Directors: Joseph Pelling and Becky Sloan
Screenplay: Joseph Pelling, Becky Sloan and Baker Terry
Cast: Baker Terry as Yellow Guy / Duck Guy / Additional Characters (voice); Joseph Pelling as Red Guy (voice); Becky Sloan as Lamp / Spinach Can / Sketchbook / Additional Voices (voice); Royngtt as Colin / Additional Voices (voice) ; Kellen Goff as Additional Voices (voice)
[The following is a continuation of a review covering the first three segments of this web video series. Follow the link HERE to that first review.]
[Some Plot Spoilers Ahead]
Episode 4 is my personal favourite of the entire web series. Already beginning with a delayed gag, expecting another object to suddenly begin singing, it gets off to a great start in which an obsolete computer, down to his electronically distorted voice, starts to go on about the virtues of computers. The virtue of this episode is how it doesn't even need to use the gore and nastiness of before for its creepy horror, instead being working against this in creative ways. This involves deliberately dated glitchy animation, which appeals to my love for obsolete animation, and a slyer sense of humour. The message is pretty obvious too - a computer that never gets around to answering the question the trio initially wanted settled, and the computer world a place of time wasting tasks such as consumerism or "DIGITAL STYLE!!", to repeat probably the most quotable dialogue of the whole series.
At this point, this is without question one of the most lavishly put together web-exclusive productions outside of large conglomerates, and this is worth bringing up in knowledge that the later episodes from two to six, including Kickstarter campaigns, were soon put into production when the show started gaining a fan base, becoming as much a production that showcased their talents alongside with everyone making these props and characters. Episode four does start to build to a larger scale story as well as Red Guy, our most matter-of-fact figure with his deadpan rebuttals, ends up breaking out of this reality and in a curious set of circumstances literally has his head explode. The result of this plot thread is open to interpretation, but it offers a lot of material to keep the series afresh, especially as this figure has the most dynamic plot thread onwards, even if he's not actually in Episode 5 barring the end credits.
Episode 5 is a flashback to the ghoulishness of the first half, but with knowledge of the series building, it makes a good follow on. If anything the joke's strong on the get-go as, with Duck and Yellow Guy being tormented by a pair singing about healthy eating, something which I can't help is openly mocking fads as much as it is a gabled lesson as done before in the series, as they contradict themselves, recommend white sauce as a staple diet one minute and not the other, and have a convoluted diagram of the body being represented by a literal house where good food stays for a party. The nonsensical lessons grow revisiting this web series, in that fan theories can have a detrimental effect on what could have intentionally been written as nonsense on purpose, the completely illogical still able to be intelligent and a critique of society in how their guides to people can be up to question if holes are punched into their logic. One interesting idea, suggested by YouTuber Inside the Mind1, which evokes this is how, in his idea the series is about growing up, that the show comes from the perspective of a child, the lessons coming off as nonsense as kids might not understand the words spoken to them, which is a fascinating take on from one of the show's funniest and more rewarding aspects.
Episode 6, which was the conclusion before an announcement of a series was brought up n 2018, ends on a very different note. Notable there's a suggestion that there's another world, shot in a realistic aesthetic, where Red Guy lives a banal life working in an office. This has made a healthy amount of speculation about what the Episode's about be created, which isn't to deny considering it's a bold choice that would've led to these theories just in the sudden change in reality that's taking place. That the final episode, without spoiling it entirely, as the Yellow Guy is left in the original house tormented by various singing figures, involves the plug being pulled literalised is with a sense of built up spectacle, a reset button that concludes in a logic of its own.
Episode 6 was also built up to even as far back as Episode 2, with the series having various cameos by Roy Gribbleston, a figure painted as Yellow Guy's father who even had a production credit on the Don't Hug Me... episodes themselves, adding layers which clearly left a lot unsaid to tease the viewership. Certainly this web series builds to a great conclusion, a risk taken with almost a pastiche mood of David Lynch felt throughout, such as with Gribbleston floating along at one point with a comically stretched arm. There's also a clear influence from British comedy, Red Guy in an office pissing about with a folder, as if it could sing, much to the bafflement of his similar looking co-worker clearly indebted to post 2000s comedy.
Don't Hug Me. I'm Scared is an applaudable project, especially now on revisiting it I can move beyond its initial premise of perverting this type of children's show aesthetic and see what it was built like. A lot of questions were left open to what it actually means - interestingly, as Inside the Mind points to, Joseph Pelling and Becky Sloan co-wrote an episode of The Amazing World of Gumball called The Puppets (2017) in which the protagonists are tormented by their childhood toys and end up walking away from their childhood memories to grow up, an interesting comparison to make with some of the symbolism found here. Admittedly, there's also a lot of speculation that means taking this and any idea with a pinch of salt, especially as the lead creators aren't telling us anything. For me, even if it wasn't the intention of the first episode, there was clearly a lot of satire about children's programming peppered throughout, and certainly when we get to the final, once you start bringing in alternative realities when Red Guy is being heckled on karaoke night for trying to start an edutainment sing-along, you are playing into the idea for me of the original context being either a nightmare or a trap to escape.
Also, it is interesting to see a production which could've easily been dismissed, as I initially did, as another web video that just turns children's iconography into nightmare fuel. In comparison, this is the high bar, a high quality labour of love which got more idiosyncratic for the better as the sequel episodes were created. Another question is left about the promise of a TV series, an entirely different structure to work with and certainly an entirely different conversation to have if it ever happens...
Abstract Spectrum: Grotesque/Surreal
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): None