If you, like me, were terminally online around the early 2010s, you probably know, love, and have sorely missed Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared.
Co-created by animators Becky Sloan and Joseph Pelling, the six-episode web series set a fire across the Internet when it was released on YouTube between 2011 and 2015, with a unique blend of puppet-based antics and Lynchian shock humor. The animated shorts have since amassed over 216 million collective views on YouTube and inspired everything from elaborate fan theories involving Serbian war criminals to a small clothing line. Now, over six years since the last short, Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared has finally returned as a half-hour television series, and it’s like the show never left.
The series centers on a trio of strange, colorful characters — a tall man in a red morphsuit with two beady eyes atop a mop-top of scraggly hair named “Red Guy,” a yellow man-boy with a tuft of blue hair in blue overalls named “Yellow Guy,” and a talking green duck in a gray jacket named… “Duck.” This eclectic group reluctantly goes on adventures when they’d rather just sit around their house instead.
These adventures typically revolve around a fourth-wall-breaking music number sung by a talking inanimate object, like a notepad or a refrigerator, about an ostensibly educational topic (e.g., creativity, healthy eating, dreams) before inevitably collapsing into a psychedelic death spiral of body horror and unremitting ennui. It’s a lot of fun. In a lot of ways, Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared could be described as the demented British half-cousin of Sesame Street and the heir apparent to Wonder Showzen, albeit less politically charged than the latter and more focused on taking a sledgehammer to the standard of children's educational television set by the former.
The six-episode reboot, which premiered on Channel 4 in the U.K. on Monday, follows much of the same formula of the original YouTube short series but with… well, more of everything: more irreverent deadpan dialogue, more silly jokes, more fourth-wall-breaking interludes, and more inexplicable body horror. One might suspect this doubling down on the series’ well-worn tricks and tropes would risk diminishing returns, but Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared always somehow finds a way to continue subverting expectations, even when the expectation itself is the subversion of expectations.
The first episode of Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared opens similar to that of the original shorts: with Red Guy, Yellow Guy, and Duck sitting around and minding their own damn business, but now prefaced with a hilariously matter-of-fact theme song about how there are, in fact, three of them and they all live together. The trio have absolutely nothing to do for the day, much to the consternation of Duck, who simply refuses to not be busy. Next thing they know, there’s a talking briefcase holding a smaller, non-talking briefcase, sitting at their dinner table making a big fuss about just how busy they are and how they have to get to their job, before breaking out into a song and montage extolling the virtues of employment and labor.
You see, you can be anything: a person who types at a computer (e.g., me), a guy who kicks a soccer ball and scores a goal, or the guy who flies to a space moon. Not these guys though, no; they have to work at “Peterson’s and Sons and Friends,” making miscellaneous “bits” and “parts” on an assembly line, answering phones, and building a website that doesn’t work. Naturally, the episode takes a dramatic turn for the worse, but as any fan of Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared knows, the fun is in the surprise of just what goes belly-up and how.
Like the original short series, Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared is more or less a series of self-contained episodes, each one focusing on one form of “lesson” or another, be it about death and mortality, the importance of family, or simply how to be a better friend. The show is still ruthlessly inventive, featuring everything from amorphous claymation bodysnatchers to psychedelic dream sequences that resemble the sensory deprivation tank scene from Altered States filtered through a Boschian “DeepDream” generator.
Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared is back, and the series hasn’t missed a single beat in its transition from Internet shock humor du jour to a full-fledged animated series. Fans of the series will be elated, and newcomers will soon enough learn just how hilarious (and horrifying) life’s most important lessons can be.
Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared airs on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom, and can be streamed online in the U.K. on All 4.