess not well enough. I mean, yeah, how do you prepare people to see [that kind of a scene]? I don't know," Goldberg says with a distinctly boyish laugh.

Big Mouth is based on Goldberg's teenage years growing up in Westchester County, New York, with his best friend comedian Nick Kroll. Kroll co-created the series, voicing his fictional self while fellow comedian John Mulaney voices the character of young Andrew.

The boys are part of a group of 6th graders who are navigating their way through adolescence and all of the confusing messages that come with it. Adding to the conflict are Hormone Monsters, wild apparitions who follow the kids around, representing each character's bubbling up sexual desires, which frequently occur at inappropriate moments.

Goldberg says that he and Kroll originally pitched the series as 'a filthy animated Wonder Years,' but that he believes it's 'filthy with heart.' "It's not just about coming of age but really more about the friendships that you establish during that time in your life. The relationships that you have when you're this age are really pretty powerful."

This ideal has proven true for Goldberg and Kroll, who met in the first grade. "We were just these two little six-year-old buddies," says Goldberg. "Then, around fourth or fifth grade, we really became best friends and started spending all our time together." He met fellow co-creators Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett in graduate school.

"I had the initial idea and I was calling it 'Bar Mitzvah Boys' because it was about me and my friends at this Jewish day school that we went to," admits Goldberg. "But, the more the four of us talked about it, the more we started gravitating toward the idea of puberty as this kind of really dramatic time that also seemed ripe with comedic potential."

The real breakthrough came in the form of married couple Levin and Flackett's son. "He was around 12 at the time and Mark said to me one day, 'Is there some way to use animation to capture the angst that our son feels during this time?''

Goldberg says this is when he hit on the idea of the Hormone Monster (and conversely, for the girls on the series, The Hormone Monstress).

Although the subject matter is a bit tricky, Goldberg believes that the show's central conceit still holds appeal for many. "One of the things that attracted us to the idea from the very beginning was that we hadn't seen anything like it on TV and I think a lot of people appreciate how honest and unflinching it is.

"The idea is to help people realize that all those feelings that you had when you were young, that you thought were gross, or weird, were actually feelings that everybody was having. It's just shows that we're all a lot more similar than we think."

To those who find the series isn't exactly their brand of entertainment, Goldberg politely responds. "I think we always knew that some people would be taken aback by it. That's ok because not everything is for everybody."

To add just a bit more fuel to that fire, the series occasionally incorporates some controversial topics into the storytelling, such as a season two episode that's all about Planned Parenthood.

"That episode came about because Mark and Jen were at a Planned Parenthood event and the CEO said to them, 'We love your donations, but what we'd really love is for people to tell stories about Planned Parenthood to help everyone understand a little more about what we do.'

"So, we took our writing staff on a field trip and we came away amazed at how many different things they did do and realized that, while this place is certainly a lightning rod politically, they help an enormous amount of people and a lot people rely on them for healthcare."

Goldberg honed his skills for fashioning these thought-provoking stories, as well as creating crafty characters and generating snappy dialogue, during his eight seasons as a writer on Family Guy.

That series also allowed him to learn all the complexities of animation. "More and more each season, I became the writer who worked with the artists - giving notes on storyboards, running storyboard launches, and sending editorials sometimes. I didn't realize at the time, but I was getting this amazing education in how to run an animated show."

Although his initial intention wasn't specifically to work in the animation genre, Goldberg is satisfied to have landed in this area. "I grew up on The Simpsons. That series had a huge influence on me.. But, I never went into it like, 'I'm going to be an animation writer.' I wanted to be a comedy writer, really a sitcom writer. Animation is just where my life took me, and I'm good with that."

Via his current endeavor, Goldberg admits that he's learned a few things about himself that he didn't anticipate.

"Doing the show has really influenced how I looked at sexuality and gender differences. I think the more I learn, the more progressive my thought process becomes. Also, just in terms of my kids - they're eight and six and definitely too young to watch the show. We've said they can watch the show when they're the age of the characters - but the show has definitely influenced the way that I talk to my kids about sex.

"Growing up, my family really was not comfortable talking about sex and I think that led to perhaps an implicit assumption that there was something wrong with those feelings that I was starting to have when I went into puberty. I really want to avoid that for my children."

Clearly, Goldberg has learned that adequate preparation is very important, especially when it comes to family.

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