Look hard enough on YouTube and you will find a fascinating web series worth watching. Sure, the website is known more for videos of cute kittens, let’s plays and people falling on their ass. With access to cameras, mics and film software on a budget, up and coming filmmakers are not only able to bring their vision on film but their films can be easily posted on a website with access to an unlimited audience. Without a studio head interfering with their work, creators have more opportunities to be experimental, even surrealistic. As a result, web series viewers might find are more likely to be an acquired taste (or lack thereof). Case in point is Don’t Hug Me, I’m Scared. Created by Becky Sloan and Joseph Pelling, this web series is a twisted and hilarious parody of Sesame Street.
The show centers around three Muppet: Harry; Manny; and, Robin. Harry is an easily-bored humanoid red alien. Manny is the Muppet equivalent to Lennie from Of Mice and Men. Robin is a green bird in a brown shirt. Their names are never mentioned on the show so the fans gave them the aforementioned names. I would have gone with Red, Lennie and Ducky, but the fans have spoken. What’s first worth noting is the design of each character. Manny’s design is obviously a take off of Ernie. While the other Muppets use the classic design, Harry is obviously a guy in a red suit with a red mop placed on top of his head. I love two things about the design of Harry. I love how every time, Harry talks, he blows on the strings. I also love how the eyes on top of his head makes him look like those wide-jawed Sesame Street aliens who go Yep, Yep, Yep.
Each episode begins with the guys just sitting around doing nothing. The first thing you admire is the design of the world. In the first episode, they sit in a light colored living room. I love how nearly everything is made of felt, especially the letters and the newspaper, the Right Wing. It has a light colored look resembling a set of the surrealistic comedy The Mighty Boosh.
Then their notebook starts singing to them, trying to teach them how to think “CREATIVELY.” The fan base calls the notebook Paige. She introduces them to a series of fun activities, from seeing a smiley face on an orange to rearranging sticks to spell their favorite colors. Though one should wonder about the lyrics; “Listen to your heart/Listen to the rain/Listen to the voices in your brain”. Plus, every time Manny tries to get creative, Paige shuts him down. He gets the biggest sting when they get to the sticks, which leads to the following hilarious line:
PAIGE: Green is not a creative color.
All of a sudden, the show turns into amateur CGI and starts spinning around the behind the scenes set. It becomes Requiem for a Dream with an insane montage intercutting the characters (now people in costume) dancing being cut with disturbing images of a cow’s heart being sprinkled with glitter and organs sneaking into a mouse hole. Here is where people will be split about this web series.
Every episode follows the same trope. Each episode begins with the characters sitting around. Then a Muppet enters with a catchy song about a particular them, including time and love. It leads to a disturbing montage of decay. This is a definitely show of acquired taste, or lack thereof. It is more for those who love the macabre humor of Monty Python. The show it most resembles is Wonder Showzen, MTV’s short-lived send up of Sesame Street. Like the web series, Showzen centers each episode on a particular theme, including patience and peace. Both experiment not just with different forms of puppetry, but with other forms of animation. Like the web series, Showzen has a super twisted sense of humor. While there are segments more accessible for a wider audience (especially the on the street interviews with the puppet Clarence and some smart alecky kids) a lot of it contains the grossest, horniest, offensive jokes ever. One segment was about a duck that travels back in time via his own butthole so he could take a dump on Einstein’s brain in order to prevent the invention of the atomic bomb. Yeah. That isn’t the most disturbing joke on the show. It is also for a selective taste.
When you have a name like Don’t Hug Me, I’m Scared, it should be a given that you will get something weird. But whether or not it is to people’s taste, there is something to admire about the show. With a limited budget, Sloan and Pelling stir a lot of creative juice in this episode. They put a lot of effort into the design of the Muppets and their universe, going above and beyond the usual standards of most web series. Plus, one has to admire the way they experiment with all forms of animation and puppetry in each episode. Those with the taste of the macabre will enjoy a hilarious sting at the simple lessons of Sesame Street. Though they only produced three episodes so far, the creators brought a lot into those episodes. Earlier this year, they launched an Indiegogo campaign to produce more episodes. In keeping with the show, they produce a video of the characters being held hostage.