A24's First Animated Series Is Weird, Cool, And Musical
Finally, a show willing to send theater kids to hell.
“Adult animation” is a term with heavy baggage. Shows like South Park, Family Guy, and Rick and Morty carry a reputation for edgy comedy, social satire, absurdist gags, and general crude humor. But there are other kinds of adult content that can factor into the genre, and one series is attempting to flip the script by delivering a wholesome narrative in a lousy environment: hell itself.
Hazbin Hotel, built from a 2019 pilot released on YouTube by creator Vivienne Medrano, is the story of Charlie Morningstar (Erika Henningsen), the daughter of Lucifer, as she sets up a hotel in hell for demons trying to rehabilitate themselves. Along the way, she gets herself and her crew into all sorts of scrapes and invokes the ire of other demons, her dad, and angels.
Charlie is the Leslie Knope of Hell. She’s bright-eyed and always positive, believing she can change the underworld completely if she tries hard enough. Unfortunately for her, no one else really believes that. Even her girlfriend Vaggie (Stephanie Beatriz), while supportive in her own way, gently tries to temper her expectations. This makes Hazbin Hotel a workplace comedy, albeit with much goofier jokes and higher stakes.
Hazbin Hotel communicates the irony of such an enthusiastic character trying to improve literal hell in a way only animation can: over-the-top musical numbers from Five Nights at Freddy’s songwriters Sam Haft and Andrew Underberg sung by an all-star cast of Broadway legends. The opening number, “A Happy Day in Hell,” takes obvious inspiration from Frozen’s “First Time in Forever,” but in a way that makes it even funnier.
These musical numbers allow the series to dip its toes into subject matter that would otherwise be too daunting. Adult film star demon Angel Dust (Blake Roman) talking about his abusive relationship could come off as a preachy downer, but his musical number, “Poison,” manages to communicate the same message in a pounding electronic dance track.
Despite the silliness, the music slips serious ideas and genuine character growth into the script without feeling contrived. When Angel Dust is later comforted by bartender Husk (Keith David), it could be a sentimental moment that brings the edgy show to a screaming halt, but instead, it’s a toe-tapping duet.
Conversely, the storylines aren’t just thin excuses to animate cool music videos. Hazbin Hotel’s hell is a surprisingly rich world full of intriguing lore and a thrilling rivalry with heaven. The premise may feel ripped out of The Good Place, but the medium and tone allow Hazbin Hotel to explore the shadiest corners of its own underbelly.
Hazbin Hotel’s exploration of heaven and hell, good and evil, and goth kids and theater kids tap dances on the line between good and bad taste — occasionally literally —but it mostly manages to find the gray area in between. Everyone has good and bad in them, and a show that takes a fascinating approach to social issues can also make a lot of raunchy jokes. It’s a bizarre, potent combination, and whether you’re a Broadway nerd, an animation devotee, or just curious about what an A24 animated series looks like, Hazbin Hotel is worth checking into.