Review: ‘Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared’ is a lesson in making great TV

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On July 9, 2011, the creators of “Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared” made us all agree to never be creative again. They proceeded to be creative several more times, and we’re all the better for it.

You can’t deny how much “DHMIS” impacted internet culture in the 2010s. Whether you loved the original six-episode run, you were scarred for life by a viral video with British puppets or you’re one of those people who wanted to bone Tony the Talking Clock, this experimental series is a staple of surrealist horror comedy. Like “Smiling Friends” earlier in 2022, traditional media is finally embracing innovative YouTube creators.

Following the original run, creators and puppeteers Becky Sloan, Joe Pelling and Baker Terry produced a television pilot to continue the series, which was picked up by Britain’s Channel 4 in 2020. This was easily my most anticipated show once television production resumed during the pandemic, and it delivered beyond my high expectations; translating the short-form YouTube episodes into six 22-minute episodes made this season even better than before.

Contributed Photo from Channel 4. Duck (Baker Terry) reads the Opinions page and finds his own obituary, kicking off the daily lesson in the show’s second episode, “Death.”

The new episodes once again follow three puppets who live and learn together: the unenthusiastic Red Guy (Joseph Pelling), the uptight Duck (Baker Terry) and the not-so-bright Yellow Guy (Baker Terry). Their daily activities are always interrupted by eccentric and enigmatic “teachers” who offer lessons and songs about basic topics, but things go awry as each lesson turns into an actual nightmare for the protagonists (and occasionally for their teachers).

What sets the Channel 4 episodes apart from the YouTube episodes is that the trio has time for complete stories. Previously, episodes featured one song that progressively became more demented, spending little time on the simple character dynamics. While the new episodes still have musical numbers, there’s finally room for dialogue-driven scenes and character interactions. The pacing feels more natural, which improves every aspect of the show.

The main cast could’ve easily been flanderized into one-dimensional personalities, but they feel more well-rounded with extra time for character development. For example, I expected Red Guy to stay monotone, but his moments of excitement and rage caught me off guard. New characters fit well with the old cast, including personal favorites like webmaster Duncan (Baker Terry), who perfectly encapsulates the waking nightmare that is managing the Journal’s website.

“DHMIS” was always open to interpretation; one of its most popular readings centers around messages children learn from television. It’s the most surface-level reading since the show obviously parodies educational programming like “Sesame Street” – even more so now that it’s in the same medium – but it’s common for a good reason. Even the wildest theories remain compatible with the show’s satire and criticism of edutainment morals.

Longer episodes allow for more fleshed-out commentary, best exemplified by the excellent premiere episode, “Jobs.” Whereas television promises children they can do anything when they grow up, “DHMIS” explores how edutainment prepares children for a capitalist hellscape. The myth of meritocracy, work/life balance (or lack thereof), shaming the unemployed, human resources upholding the status quo, classism and more are covered in this hilarious yet depressingly relatable story.

Besides challenging edutainment morals, “DHMIS” is comedy gold, although episodes like “Jobs” prove that commentary and comedy overlap. The original episodes’ darker tone feels better balanced now with British wit, yet this doesn’t compromise its themes. It’s impossible to describe the best punchlines and ending stingers without spoilers, but the funniest episodes are “Friendship” and “Death” – the latter of which ended in a way that busted my gut (and Duck’s).

The incredible production value often accentuates the comedy. Not only is the puppetry excellent as always, but the increased budget allows for visual gags with elaborate props that only appear for a second. Each episode frequently plays with the show’s format, including shifts from puppets to 2D animation and stop motion, as well as multiple unique versions of the theme song, “There’s Three of Us.”

Understandably, “DHMIS” can be a difficult watch for those sensitive to gore, unreality or other disturbing content. All episodes have at least a few potentially triggering scenes, but it’s never edgy just for the sake of it; for some viewers, the strong pacing, commentary and comedy might make the dark moments easier to stomach. However, I advise consulting friends or sites like doesthedogdie.com if you need specific trigger warnings.

The only glaring issue comes from distribution. While the original run is still available on the creators’ YouTube channel, these episodes are exclusively streaming on Channel 4’s All 4 platform in the UK. Much like HBO Max’s delayed release of “Smiling Friends,” old media fails to understand internet creators’ audiences yet again. We want to support these creators, but making YouTubers’ content inaccessible is always circumvented with reuploads.

There’s no word on worldwide releases, but when it finally comes to the US, I’ll immediately give “DHMIS” another watch. It’s worth supporting on whatever platform it’s on if that means Channel 4 greenlights more of this wonderfully weird puppet show. Heck, I’m desperate enough that I’d subscribe to Peacock if it got the rights. If I could will another season of any current show into existence, it’s this one.

“Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared” is available to stream officially on All 4 in the United Kingdom.

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Managing Editor | + posts

Sean Mullins (she/they) is the managing editor and webmaster for the Journal, formerly the opinions editor during the 2021/2022 school year. She is a media studies major and professional writing minor at Webster University, but she's participated in student journalism since high school, having previously been a games columnist, blogger and cartoonist for the Webster Groves Echo at Webster Groves High School. Her passion is writing and editing stories about video games and other entertainment mediums. Outside of writing, Sean is also the treasurer for Webster Literature Club. She enjoys playing games, spending time with friends, LGBTQ+ and disability advocacy, streaming, making terrible puns and listening to music.