By Walter Hill
There’s a moment in the first episode of Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared where a talking notepad decrees with absolute certainty that green is not a creative color. It was then that I decided to see the show to its bloody, surreal, and dissonant conclusion. Over the course of six episodes, the show offers many questions and elicits a variety of reactions. After months of prodding from a friend, I sat glued to my laptop screen through the entirety of the show’s 30-minute runtime. As someone who’s favorite color is green, I was mildly offended by the talking notepad, but I can say the show as a whole did not disappoint.
Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared is a deftly crafted mix of live action, puppetry, and animation first uploaded online in 2011 by British filmmakers Joseph Pelling and Becky Sloan. Since then, the show has been recognized by the Sundance Film Festival and the South By Southwest Film Festival, and is currently in the process of shopping around a pilot for its second season.
The show stars three Guys, aptly named Red Guy, Yellow Guy, and Duck Guy. The colorful crew spends each episode traversing artistic mediums and trampling over the laws of space-time to learn about the all-important themes of Love, Creativity, and Computers.
Each episode opens with an idyllic muppet-esque scene. The scene is quickly and irrevocably altered by an everyday object (lamps, steak, etc) breaking out into Sesame Street rhyme and song to teach our man child protagonists about the meaning of life. From that moment on, Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared contorts into an experience that is no longer for the kids. Much of the show’s imagery becomes either outright grotesque or slightly unsettling—from food that never quite looks edible, to an absurdly dark extended evisceration. But the spectacle of the show’s imagery is not what kept me watching. I watched the show in one sitting because of its strange narrative.
Each episode has a theme. That theme is built up and given virtue through song and dance and imagery, but just as quickly, the show contradicts itself and tears down what it upheld 60 seconds earlier. Love can be found in both places and things the show says. But, the show seems to retort with a wagging finger, Love is really just ownership and a hollowing of individuality. The episode all about the power of creativity concludes with the notepad asking us all to never be creative again.
This narrative tug of war is one of the show’s biggest strengths. Through the magic of well-executed writing, each episode of Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared feels like it cuts right through (pun intended?) its own narrative to beg the viewer for a way out of a madness of its own design. And yet the show itself provides neither an escape nor any whole-cloth answers, leaving the viewer to shake their head resigned, as you would to a person begging for loose change you just don’t have. At this point, I can only hope Yellow Guy and company find some answers in the second season—because I’ll be searching too.