The Netflix series Big Mouth earned rave reviews for its recent myth-busting Planned Parenthood episode, with critics and health educators praising the adult cartoon for a just-the-facts looks at the nonprofit’s clinics.
To anti-abortion activists, however, the episode was nothing short of diabolical.
“This is more evidence that Netflix is becoming an evil media empire intent on corrupting its millions of young viewers with liberal ideology,” Jack Fonseca, a spokesman for Campaign Life Coalition, told Life Site of the episode.
Fonseca claimed the show was teaching children to look up to Planned Parenthood—something he compared to “asking Jews to celebrate Adolf Hitler”—while seemingly forgetting that the show is marketed toward adults and recommended for “mature audiences.”
Big Mouth is a show about teenagers meant for adults. It retells the horrors of puberty through a humorous lens, for an audience far enough from the experience that they can look back with a laugh. The Planned Parenthood episode features a series of fanciful vignettes, in which one character competes in a The Bachelor-style game show to find the perfect contraception and another captains a spaceship screening for cervical cancer.
To conservatives like Karen Townsend at Newsbusters, the episode was an example of the show “inappropriately exploring puberty and sexual themes for its tween characters.” And over at National Review, sex educator-turned-activist Monica Kline claimed the episode was “way off the mark.”
“Planned Parenthood and the liberal elite normalize adolescent sexual promiscuity, adult sex with minors, and ending the life of preborn children,” she wrote. “The way to normalize these beliefs in our culture is by weaving it into consumable entertainment like ‘Big Mouth.’”
The show’s creators say the episode was driven by a desire to clear up misunderstandings about Planned Parenthood.
Co-creator Nick Kroll told the AV Club that executive producers Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett dreamed up the idea after attending a talk by Sue Dunlap, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Los Angeles. Inspired, the writers toured one of the nonprofit’s Los Angeles clinics and decided to dedicate an episode to dispelling myths about the organization.
Kroll knew the topic would be controversial—“Planned Parenthood is a real trigger for a lot of people,” he said—and wanted to write the episode for just that reason.
“People think it’s only a place where you get abortions, and we firmly believe that it is about reproductive health across the board, with a number of different services,” Kroll said. “We felt like it was worth diving into those different services and the different conceptions about what it is.”
The episode earned Big Mouth high praise from critics and a shout-out from Planned Parenthood. Stephanie Herold, a researcher for Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, applauded the show for its realistic depiction of a mother getting an abortion. Writing in the Chicago Tribune, critic K.T. Hawbaker declared that “TV’s most meaningful depiction of sexuality is on a cartoon.”
“In 10 episodes, the program manages to address everything from queer oral histories and the myth of masculinity to slut-shaming and relational aggression among girls—more than most U.S. high school sex ed classes would ever embark upon,” Hawbaker wrote.
The Planned Parenthood episode was not the first time the comedy series caused a mini-culture war. Conservative activists banded together against the show even before its first season aired, launching a CitizenGo petition that claimed its depictions of teenage sexuality were “arguably examples of underage pornography.”
Right-wing blogger Elizabeth Johnston of “Activist Mommy,” meanwhile, urged viewers to cancel their Netflix subscriptions, saying the show normalized “deviant sexual behavior,” and noting that some scenes mention “the expulsion of bodily fluids,” while others involve “talking female genitalia.”
Planned Parenthood said in a statement that “pop culture has the power to challenge stigma and change the conversation around sexual and reproductive health issues.”
“We’re thrilled to see the growing number of real, honest depictions of people’s lives, sexuality, and relationships in film and television — including diverse gender identities and sexual orientations, making decisions about pregnancy, having STI tests, getting cancer screenings, talking about consent, deciding which birth control method is best, and disclosing HIV status to partners,” it said. “These are all a normal part of people’s sexual and romantic lives and should also be a normal part of what we see on TV and in film.”
Kroll, the “Big Mouth” co-creator, has acknowledged that his show covers controversial topics, and noted that—despite the Mature Audiences rating—some kids may wind up watching it. But in his interview with the AV Club, he encouraged parents to talk with their kids about the content, instead of sweeping it under the rug.
“The whole reason we made the show is because we believe that the more that this stuff around puberty and sexuality is talked about, the healthier people will be,” he said.