Surrealist Horror Satire Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared Makes It’s TV Debut

“Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared” released its last YouTube episode six years ago. Now, the cult classic horror hit from Becky Sloan and Joseph Pelling has come to British streaming service Channel 4.

“Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared” follows three puppets who learn about the world around them with help from sentient, singing objects in their home. There’s the Red Guy, a mop-like creature whose judgemental side can get the better of him, the Duck, whose eccentricities and stubborn ways cause him conflict, and the Yellow Guy, whose emotions are too big for his tiny, yellow body. Each episode features a new “teacher”, an object, animal, or in rare cases a person, who comes to life and sings the puppets through their lesson. Sadly for the trio, their journeys always end in tragedy and bloodshed.

The original “Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared” YouTube series was far more violent than its TV run. Any of the 71 million viewers of the first episode remember the shock and horror they felt as the meat cake was sliced and a human heart was rolled in glitter. They covered six topics: creativity, time, love, computers, food, and dreams. There was an air of criticism towards each topic. In episode 3, the love episode, Yellow is indoctrinated into a cult by the butterfly Shringhold, who insists that all they want is for him to “change [his] name and clean [his] brain and forget about anything [he] ever knew.” It makes fun of religious institutions and their nonsensical practices, insisting that the love cult must feed their god Malcolm gravel or “he becomes angry” (and then burning Malcolm’s statue in the background of the credits). While these moments were humorous due to the sheer ridiculous nature, they more-so horrified audiences.

The Channel 4 run is different. The satirical aspects are ticked up. The entirety of the first episode makes fun of the meaningless, drab, and often pointless world of work. The puppets waste their lives away working in the factory, growing old, and are brainwashed by the company’s “therapy” machines when one speaks up. It ends in carnage, of course, and the three suddenly find themselves back at home as if nothing had happened, given a single shilling coin for years and years of labor (which flies into Duck’s eye, causing him to scream in pain as the camera cuts away). It’s a heavier approach to satire, but it works well. They also give more depth to the characters themselves, altering Red from constantly bored about everything to someone who actually expresses his emotions. He even yells, which is unheard of in the original YouTube series, as he was constantly deadpan.

What truly keeps the series magical is the fact that Sloan and Pelling refused to compromise on what made it special in the first place: the lore, or lack thereof. “Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared” is full of mysteries. Why can’t they escape their home? How come they never die permanently? What does it all mean? There are no answers to these mysteries, aside from quick glimmers of higher powers, and Sloan and Pelling have no intention to provide us with answers. For it to be effective, we must be as lost as our puppet friends, since at its core, “Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared” is a reflection of our own society. Don’t be fooled by the bright colors and veneer of happiness, this show is as real as it gets.