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Don't Hug Me I'm Scared

Entry updated 7 November 2022. Tagged: TV.

UK puppet and animated webseries (2011-2016; 2022). This Is It. Created and directed by Joseph Pelling and Becky Sloan, Writers include Joseph Pelling and Becky Sloan. Voice cast includes Sam Campbell, Joseph Pelling, Becky Sloan and Baker Terry. Six 3-8 minute and six 24-minute episodes, plus a pilot. Colour.

Three children's Television characters – Red Guy (Pelling), whose hair obscures his face; the self-explanatory Duck Guy (Terry) and the sort-of human looking Yellow Guy (Terry) – often find their quiet lives interrupted by anthropomorphized objects that insist on singing the uplifting lesson songs so beloved of kids' television (see Children in SF; Education in SF). Wrongness quickly creeps in and it is always the 19th of June.

In the first episode the trio's Notepad (Sloan) urges them to be creative. In later ones, a Clock sings about time, visiting the past and future (see Time Travel), though Duck Guy's suggestion that "time is just a construct of human perception" angers the Clock and the characters age horrifically (see Horror in SF). A depressed Yellow Guy is approached by a Butterfly (misidentified as a "little baby pigeon") who sings about love and how there is someone for everyone – only to be revealed as a cult's recruiter. A Computer uploads the trio into Cyberspace, but Red Guy escapes, walking into a television studio where an episode of the show is being made. Duck Guy and Yellow Guy are lectured (inaccurately) on healthy eating by various foodstuffs; Duck Guy answers the phone, only to wake on an operating table to have his intestines eaten by a giant can. The final episode has an office full of Red Guys: ours finds a computer; on its screen a Nightlamp sings about dreams to Yellow Guy, whose unsettling father now appears; Red Guy responds by removing a giant electrical plug. A reset occurs – the three Guys reappear, differently coloured, sitting at home. The date on the calendar changes from the 19th to the 20th: their Notepad speaks (see Time Loop).

Save for UK broadcaster Channel 4's commissioning of episode 2, this first season was an independent webseries (episodes 3-6 being funded through Kickstarter). It was extremely popular: the first episode, released in 2011, garnered over 58 million YouTube views; subsequent episodes, released annually until 2016, average nearly 25 million views (as of February 2020). A pilot for a possible television series, about the disappearance of the mayor, was shown at the 2019 Sundance film festival. A second season was eventually produced and broadcast in September 2022; despite the longer run time, it maintained the standard of the first.

This is children's television remembered as nightmare, adrift in surrealistic unease (see Absurdist SF) and body horror. Though early episodes initially seem to be standalones, they become increasingly linked by themes and narrative – though the ratio of significance to whimsy is not easily deciphered. There is something of Philip K Dick about the unreliability of reality. Not everything works, but there is much that is interesting and often fascinating. [SP]


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