A24 has defined its brand as a killer film studio, unleashing such critically heralded marvels as Ari Aster’s menacing folk horror hit, Midsommar; Greta Gerwig’s universally praised coming-of-age comedy, Lady Bird; and the Daniels’ Oscar-winning action adventure, Everything Everywhere All at Once. As the studio expands into television — with edgy offerings like Beef, Euphoria, and The Curse – a venture into adult animation seemed almost inevitable. Where better to give a visual storyteller the space to spin a narrative where literally anything is possible?
Though known for its big swings, Hazbin Hotel seems a safe bet. The animated musical-comedy series has been brewing its brand online through creator Vivienne Medrano’s inventive teases, which boast 93 to 156 million views. Plus, co-producer Amazon Studios has an established stable of adult-aimed animated series, like Invincible, The Boys: Diabolical, and The Legend of Vox Machina. But can this perky pink cartoon show about sinners and singing thrive as a fleshed-out series? With Season 2 already confirmed, Season 1 has a lot to prove.
What’s Hazbin Hotel about?
Charlie is like the Disney Princess of hell.
Credit: Prime Video
Imagine a halfway house for demons and the damned, a sort of purgatory with room service and a bartender who only knows how to serve drinks and tough love. That’s the Hazbin Hotel, the passion project of the princess of hell, Charlie Morningstar (Erika Henningsen). Perky and relentless, this leggy blonde in a red tuxedo gives big theater kid energy as she makes her pitch to sinners and angels alike, advocating for rehabilitation over annihilation.
You see, heaven’s angels like to invade hell to wipe out the dastardly denizens to prevent overcrowding and ensure the golden gates can never be toppled. But if Charlie and her motley crew of hotel staff can change hearts and minds, maybe the damned can be redeemed and ascend?
Hazbin Hotel struggles to find its footing.
Valentino is a pimp with guns.
Credit: Prime Video
Creator Vivienne Medrano (through her online alias VivziePop) charted her course to this Prime Video series through a crowd-funded YouTube-released pilot, webcomics, and a sultry music video, each contributing to the construction of a promising fandom that could ensure the show’s success. However, the first three episodes of Hazbin Hotel are unremarkable, at least to a newcomer not already besotted by hell’s quirky characters.
The first episode is weighed down by exposition, explaining not only Charlie’s whole deal but also Medrano’s revisionist version of Christian lore. The second episode builds on this, developing the rivalries between various demons, who deal in propaganda, prostitution, and drugs. And while jaunty song numbers like “Happy Day in Hell” serve to establish the weird world, full of temptation and deranged decadence, they play more Broadway than badass.
The dialogue — thick with curse words — feels jarring, especially contrasted with an animation style that seems to be aping Disney XD. Indeed, it’s easy to imagine Charlie popping up in shows like Gravity Falls, Amphibia, The Owl House, or Star vs. The Forces of Evil. The only thing that would clash would be her minimalist red/black/pink color scheme. And while Disney vibes plus dirty talk may be surprising, it’s not satisfyingly subversive. Kids shows dealing in colonization, family skeletons, and queer characters finding love and themselves feel more thrilling and vital. But Hazbin Hotel flirts with turning things around in episode 4.
Blake Roman and Keith David elevate Hazbin Hotel.
Blake Roman and Keith David, as Angel and Husk, sing a duet.
Credit: Prime Video
The titular hotel is peopled by rowdy residents like surly sidekick Vaggie (Stephanie Beatriz), kinky maid Niffty (Kimiko Glenn), and the shit-talking Radio Demon (Amir Talai). But the standouts are provocative porn star Angel Dust (Blake Roman) and snarling bartender Husk (Keith David). In “Masquerade,” both score the spotlight, inviting audiences into the enticingly dark side of this candy-colored series.
Trapped in a deeply toxic relationship with his boss/beau Valentino (Joel Perez), Angel drops his swaggering facade to let loose with his pain with “Poison,” a song that scorches, not only in context but also as a pop banger. Like Lady Gaga, Christina Aguilera, Paula Abdul, or even Olivia Rodrigo, Roman unleashes a dizzying blend of ecstasy and agony, perfectly bolstered by a montage of kinky sex acts, dance breaks, and moments of jolting fear.
Here, the song number sensationally explores the inner workings of a character whose survival tool is playing the flirty fool. Then, Hazbin Hotel doubles down with a duet, wherein a spiraling Angel finds unexpected — but un-cuddly — comfort from Husk, who has denounced him as “fake.” It’s in these moments that Medrano’s series transcends its aesthetic of cutesy meets crass. Keith David’s deep, grumbly voice sings of loss, grounding the low point with bravado. Then he chimes, “You’re a loser, baby!” And so is born a coarse chorus that plays like an anthem unhinged and cathartic.
However, as the series is focused on Charlie, the most childish and cheery of the crew, I’m doubtful about how much more any daring emotional beats might probe. The very next episode, “Daddy Issues,” brings in more characters, but little depth. Perhaps over the nine episodes of its first season, Hazbin Hotel will overcome its growing pains to strike a chord that feels unique, instead of a reaction to the cavalcade of hyperactive heroines who have come before. At present, Medrano’s expansion of her online works is flashy but thin.
Amazon Prime Video