“Don’t Hug Me, I’m Scared” is the perfect transition into the Halloween season

Combining the likes of “Sesame Street” with musical numbers and existential horror, the former web series moves to television in a tour de force.


Liz LaHood

Digital illustration of “Don’t Hug Me, I’m Scared” main characters Red Guy, Yellow Guy and Duck.

Warning: Gore and violence are mentioned in passing in this article.

In 2011, two artists from the United Kingdom named Becky Sloan and Joe Pelling created a small horror/musical short in their free time. Their brilliantly creepy film, titled “Don’t Hug Me, I’m Scared,” went viral on YouTube. In the video, a talking sketchbook encourages the protagonists to be “creative,” causing them to become violent and create gore-filled art. 

I myself watched the video as a kid, and while it was somewhat traumatizing, I also found myself fascinated by the world of the short. The audience had a similar reaction; the video was widely praised for its juxtaposition of childish visuals and music with the graphic imagery of human depravity and our destructive nature.

11 years later, after multiple installments and countless internet theories later, “Don’t Hug Me, I’m Scared” has returned in all of its former gory glory and with all of the existential dread and puppets one could ask for. 

The main protagonists of the series are three roommates; a man in a red costume, a yellow puppet, and a green puppet named “Duck.” The show is a spoof of educational children’s programs, as Red Guy, Yellow Guy and Duck learn about and experience a new subject every episode. Whether they’re learning about transportation or the merits of friendship, you can bet that our protagonists will experience it in its most wicked and depraved form possible, with one of them usually being maimed or injured in the process. 

The formula of “Don’t Hug Me, I’m Scared” is quite obvious and repetitive, but it hardly gets old. This can be mainly attributed to the show’s sense of humor, which is dry, self aware and witty. Some may call it more of a comedy series than horror, especially for the first four or so episodes; and even during the frankly disturbing fifth and sixth episodes, it got some laughs. If it wasn’t for the humor of the series, it would have been a lot worse, as the horror aspect was somewhat underwhelming compared to the original. 

The plot is subtle, but brilliant. As the series goes on, our puppet protagonists gradually learn of their strings, both figuratively and literally. This comes to a head in episode five, when there are massive revelations about the nature of the world they live in. 

Next, let’s talk about visuals. I did not expect this show to look as good as it did; while the first episodes aren’t exactly outstanding, the animated segments of the fourth and fifth episodes were extremely well done, especially for a relatively indie project. The level of detail put into every set and shot is ridiculous, and an even more impressive feat considering the additional challenge of puppeteering. 

Like the original, “Don’t Hug Me, I’m Scared” has somewhat of a musical component, with there generally being around one song each episode. I generally dislike unnecessary musical numbers on television, and it’s no different here, but each song does play an important role in the plot, along with being funny enough to not get on my nerves. Because of this, I thought the songs were a nice addition, and there’s enough variation between them to avoid being repetitive.

Lastly, there’s the scares. While the horror is a little tamer this time around, it’s scary in its own kind of way. The original tried to shock you with gore and violence, while the new series uses claustrophobia and other forms of unease to generate dread in its audience. Our protagonists repeat the same routine every day, without any autonomy or ability to leave or avoid their fate, trapped in the cycle by forces beyond their understanding. Many allusions to the COVID-19 lockdowns are present, which makes this horror sadly relatable. The humor breaks some of this tension from time to time, but the rage, confusion and sadness our protagonists express at their situation is jarring. 

All in all, “Don’t Hug Me, I’m Scared” could probably be considered more of a comedy than a horror series, but it can be undoubtedly disturbing at times. The formula rarely gets old, and its plot is genuinely interesting and engaging with its mixed use of comedy, music and gore. Available on Channel 4, the show’s spookiness provides a great way to kickstart the Halloween season.