In the year of our lord 2024, Hazbin Hotel lives up to its name. The popular pilot, which introduced audiences to princess Charlie Morningstar (voiced by Erika Henningsen) and her demonic brethren, was already dated when it first premiered four years ago. We’ve seen clever subversions of heaven and hell, angels and demons (Good Omens, Lucifer, South Park), and we’ve seen more than enough raunchy animated shows (Archer, Harley Quinn, again, South Park), so this seemingly fresh series isn’t actually predicated on anything particularly innovative.
Put down your pitchforks, Vivziepop stans: Hazbin Hotel‘s pilot is fun, and the IP must be doing something right to attract millions of views to the YouTube channel. It has a cute premise, interesting visuals, and the promise of fun musical numbers. Yet, the series’ long-awaited transition into a full, eight-episode Prime Video series still manages to disappoint, an untethered narrative mess with a reliance on adult humour and an aggressive aesthetic.
The full series expands on the pilot’s original story; Princess of Hell Charlie Morningstar is trying to attract the denizens of hell to her new passion project: a rehabilitation center to help the damned repent their evil ways and hopefully earn a spot in heaven. The first episode opens with a quick crash course on her parents, Lucifer and Lilith, though if you’re even passingly familiar with Judea-Christian mythology, you probably already know them.
When reports broke in 2020 that A24 had finally picked up VivziePop’s cult-followed pilot to series, longtime fans rejoiced. Creator Vivienne Medrano’s self-funded passion project had over 40 million views on YouTube by that point (it now sits at over 96 million). With A24 attached, the general sentiment was that the IP would be in good hands. Notably, Hazbin Hotel has the distinction of being fully independent, developed and produced without studio involvement.
To put it bluntly, Hazbin Hotel suffers from a lack of finesse and it is likely a result of inexperience. Sure, Fox Entertainment’s animation studio Bento Box Entertainment is involved in the series, but that doesn’t make up for the fact that the showrunner had only previously worked on her own Patreon-funded online projects and A24 had never dabbled in animation, let alone adult animation.
Medrano wrote and directed the first episode, “Overture,” and her lack of professional experience is immediately apparent. The narrative reads like a Tumblr fan fiction; there is simultaneously too much forced background exposition establishing a deep lore, and not enough basic explanation of who the characters are and why they’re there—or, crucially, why the audience should care.
While it’s impossible to know what happened behind the scenes, there appears to be a significant lack of comedic writing experience holding this project together. No amount of animated polish, music score, or professional voice acting can compensate for bad writing. Of the first six episodes, only “Welcome to Heaven,” penned by Adam Stein (Final Space, Harley Quinn), feels like an actual episode of television. The others jump around awkwardly, clumsily setting up characters and tripping over unfunny dialogue.
Hazbin Hotel plays with a cavalcade of mature subject matter, from drug abuse and rape to sex trafficking and alcoholism. This is part of the appeal, but the mature ideas aren’t translated into mature writing. The show relies on juvenile humour and musical numbers to keep viewers entertained, but it feels a bit like Family Guy with more lore and fewer laughs. Plenty of thought was put into fleshing out minute details about the world and its characters, but not enough on developing a compelling story to draw in new audiences.
There are issues with Hazbin Hotel‘s aesthetic as well. It’s very red. Aggressively red. The characters and sceneries all have the same colour palette (even more so than the pilot, somehow), which makes the show hard on the eyes. There’s no clear visual delineation between angels and demons, though some very cool designs on both sides, and the characters we spend the most time with blend together.
Compared to the pilot, the animation in Prime Video’s rendition looks ugly and stiff. Gone is the squishy and exaggerated fluidity of the show’s characters, instead replaced with lifeless, bland movements that suck the joy right out of the animation. Because the character designs and backgrounds are so similar, there’s an everpresent drop shadow that attempts to separate the foreground animation from the background art. Occasionally it clashes with the shadows in the art itself, and it’s visually unpleasant.
Medrano’s original pilot gained traction for a reason — it’s charming, features solid animation, and moves within a coherent story. The characters are memorably introduced and the musical numbers provide exposition while still being enjoyable. The pilot’s issues are fairly minor, kinks that could be ironed out in development, but this janky production gave the show personality. Not enough of this has been translated to the full series and much to its detriment. With another season of Hazbin Hotel still on the way, hopefully Medrano can learn from her past mistakes and produce a batch of episodes that live up to her initial promise.
All episodes of Hazbin Hotel are now streaming on Prime Video.