Everyone loves to look back on prom night memories, their favorite teachers, classes and what other hijinks took place during their time in high school. What makes reminiscing even easier is the amount of relatable movies and tv shows depicting it. But what is missing is more relatable media about middle school.
Let’s get real. The ages of 12-14 are the roughest and toughest of growing up. And as the icing on the cake, middle school makes those years even worse. It’s those awkward first relationships that make all your classmates talk, the teachers who try to make themselves relatable and the weird three years before high school.
My middle school memories include the excitement of getting a Facebook account, school dances where body contact was strictly not allowed and musical theater performances. It would be great to see my middle school experiences, feelings at that age and overall demeanor portrayed accurately on screen.
We may be finally getting relatable middle school content in entertainment.
Netflix’s adult animated sitcom, “Big Mouth,” created by comedian Nick Kroll and his childhood best friend Andrew Goldberg along with Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett, premiered last fall.
The show follows a group of seventh graders with emphasis on main characters Nick Birch and Andrew Glouberman as they go through the world of puberty and middle school. Both guiding and following them through life are their hormonal monsters who encourage their wildest thoughts. Last season’s episodes covered body changes, menstruation and introductions to sexual desires to just name a few — subjects that would have been seen as taboo 10 to 15 years ago for a television show.
The pilot episode of the show introduces tension between best friends Nick and Andrew after Nick sees Andrew’s penis accidentally at a sleepover. He finds himself immediately uncomfortable as he compares his own to his friend’s and feels he isn’t adequate enough.
In a middle school environment, this feeling is extremely relatable. If you see that someone has it better than you or has something you don’t, you are going to feel sad about it. “They have that but I don’t have that. Why don’t I have that?” We’ve all said it in our heads.
“Eighth Grade,” a comedy-drama film, released this summer and directed and written by comedian Bo Burnham follows an eighth grader named Kayla Day during her last week of middle school. Kayla suffers from social anxiety and has her own YouTube channel where she gives advice. The film portrays today’s middle school student surrounded by social media.
A notable scene in the film shows the awarding of superlatives to students and Kayla wins “Most Quiet.” Kayla appears shocked when she wins and the scene is hard to watch. The audience can immediately tell she has anxiety, but it is obvious that her teachers and classmates don’t.
“Big Mouth” and “Eighth Grade” share an honest narrative. “Big Mouth” is honest and crude about the realities of puberty. The changing bodies of both young girls and boys, the sexual identity forming and the hormonal shift.
“Eighth Grade” is honest about the social situation of middle school. It’s not the picture perfect scenes from John Hughes movies.
Both honesties are blunt. It’s cringeworthy at times to watch scenes from both, but that cringe factor comes from a place of familiarity. Adults know what those experiences are like. We cringe because we know what it’s like to get our first period or have our first relationship.We can also watch, laugh and cry about scenes as well. We know the emotions the characters are feeling.
A majority of popular television shows and movies deliver characters who live in too perfect of worlds. They have lots of friends, small problems that can sometimes appear trivial and no blemishes on their face at all (I mean c’mon we all had pimples, at least put one on their nose).
That is not the reality of most people’s experiences in school so it won’t be that entertaining to watch something you can’t relate to. It’s great to watch a show like “Big Mouth” and see characters complain about how puberty is taught to them. Not even one minute into the pilot episode of the show, one of the main characters, Jessi, questions the content of their health class: “How come in all these videos puberty for boys is like the miracle of ejaculation and for girls we’re just a yarn ball full of aching tubes?”
Note: Season Two of Big Mouth will be released on Netflix on October 5.