'Big Mouth' Makes You Cringe, But There's Power In Its Stories, According To Co-Creator Jennifer Flackett
"This is not amazing," Jessi mutters near the end of Big Mouth's second episode, "Everybody Bleeds." The red-headed tween is standing in front of the mirror, wearing a purple T-shirt with pink underwear... and the wings from her menstrual pad are sticking out of the sides. If that description gave you teenage anxiety all over again, you're not alone. Big Mouth co-creator Jennifer Flackett recalls being surrounded by the show's female artists during an early animatic screening and that moment warranting an audible, visceral reaction — one she'll never forget.
"There was this sound that kind of came up through the group. [Co-creator] Andrew Goldberg said to me, 'I've never heard a sound like that before,'" Flackett explains to Bustle over the phone, describing the noise as "this little emotional laughter." "It was all these women being like, 'I recognize that. This thing that I've never seen represented before is being shown.'"
And that's exactly Big Mouth's goal: "making everybody feel less alone and really laughing about it, too." The show captures the extremely cringey, but simultaneously relatable moments you'd probably rather erase from your middle-school memory. Yet in talking about them, it helps shed any shame.
For Flackett, it was "very meaningful" that Goldberg — along with fellow co-creators Nick Kroll and Flackett's husband, Mark Levin — appreciate these moments, like the underwear flap scene, as much as she does. She acknowledges what a blessing it's been to work with men who really "walk the talk" of portraying an "even-handed exploration of puberty" that features the good, the bad, and the ugly for young girls and boys alike.
As for why they make sure to spotlight the journeys of both sexes, the answer couldn't be more straightforward. "Obviously, it's important because women are 50 percent of the world, right? So you can just start right there. ... Those stories all need to be told," Flackett says, before adding, "In fact, if you ask me, they should be told 75 percent of the time" to make up for the lack of doing so over the years.
Whether diving into girls being horny (surprise, it's not just a guy thing), or the emotions that accompany developing boobs, or slut-shaming, it takes time to get things just right. So for the Big Mouth creators, it's a completely collaborative process.
To get it right, Flackett explains the writers' room is a place where they "talk about all of our horrible stories" from adolescence. She shouts out writers and co-producers Kelly Galuska and Emily Altman, as well as Jessi Klein who voices Jessi, and Jenny Slate who plays Missy — while making clear there are many other talented women behind-the-scenes.
"Women need to see those stories so that they can tell those stories."
When it came to tackling female desire on the show, personal experience definitely factored in for Flackett. "I have a daughter who was 16 at the time [of making the first season] and I realized how little I talked about any of that stuff with her," she says. And while she clarifies she doesn't consider herself "particularly closed or prudish," she didn't necessarily want to talk about those things.
But then, shows like Outlander and Peggy Orenstein's book Girls & Sex helped shift Flackett's perspective. "A lot of girls don't have a language for [sexuality]," she says. "So much of sexuality is defined through this prism of boys and them wanting to get some. ... So that was a story that we all really wanted to tell and I felt such a personal connection to it."
And here's the thing — even though Flackett is telling pieces of her experience, she knows that's not necessarily yours. "Women need to see those stories so that they can tell those stories. ... It's in seeing it that you can also then say, 'Wait a minute, that's not my story, let me tell you mine. Mine is this one,'" she explains. "That's how you beget other stories."
It's because of those conversations that the show feels so genuine. In fact, speaking up — and sticking to your gut — is something Flackett can't emphasize enough. While she feels very lucky and comfortable on her team — "I never need to worry that anyone is going to say, 'Oh wow, Jen's crazy,'" — she still sometimes experiences self-doubt, just like anybody else.
"There are moments where I've really had to say, 'Hold your ground,'" she says, noting how easy it can be to second-guess yourself or start sentences with a pre-apology (like, "I'm sorry, but..."). "When I know what my point is and I stick to it, I really feel I'm on solid ground."
Fostering an environment where creators can share their stories and actually feel heard is what helps make Big Mouth so authentic — and cringey and gross and glorious, all at the same time.