“Hazbin Hotel” May Be Over Before It Begins
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When the trailor for “Hazbin Hotel” dropped on YouTube, the buzz surrounding it was almost immediate. Viziepop, the pilot’s creator, is already relatively well-known on the internet for her stunning animation and artwork, so expectations for the series were high from the start.
The pilot managed to surprise audiences with its shockingly high production value. Viziepop’s reputation meant that the pilot’s beautiful artwork was of little surprise to viewers. More surprisingly, though, was that despite working with a small staff (under 16 employees listed) and minimal financial resources, the pilot boasted clear and quality audio and well-done voice acting.
“Hazbin Hotel” follows Charlie (voiced by Jill Harris, with singing by Elsie Lovelock), princess of Hell, as she attempts to start a hotel to rehabilitate sinners in the hopes that they can eventually be sent to Heaven. It opens with a musical number, Lovelock’s clear voice serenading the audience with a mournful ballad; we see the carnage of Hell’s yearly “cleanse,” a purge to combat overpopulation, being cleaned up. The dissonance between the angelic vocals and the visceral gore on-screen establishes the pilot’s tone from the get-go.
To call “Hazbin Hotel” a dark comedy is a bit of an understatement. It may be animated, but the show is certainly not for children. Despite its cartoonish art style, the pilot is peppered with cursing and countless sexual references. In fact, one of the main criticisms of the pilot is that it’s too inappropriate, but without purpose. There are moments when this seems true. The show often seems so eager to establish itself as adult content that it throws in mature language and content when it’s not necessary. That being said, there are also genuinely funny moments throughout the pilot—it’s just not consistent. What’s more, the overtly mature nature of the show limits the number of networks or streaming services that could or would choose to pick it up.
That touches upon one of the more difficult aspects of making an indie production to rival one made with the backing of a studio and a massive staff. The quality of the writing is not nearly on par with that of the visuals. The pacing of the pilot is often odd, as it jumps from one shot or subject to the next with little transition, and while the script is adequate, it can read as hopping from one punchline to the next as opposed to incorporating humor to supplement the plot. The pilot is 30 minutes long, but all of the actual plot points could likely be shown in 10.
The show has also sparked controversy across the internet. Some laud Viziepop for the pilot’s heavy LGBTQ+ representation, the main character being bisexual with a girlfriend, and Angel Dust, a key secondary character, being openly gay. However, there are those who take offense at the naming of Charlie’s girlfriend, Vaggie, and at the fact that Angel Dust is heavily sexualized. We’re first introduced to the character as he’s being dropped off by a sexual partner, and throughout the pilot, he seems to exist solely to deliver risque one-liners. It may be asking too much of the pilot, which exists somewhere in the realm of satire, to have fully developed characters, or to avoid relying on cliches. Still, if “Hazbin Hotel” itself isn’t compelling to watch, it may be that employing stereotypes as humor does more harm than good.
While the pilot may be the subject of controversy, the one thing that cannot be debated is its visual quality. The artwork in “Hazbin Hotel” is stunning. Viziepop uses a predominantly red palette in the artwork, mixing in black, oranges, pinks, and the occasional electric blue. It’s done in 2D cartoon style animation, the characters highly stylized in Viziepop’s unique manner (think a cross between “My Little Pony” and “Adventure Time”). The question is whether or not visuals alone can carry the pilot to success. It has yet to be picked up by any streaming service, so it’s possible that the pilot of “Hazbin Hotel” will also be its final episode. With so many streaming services putting out original content, not to mention countless networks doing the same, it’s a tall order to ask an independently funded YouTube series to compete. Regardless of its controversy or eventual success, though, Viziepop’s pilot has garnered enough attention on the internet to serve as a beacon of hope for other indie creators, especially as high-budget productions flood the media market.