Please do not hug me. I’m Scared is back in fantastic, wild form

The series' shift to half-hour television has gone down without a hitch
Please do not hug me. I'm Scared is back in fantastic, wild form

If you were terminally online in the early 2010s, like me, you undoubtedly know, love, and have missed Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared.

The six-episode online series lit a fire throughout the Internet when it was posted on YouTube between 2011 and 2015, co-created by animators Becky Sloan and Joseph Pelling, with a unique combination of puppet-based shenanigans and Lynchian shock comedy. Since then, the animated videos have received over 216 million views on YouTube, inspiring anything from intricate fan theories concerning Serbian war criminals to a modest clothing store. Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared has finally returned as a half-hour television series, six years after the previous short, and it’s as if the program never left.

The story revolves on three odd, colorful characters: a tall man in a red morphsuit with two beady eyes atop a mop-top of scraggly hair dubbed “Red Guy,” a yellow man-boy in blue overalls with a tuft of blue hair titled “Yellow Guy,” and a talking green duck in a gray jacket named… “Duck.” This diverse gang unwillingly embarks on excursions when they would prefer stay at home.

These journeys usually begin with a fourth-wall-breaking music number sung by a talking inanimate object, such as a notepad or a refrigerator, about an ostensibly educational topic (e.g., creativity, healthy eating, dreams), before collapsing into a psychedelic death spiral of body horror and unrelenting ennui. It’s great fun. In many respects, Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared is the deranged British half-cousin of Sesame Street and the successor presumptive to Wonder Showzen, but less politically motivated and more intent on smashing the standard of children’s educational television set by the former.

Please do not hug me. I'm Scared is back in fantastic, wild form

The six-episode reboot, which debuted on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom on Monday, follows much of the same formula as the original YouTube short series, but with… well, more of everything: more irreverent deadpan dialogue, silly jokes, fourth-wall-breaking interludes, and inexplicable body horror. One might think that doubling down on the series’ tried-and-true techniques and clichés would result in diminishing rewards, but Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared always finds a way to keep subverting expectations, even when the expectation itself is a subversion of expectations.

The first episode of Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared begins similarly to the original shorts, with Red Guy, Yellow Guy, and Duck lounging about and doing their own damn thing, but now preceded by a wonderfully matter-of-fact theme tune about how there are three of them and they all live together. The trio had nothing planned for the day, much to the chagrin of Duck, who simply refuses to remain idle.The next thing they know, a talking briefcase clutching a smaller, non-talking briefcase is sitting at their dinner table, making a huge fuss about how busy they are and how they need to get to work, before breaking out into a song and montage praising the joys of employment and labor.

You see, you may be anything: a person who writes on a computer (such as me), a man who kicks a soccer ball and scores a goal, or a man who flies to the moon. But not these men; they have to work at “Peterson’s and Sons and Friends,” where they make random “bits” and “parts” on an assembly line, answer phones, and develop a website that doesn’t operate. Naturally, the show takes a dramatic turn for the worst, but as any Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared fan knows, the joy is in discovering what goes wrong and how.

Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared, like the original short series, is more or less a collection of self-contained episodes, each concentrating on one type of “lesson” or another, be it about death and mortality, the significance of family, or just how to be a better friend. The program is nonetheless relentlessly innovative, with anything from amorphous claymation bodysnatchers to hallucinogenic dream scenes that mimic Altered States’ sensory deprivation tank scene filtered through a Boschian “DeepDream” generator.

Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared is back, and the series hasn’t skipped a beat in its evolution from Internet shock comedy to a full-fledged animated series. Fans of the series will rejoice, while novices will quickly discover how humorous (and terrifying) life’s most critical lessons can be.

Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared airs on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom and is available online in the United Kingdom on All 4.

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