Why Good Writing is So Crucial: A “Hazbin Hotel” Review

After years of waiting, “Hazbin Hotel” finally released its first season on Amazon Prime, airing on Jan. 18 of this year. With four episodes previously released and the last four released during the month, the animated musical theatre-esque series follows Charlie Morningstar, the Princess of Hell, as she pursues her “seemingly impossible goal of rehabilitating sinners to peacefully reduce overpopulation in her kingdom due to the annual threat of extermination from Heaven,” according to Amazon.com.

This show’s origins were based on the creator Vivziepop’s 2012 Tumblr webcomic “Zoophobia,” but was reimagined to be a separate storyline rather than a story arc. The pilot for the story dropped on Oct. 28, 2019, on YouTube. This introduced all the characters that ended up in the hotel and gave information about backstories while presenting different dynamics among the main cast. Then, on July 17, 2020, a surprise music video for “Addict” depicting one of the main characters Angel Dust dropped, giving insight into his character’s trauma.

After watching the first season of “Hazbin Hotel,” I have some opinions. To start, I love this show. I’ve been a viewer since the pilot, and enjoy its sister show “Helluva Boss,” as well. The animation is stellar and fluid. The voice actors having so much experience on Broadway additionally gives it a certain charm. The music is catchy and fits the characters, respectfully. This is clearly a passion project, and every person apart of creating the story is devoted to their craft.

That being said, the writing of the episodes was flawed. The writers approached this with the mindset that the viewers knew the story and its characters, which to some extent is true…if they watched the pilot. Even with the pilot, established fans don’t know everything. The episodes don’t introduce characters, because the pilot already did so, and instead introduced some new characters that fans have been waiting to see in action. Out of the main characters— Charlie, Vaggie, Angel Dust, Alastor, Husk, Sir Pentious, and Nifty—the characters that are properly established in the world are Charlie, Alastor, Angel Dust, and Sir Pentious. This show feels like it focuses on developing the side characters outside of the hotel than the actual main cast.

For example, “The 3 Vees” are Valentino, Vox, and Velvette. They were each properly introduced in the episodes as overlords of their respective industries, along with their desires, character flaws, and dynamics between each other. The songs they sing tell us more about who they are.

Vaggie is Charlie’s girlfriend, but if a viewer didn’t see the pilot, it takes until episode three for the show to directly say they are dating. Carmilla Carmine is a prominent overlord in Hell, but she’s only seen a few times. She sings duets with Velvette and Vaggie, then the next time we see her, she’s training Vaggie to fight during the “Out for Love” musical number. Viewers didn’t know the characters had any relationship to begin with. These are only a few issues with the characters, among others.

The writing of this show has severe ups and downs. It has some great scenes and dialogue, but it rushes to get to them, leaving out the necessary build-up and development that needs to be set for those great scenes and musical numbers to be as impactful as they want to be. That said, it affects the pacing. Some moments need a second for the characters and viewers to breathe. There are very few moments where the characters are given a second and the scene pauses, but it needs to be more consistent. When you have a huge character event occur and it’s written off as a joke, then the episode cuts to the cast panicking over it, there’s a problem.

Issues with pacing like this in visual stories give audiences whiplash and only leave them with confusion as to what emotion they should be feeling. Is it supposed to be funny? Or is it supposed to be an “oh my God” moment?

I’ve been studying creative writing for quite some time now and have written many stories myself. I believe you are allowed to have some questions and small holes in the story if the audience is given evidence to work with for theories. But what I don’t believe in is rushing writing to a point where necessary character interactions are left out or leaving no room for audiences to process scenes if they happen too quickly. The set pieces and musical numbers may be the saving grace of “Hazbin Hotel,” but if some of the character writing and build-up to major events is lacking, it ultimately hurts the show.

I don’t say this to divert your viewership; I say this because I’m passionate about the show and believe good writing is crucial to storytelling. “Hazbin Hotel” has the potential to be so much more than the way it was presented to the fanbase. Season two is already in the voice recording stage, meaning there’s a chance the writing won’t possibly change until later seasons, and I personally will stay for the series to wait for that improvement.