For four years of grade school, I gave Callie S. a stuffed animal and a card for Valentine’s Day. She always seemed grateful, but she was not interested in me. To be fair, I wasn’t interested in her either. From third to sixth grade, I just wanted to let Callie know that she was the person I liked most, and that meant a lot for a guy like me. In the bustle of Valentine’s Day, I wasn’t sure how to explain it, but I didn’t commingle with boys or girls the way other boys did. I was an other, and with the breakneck pace of week-long relationships in elementary and middle school, it sucks to feel like an other.
As I’d gotten older and come into my own, I had forgotten about all those Awkward feelings and stuffed animals. But while watching this year’s Big Mouth Valentine’s Day special, “My Furry Valentine,” it all came rushing back—because, as a 28-year-old man, I was finally seeing my story written out on a TV show. Big Mouth, king of awkward pubescent storytelling, told the story of what it means to be an adolescent gay kid, and that’s pretty damn cool.
The Valentine’s Day special picks up in the same place Season Two left off. Nick is paired off with the Hormone Monstress. Jessi is still dealing with her depression. Andrew is still into jazz and Missy. But the holiday special decides to tackle two other characters’ storylines. At the end of last season, Jay started exploring his sexuality. He spends most of the episode screwing a girl pillow and a boy pillow—literally. But Matthew, the series’ only out-gay character, gets a more in-depth story.
He struggles with the awkward reality of being the obvious gay kid in a crop of kids who get the benefit of a holiday like Valentine’s Day. When he quickly resigns that there are no other gay kids for him to share the holiday with, he does what he knows best: He makes friends with a girl to celebrate anti-Valentine’s Day. But toward the end of the episode, Matthew gets an unexpected surprise in the form of another kid named Aiden, who is shopping for a card for his female best friend. Matthew and Aiden exchange Instagrams and flirt a little bit. On the other side of the TV, I was way more excited about this animated series than I should be. I couldn’t help but wonder what it would have been like to have seen a story like that when I was a kid.
Sure, Valentine’s Day is a Hallmark holiday [insert cynical rant here], but it’s also a day to flirt and be anxious for all the right reasons. There’s something really special about Big Mouth making that normal for adults who spend a lot of their childhoods feeling not normal. That’s no surprise, though—it’s what Big Mouth does best: making the awkward feel a little more digestible. All of its characters get a little extra special treatment for Valentine’s Day. From Jay’s hyper-sexual experimenting, to Nick aging out of the era when your mom is your valentine, Big Mouth paints a realistic picture of what it’s like to be a teen. And outside of the musical numbers (which, like always, are wonderful), the double-episode doesn’t feel out of place. It mostly feels like the story just happened to start up again on the most romantically awkward day of the year.
In a subtle nod to When Harry Met Sally, the episode is framed off with mini couch interviews with the kids and their hormone monsters. Of course, we get little moments with Andrew and Jessi, but when Matthew sits down with the Hormone Monster, it’s one of the first times we get to see them together. Matthew tells a story about the first time he liked a boy, and the Hormone Monster teases him, saying he’s going to be around a lot more now. Matthew says, “We’ll see, I guess.” It’s not a big deal. It’s not a “here’s the big gay storyline” moment—it’s just the “other” kid being treated like he’s one of the many.
The Hormone Monster ends their interview scene gushing, “I like him more than the others.” Me too, Hormone Monster. Me too.
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