The sixth season of Big Mouth is a little less horny but a lot more inclusive.
That's because the show finally introduced a character who identifies as asexual (ace): Elijah, who is voiced by Brian Tyree Henry.
Elijah is a cool new kid who catches Missy's (Ayo Edebiri) eye immediately, but who also bonds with her quickly. The two begin hanging out, with Missy even pretending to be religious to accompany him to his church group because that is an important part of his life. As the season goes on and they spend more time together, though, Missy wants to get physical with him, while he begins to realize he does not have those same urges.
In the aptly titled episode "Asexual Healing," with help from his hormone monsters, Elijah does kiss Missy, only to realize he still doesn't have the feelings he thought he would, and he fears something is wrong with him. But his aunt (voiced by Amber Ruffin) comes up to him at a family event and says that he could be asexual, like she is. Giving him language for identification, as well as showing him he is not alone and there is absolutely nothing wrong with him, eases his mind.
"On our show, we have this group of kids that are all hyper horny, and I think it's important to show that the variety of experiences that kids have. There's this added layer when you're this age, which is some kids are asexual, and some kids are just not ready yet — they're just not where some other kids in their class might be," executive producer Andrew Goldberg tells Metacritic. "He's learning as we the writers are learning and as the audience is learning. Our goal is to be responsible and accurate to his experience."
The team behind Big Mouth didn't set out to create an asexual character with Elijah at first, executive producer Mark Levin tells Metacritic. The original idea was to introduce a new character who "came from a religious background, and we were going to explore a different relationship to religion than a lot of our kids did," he explains. With that inherently comes a unique perspective on sex, as in Elijah's church they sing songs about the importance of resisting masturbation.
But as they were doing their research for the season, as they do every year, they spoke with Shafia Zaloom, an educator in Northern California, and some of her students. It was then that the producers were asked why they don't already feature any asexual characters.
"The short answer for why we did it now was that we spoke to some really smart teenagers who had a good idea," Goldberg says.
But the actual crafting of the character and his arc became much more complicated than it might appear at first glance, in part because asexuality is still so underrepresented in the media. GLAAD's 2021-22 Where We Are on TV report found that there were only two asexual characters in the current mix, one on HBO Max's genera+ion, which has since been canceled, and one on an unnamed streaming series. Metacritic reached out to GLAAD for comment on whether that unnamed series was Big Mouth, but representatives did not respond.
With that underrepresentation can come a lot of misunderstanding, especially because as of 2022, only about 1% of the population reports to identify as asexual. When writers and producers don't identify that way personally, they should (as the Big Mouth team did) turn to experts to assist in their storytelling. Big Mouth worked with ACE Los Angeles for further guidance on Elijah's story.
"One of the things we hit were, 'What do you want to see? What are you tired of seeing?'" writer Shantira Jackson says. And what the team learned was that they are tired of "the complete removal of sex and anything in any way and the idea that because you don't want to have sex you don't want love, you don't want romance."
Being asexual is not the same thing as being aromantic, and though a person can identify as both, Elijah does not. Hence why he tells his aunt he doesn't want to break up with Missy.
"The two characters really gravitated together because they're both enthusiastic dorks and cerebral and thoughtful," Goldberg says of Elijah and Missy. "We're leaving this season with them together as a couple and that's something that we'll really be exploring in Season 7: What are the different challenges that could arise with a horny person dating an asexual person, and how does that work? And then some of the other things that we're also going to look at in Season 7 is just the different ways that asexuality can express itself in a person."
The specifics of those stories are spoilers, of course, but the one thing the team asserts is that Elijah will absolutely continue to identify as asexual going forward.
"Language is imperfect, and we're doing our best to find the words when we're sharing our identities, but the identities of these children, too. We're trying to give them the grace and the dignity of their own experiences," Jackson says. "We can't do the entire spectrum; this is a story about this boy right now."
Going back to Levin's point about originally starting Elijah's story from a place of religion, Jackson adds that she grew up in the South as a Black queer woman, and she knows there can be a lot of homophobia in the church. But when writing Elijah as a young Black man who is also from a religious family, she specifically wanted to to show "the best of what could be."
"There's an authenticity to his Blackness, but I think that there's also something really special about writing authentically while still living in the world of the show," she explains. "I'm tired of the trauma porn; I'm tired of people crying, getting kicked out. We've seen it. We have so many really, really sad stories — not just Black kids, just queer stories of the whole LGBTQIA spectrum — and I think this one's just pretty nice."
There was also an added layer of nuance to Elijah's story, being that "there's a big over sexualization of Black boys, just in general," she notes, but here is a young man on a journey to understand and own his sexuality without falling into the trappings of others' influence or expectations for him.
"We've learned a lot about the spectrum in the course of making the show," says executive producer Jennifer Flackett. "And so, it's us also really saying we find it really interesting and we want to make room for everybody."