“When we made the original pilot, it was like... I just want to make what I like, and just put it out there,” says Vivienne Medrano, creator of Hazbin Hotel.
This was back before Medrano released the first Hazbin Hotel episode on her YouTube channel in 2019. She figured specific followers would enjoy its offbeat, edgy humor and theater kid energy. But she had no idea just how much it would blow up.
At the time of writing, the pilot episode has over 94 million views on YouTube. Hazbin Hotel has a huge, passionate fan base, a marvel for something with just a single episode out. The show follows Charlie, the princess of hell, who decides to help rehabilitate demons in order to solve hell’s overpopulation problem. The dark humor, quirky character designs, and sweeping Broadway-style musical numbers sparked to many fans.
“It hit with so many different people, even people who wouldn’t normally like musical theater or don’t usually like adult animation,” says Medrano.
American adult animation tends to evoke a specific type of show: a crass half-hour comedy with a lot of male characters, probably on Adult Swim or Fox. There’s a time and a place for that, but for a while, Medrano thought she had to stick to that kind of formula if she wanted to succeed. That wasn’t always a bad thing; she says South Park was a “huge turning point” for her when she was younger. But then came BoJack Horseman, Netflix’s critically acclaimed adult animated show that Medrano says came at a “perfect time” in her career and changed the way she thought about her craft.
“Phenomenal show,” Medrano tells Polygon. “[BoJack Horseman] showed me that adult animation can not only just be raunchy comedy, but it can be a story that has intense development of its characters. It can have incredibly flawed characters. It can make you cry. It can really get deep and dark.
“[BoJack Horseman] had just started around the time that I was really making the [Hazbin Hotel] pilot and it made me go, Oh, wow, like, adult animation is starting to change, and it’s starting to evolve. I can tell a story in this [medium] — because there’s always that concern, Oh, it should just be comedy [...] because that’s what’s expected. But for me, I’m a storyteller. And I like development. I like emotion. I feel like I’m the strongest at writing darker or more emotional scenes.”
Since BoJack Horseman came out in 2014, adult animation in America has started to expand beyond the half-hour comedy box. There are sci-fi dramas like Scavengers Reign and Netflix’s Love, Death & Robots anthology series, and serious dramas like Blue Eye Samurai and Undone; even the raunchy comedies have begun to embrace different types of characters and play a bit more with genre, like the bawdy female-fronted Tuca & Bertie and Max’s Harley Quinn, which mixes crass comedy with superhero antics. Like the latter examples, Hazbin Hotel is a raunchy comedy — but it’s also a character-driven musical with an overarching driving plot and a lot of deep world-building. It also features multiple female and queer leads, something the adult animated comedy space is only just starting to feature more of.
“Our society and our culture has kind of shifted, and a lot more diverse stories are starting to be told, a lot more LGBT stories and things like that,” she says. “As those things just enter the mix, just naturally, stories start to evolve and change. Different perspectives just automatically open themselves up to different voices. The adult animation space has been a predominantly white male space for a very long time: very raunchy comedy, very, like, shock humor kind of thing. That stuff absolutely has its place, especially if it serves its purpose, but for me, I think the shift comes from more different kinds of perspectives telling stories in the space.”
When one show successfully breaks the formula — or even just slightly mixes it up — it proves that others can too. Medrano cites Rick and Morty as an example of a recent show that is very crass and shocking, but also manages to go deeper. That prompted other shows to also widen the scope of their storytelling.
“Even some of the classic primetime shows that I really love — like, I’m a big fan of American Dad,” Medrano says. “Even a show like that has done more unique things as it’s gone on for so long. We’re in a good time for adult animation.”
The first four episodes of Hazbin Hotel are out on Prime Video now, with new episodes dropping on Fridays.