If, like me, you were terminally connected in the early 2010s, you probably know, love, and have sorely missed Don’t hug me, I’m afraid.
Co-created by animators Becky Sloan and Joseph Pelling, the six-episode web series set the Internet on fire when it ran on YouTube between 2011 and 2015, with its unique blend of slapstick antics and Lynchian shock humor. The animated shorts have since amassed over 216 million collective views on YouTube and have inspired everything from elaborate fan theories involving Serbian war criminals to a small clothing line. Now, over six years since the last brief, Don’t hug me, I’m afraid It’s finally back as a half-hour TV series, and it’s like the show never left.
The series centers on a trio of strange, colorful characters – a tall man in a red outfit with two beads in his eyes over a mop with crooked hair called “Red Guy”, a yellow man-boy with a tuft of blue hair in blue overalls named ‘Yellow Guy’ and a green talking duck in a gray jacket named… ‘Duck’. This eclectic group reluctantly goes on adventures when they’d rather just sit around the house.
These adventures usually revolve around a fourth-wall-breaking musical number sung by an inanimate object that talks, such as a notebook or refrigerator, about a seemingly educational topic (eg creativity, healthy eating, dreams) before collapsing inevitably into a psychedelic death spiral of body horror and unrelenting arousal. It’s a lot of fun. In many ways, Don’t hug me, I’m afraid could be described as its no-nonsense British half-cousin Sesame Street and the heir apparent Wonder Showzenthough less politically charged than the latter and more focused on living up to the standards of children’s educational television set by the former.
The six-episode reboot, which premiered on Channel 4 in the U.K. on Monday, largely follows the same formula as the original YouTube short series, but with… well, most of all: more irreverent deadpan dialogue, more goofiness jokes, more fourth- wall-breaking interludes and more inexplicable body horror. One might suspect that this doubling down on the series’ well-worn gimmicks and tropes would risk diminishing returns, but Don’t hug me, I’m afraid always somehow finds a way to keep subverting expectations, even when the expectation itself is the subversion of expectations.
Its first episode Don’t hug me, I’m afraid opens similar to that of the original shorts: with Red Guy, Yellow Guy, and Duck sitting around minding their own damn business, but now prefaced with a hilarious theme story about how there are, in fact, three of them living all together. The trio have absolutely nothing to do for the day, much to the surprise of Duck, who simply refuses to be busy. The next thing they know, there’s a talking briefcase holding a smaller non-talking briefcase, sitting at their table making a big fuss about how busy they are and how they have to get to work, before bursting into song and montage extolling the virtues of employment and work.
You see, you can be anything: a person typing on a computer (eg me), a guy kicking a soccer ball and scoring a goal, or the guy flying to a space moon. But not these guys, no. they have to work at “Peterson’s and Sons and Friends”, making various “bits” and “parts” on an assembly line, answering phones and building a website that doesn’t work. Of course, the episode takes a dramatic turn for the worse, but like any fan Don’t hug me, I’m afraid he knows, the fun is in the simple surprise what go belly and how.
Like the original short series, Don’t hug me, I’m afraid it’s pretty much a series of self-contained episodes, each focusing on one form of “lesson” or another, whether it’s death and mortality, the importance of family, or just how to be a better friend. The show is still ruthlessly inventive, with everything from amorphous clay grabbers to psychedelic dream sequences that look like 2001: A Space OdysseyThe virtual ‘Stargate’ sequence was filtered through a Boschian ‘DeepDream’ generator.
Don’t hug me, I’m afraid is back, and the show hasn’t missed a beat in its transition from internet shock humor du jour to full-fledged animated series. Fans of the show will be thrilled, and newcomers will soon learn how hilarious (and terrifying) life’s most important lessons can be.
Don’t hug me, I’m afraid airs on Channel 4 in the UK and can be streamed online in the UK All 4.