“Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared” Review


Jack Armstrong, Staff Writer

Looks can be deceiving. What started as an independently created series for YouTube users to watch and be disturbed by, Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared has been granted a higher budget and more resources to tell its story to wider audiences. At a first glance, Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared seems innocent or some kind of Sesame Street knockoff. However, once you watch a full episode, you will experience some kind of whiplash. It’s gruesome, it’s scary, but most importantly, it’s saying something. The show’s creators (Becky Sloan, Joseph Pelling, and Baker Terry) crafted the original YouTube series as a social commentary on children’s television through the use of puppets. In particular, how these shows are designed to make children think in a specific way that doesn’t necessarily tailor to their own beliefs. As an example, a pretty harmless episode about creativity spirals into the teacher (represented by a talking notepad) dismissing certain types of creativity and only accepting things that they like. Or even an episode about time begins teaching the characters about how some actions take more time than others or how long time has been around. But, as it nears the end, it talks about the existentialism we all feel and how eventually “everyone runs out of time.” It was remarkable for its time and every episode was so unsettling. I was hooked from the very beginning. It was the very definition of an artistic curveball.

But that is besides the point, Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared, after a six year hiatus, is back on the small screen. Being distributed by British video-on-demand company All 4, Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared returns with six new episodes that follow the original three characters learning about topics like work, family, and even death. Due to its increased production value, this series has never looked better. The sets are grand, the writing is on point, and the unsettling bits flow beautifully with the lighthearted ones. When I heard that this series was releasing in late September, I couldn’t have been more excited. After binge watching every episode while I was suffering with COVID, I can say that Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared is one of the most expertly and meticulously crafted shows I have ever seen. Watching this show felt like reuniting with an old family member at a get-together, it felt like the show picked up the conversation right where it left off… six years ago. However, it is to my belief that the show completely laps the quality and structure of the YouTube series tenfold. That’s not to the fault of the original series, obviously. But because of all the new assets the creators have at their disposal, the messages, plot, writing, humor, and many other aspects are improved exponentially. The structure of the show especially is so much more refreshing because not only does it keep the same style as the original series, but it fleshes out the characters and provides more of a story in each episode. The development of the characters works wonders for the series because it adds to the mystery of the characters. More specifically, how do these people know each other? Why do they live together? And why are they in this endless cycle of learning something misleading and violence? However, even if the show asks so many grand, mind-boggling questions like this, its writing and humor are done so well that it distracts from the existential feeling that you get while watching what happens. The biggest contributor to these grandiose questions are the values of the creators of the show. 

The creators have gone on record to say that they believe art is subjective. Their style of writing is purposefully open ended, leaving my interpretation of the story and mainly the ending to be completely different than yours. That’s smart because technically everyone is right but everyone is wrong at the same time. But there’s one thing that everyone can agree on when watching the episodes: the messages they convey.

The plot of every episode, just like the original series, delivers a message that criticizes the common consensus of topics that are taught regularly in children’s shows. But now, they are able to talk about these topics at a grander scale. Allow me to go more in depth. In the first episode, the three unnamed characters are taught by a talking briefcase about the necessity of a job. The Duck complains that nothing ever happens in his day and he wants to be busier. While the Red Guy would rather spend his day doing nothing. The briefcase tells them the wonders of being at a desk job typing really fast, being a professional soccer player, or being a surgeon. When, in the middle of the song, the briefcase leaves them in a traditional factory where the employees make “bits and parts.” Without going too in depth (partly because it would be so confusing if I put it into words), the episode tackles and criticizes the treatment of workers factory jobs. But, they also go the extra mile and criticize the ways these companies “counteract” the mistreatment of employees. Or, in the episode about family, two siblings teach Yellow Guy, Red Guy, and Duck about the importance of family and how there are specific rules/meanings behind being a part of a family. But the episode then criticizes the expectations that certain families place on their descendants and how living up to a legacy left by a family can be daunting. It’s an eerie episode because it never quite feels right when you watch it unfold. In fact, every episode is like that.

The atmosphere of Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared is what makes it one of the most clever shows I have ever seen. Despite its cutesy and welcoming character design and art, the viewer can’t help but feel like something is… off. The idea that you really have no idea what’s happening or what is going to happen next is where the horror of the show shines. The humor is creatively and carefully sprinkled throughout the really uncomfortable moments in the show.

Now, would I recommend the show?

I’m not so sure.

Having history with the YouTube series and reading into rumors about a new season, I am completely hooked on Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared. Yet, it’s not something I could easily tell someone to go watch due to its wacky and “out-there” style of horror and humor. The easiest indicator to tell is see if you could handle getting through the first episode because that has a good mix of everything that is going to occur in the show. If this show sounds like it is up your alley, by all means, watch the episodes! They are each 23 minutes long and there are six of them, making it a quick binge on a day off from college essays. Furthermore, the idea of a second season (or I guess third season if the YouTube series counts?) excites me to pieces. I want to see what else is in store for these characters, especially after what happens at the end of the sixth episode. Even if the series is not for you, there is no trouble in denying the uplifting story that this series has had. From a passion project to a fully fleshed out television series, Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared is going to set the standard for future surrealist TV series.