Review – Helluva Boss (Season 1)

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Overview

Directing Vivienne Medrano (Vivziepop)

Writing Vivienne Medrano, Brandon Rogers

Starring Brandon Rogers, Richard Horvitz, Vivian Nixon, Erica Lindbeck, Bryce Pinkham, Mara Wilson, Barrett Wilbert Weed, Alex Brightman, Cristina Vee, James Monroe Iglehart, Norman Reedus, Kesha

Genre Dark Comedy/Animation

Platforms YouTube

Release Date November 25, 2019 - June 24, 2023

When the pilot for Vivziepop’s Hazbin Hotel was released on October 28, 2019, it immediately broke the internet with one of the most impressive pieces of fully-realized animation ever committed to the platform, earning 87 million views in the process and a full-series order from the film studio A24, which is scheduled to finally release sometime later this year. In the meantime, she subsequently released the pilot for a second smaller series on November 25, 2019, a dark-comedy series inspired by shows like The Office that explored the intimate personal lives of a group of demon assassins living in Hell.

Both Hazbin Hotel and Helluva Boss have become critically acclaimed series in the four years since, with the latter releasing the majority of its first full season between October 31, 2020, and October 31, 2021 —with the much delayed final episode of the season only dropping last month due to legal issues.

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: The series is extremely gruesome from the outset, depicting humans and demons being shot, stabbed, torn apart, eviscerated, blown apart, set on fire, and murdered
Language/Crude Humor: The language of the series is extremely coarse, with frequent severe language, graphic descriptions of sexual activity, and usage of controversial words like “retarded” and “c**t”
Drug/Alcohol References: Severe alcohol and drug use are common, with several characters being depicted as alcoholics and drug addicts
Sexual Content: The show is highly sexually explicit; while no actual sexual activity is graphically depicted, there are several partially covered sex scenes, scenes with characters wearing bondage gear, and frequent discussion of sex, sexual activity, and sexual desires. The show touches on LGBT ideas and depicts characters as homosexual, transgender, and bisexual
Spiritual Content: The show is set in Hell, and it is explained that God and the angels exist, but none of the characters respect or care to understand him. The show is about demons committing murder against humans who are usually damned to Hell after they die. Many of the demons have jobs related to temptation for humans
Other Negative Content: The show’s content and language are very graphic and not for the faint of heart or easily disturbed or upset by sexual jokes, LGBT content, graphic violence, or satanic imagery (in any context)
Positive Content: Excellent and profoundly mature exploration of the toxic side of millennial social interactions and relationships, showing the motivations for how and why people make horrific life-damaging decisions in their love lives that harm others

Review

When I first heard of Helluva Boss, I was initially somewhat uncomfortable with the premise — being a dark comedy set in Hell with characters whose jobs involved murder and regular sexual immorality. As one of my friends put it, it felt like it was making light of what Hell was in a spiritual sense for the sake of a joke. By the show’s second episode, I was actually sold on the premise, because I realized going forward that this wasn’t just going to be a gross scattershot series full of sex jokes and violence, but an actual series character study about the nature of emotional maturity, latent homosexuality, and toxic relationships — that thematically appropriately happens to be set in Hell.

There is enough in that initial premise that I do not blame fellow Christians for being turned off, but there is also a lot to recommend about the series — first among them being the show’s amazing professional-level animation, great comedy writing, and surprisingly nuanced story. But among the benefits of the show is it delivers one of the most wholesome relationships depicted in modern media: that being the relationship between the demon imps Moxie and Millie — who are portrayed as emotionally committed, romantic, stable, and shockingly unironic and heteronormative by modern standards.

Their relationship ends up serving as the emotional core for a series about relationships and commitment, although this isn’t necessarily what the pilot promised. If there is one major problem with the series out of the gate, it is the fact the show’s sitcom premise is almost immediately made redundant by the story and mostly falls into the background, being an excuse for quick bursts of action and comedy.

The story follows the Immediate Murder Professionals group (I.M.P.), a small company created by an upstart emotionally toxic demon name Blitz who hires two freelancers and his adopted daughter Loona to take contracts killing humans on Earth for angry souls committed to Hell. In order to do this, Blitz has had to maintain an unpleasant sexual relationship with his benefactor, a high-ranking demon royal named Stollas who trades him access to the human world for a chance at a toxic relationship — one which eventually destroys his family and reputation.

The Season 1 Overview

Pilot (Nov 25, 2019) – From a storytelling perspective, the first glimpse viewers got of the show wasn’t necessarily that impressive. There wasn’t much of a plot, and the structure mostly relied on a series of rapid and confusing flashback sequences to explain the relationships of the characters. Thankfully, the show uses its short glimpse of these characters to briefly introduce what the show will look like. This episode is actually only considered semi-canonical to the series, with several plot points having been changed between this and the series premiere a year later. Most notably, several voice actors left the series during that time. The jokes and ideas we do get serve as a viable and extremely funny proof of concept for what would follow.

Episode 1 – Murder Family (Oct 31, 2020) – The first true episode of the series is probably one of the lesser consequential ones in the long run in terms of plot and character development, but as a self-contained little story it fully delivers on the premise promised in the pilot. Right from the get-go, we get a story about IMP being hired to perform one of its first assassinations, and Moxie freaking out that his job will require him to kill innocent humans that haven’t committed horrible sins and crimes. Quickly, the plot is turned on its head through a series of reversals that test the characters and force Moxie to learn to make hard decisions.

Episode 2 – Loo Loo Land (Dec 9, 2020) – The first episode proved Helluva Boss was a viable web series, but the second episode showed it had the ability to tell an emotionally impactful story. This is the episode that sold the series for a lot of people who were shaky on the first two, and it isn’t surprising why. This episode is the first look we get at the personal life of Stollas, and we come to realize just how much humanity and pain is wrapped up in the consequences of his affair with Blitz. He has destroyed his daughter’s life and tries achingly to reconnect to her by taking her to a cheap knockoff amusement park, only to break down at the realization he can’t explain his actions to his daughter. It remains one of the best episodes of the series.

Episode 3 – Spring Broken (Jan 31, 2021) – Looking back on Blitz, the third episode begins exploring his complicated history of relationships. The episode introduces Verosika Mayday, a popular succubus pop star both in Hell and on Earth that Blitz briefly had an intense relationship with before a messy breakup. When she moves into the same office as Blitz, the two end up in a contest to see who can do their job better at a Spring Break celebration. This episode also serves as the first major episode exploring Blitz’s relationship with his adopted daughter Loona — a Hell Hound he adopted at the age of 17 with a tendency towards violence and hostility. This was helpful because she did not get any serious characterization in the previous episodes, and set her up as one of the best characters in the show.

Episode 4 – C.H.E.R.U.B. (Mar 14, 2021) – The fourth episode is universally considered the weakest in the entire show, although that isn’t as bad as it sounds. It probably has one of the strongest elevator pitches of any episode in the franchise, following an inverse team of angels who have the exact opposite job as the IMP team — saving souls and keeping them alive. Unfortunately, the episode doesn’t really accomplish much beyond being dark and gruesome. Both teams are charged with saving or killing a rich billionaire scientist, and struggle because he’s already decided to end his life before they arrived. There are a lot of suicide jokes in this episode and the plot mostly circles the drain around its central gimmick, without giving the new characters much pathos.

Episode 5 – The Harvest Moon Festival (Apr 30, 2021) – If the last episode was a slump, the follow-up with a strong improvement. The team is invited by Stollas to attend a festival in Millie’s western-inspired hometown, where the wimpy and gentle Moxie struggles to impress her parents and begins feeling inadequate as a man. This episode gives the series one of its best characters, with actor Norman Reedus reading for the role of fellow farmhand and Moxie rival Striker, and crafting one of the best characters in the series to date.

Episode 6 – Truth Seekers (Aug 21, 2021) – Here is another gimmick episode that could’ve turned out as rough as CHERUB, but instead the episode leans more into the character’s relationships and crafts one of the best episodes of the series. While out on a mission, Blitz and Moxie are captured by a Men-in-Black-style group of government scientists who believe in demons. While under investigation, both demons are induced with truth serum and forced into an emotionally brutal hallucination that reveals just how much self-loathing drives these two characters and their relationship together as colleagues and nominal friends — culminating in one of the most impressive and cathartic action scenes in the entire series. Additionally, the episode delivers on one of the best Stollas moments in the entire franchise and sets up the next few episodes of emotional conflict that will continue to pay off for the remainder of this season and the following one.

Episode 7 – Ozzie’s (Oct 31, 2021) – The season finale of season one was originally pitched as a two-parter, with this part releasing as “Part 1” of a larger barn-burner ending that drew a lot of the story ideas together finally and paid them off. Given that part two took 20 months to be released, that didn’t come to pass for a long time. Thankfully, the episode we did get was more than enough to be fulfilling for that time, delivering not only the best episode of the season but finally tackling the most difficult emotional question of the franchise — the troubling relationship between Blitz and Stollas.

When one of Blitz’s schemes requires Stollas to help him do it, his benefactor interprets his mission as their first formal date, which immediately turns into a disaster when both of them are recognized by former lovers and colleagues and publicly shamed for their relationship. After six episodes of teasing their relationship, the finale finally delivers on the painful realities of just how insecure and dishonest both characters are, teasing the possibility of hope for the future but leaving everyone worse off in the short term.

Episode 8 – Queen Bee (Jun 24, 2023) – For more than a year and a half, the fate of the season finale was an absolute mystery for fans of the show. Series creator Vivziepop reassured fans that the episode wasn’t actually crucial to the story going forward and ended up releasing several episodes of the second season to keep fans occupied while legal issues were cleared in the background. As it turned out, the episode had to be delayed because the episode’s big surprise voice cameo was real-life pop star Kesha, who was given her own character and musical number that got tied up in her ongoing lawsuit against her former record label.

In hindsight, the episode is almost more of a flex than a proper serious ending, a visual spectacle with some of the best animation of the series but one of its thinnest plots. The episode happens concurrently with the previous episode and follows up on Loona’s plot from the third episode, as she struggles to attend a house party and meet friends in spite of her misanthropic tendencies. The episode ends up being an excellent showcase for her character, but also briefly brings Blitz into the picture to show how poorly he’s reacting to the events of the prior episode, teasing just how emotionally dependent he is with his daughter, one of the last people in his life who hasn’t abandoned him.

Conclusion

It has been a long time since this show’s pilot was released on the internet, nearly three years, and in that time the show has clearly grown a lot both in its writing, animation, and maturity as a story.

Helluva Boss is definitely not a series for everyone, particularly the squeamish or Christians concerned with depictions of homosexuality and such. It is very much a series though that Christians ought to give some consideration, as it and its sister show are among the most popular depictions of Christianity in popular media at the moment. Helluva Boss regularly brings in tens of millions of viewers. It is one of the most popular things on YouTube, and it explicitly deals with themes of the afterlife, sin, damnation, and sexuality.

I don’t love everything about how it depicts these themes, but its sheer creativity and emotional maturity elevate it into one of the most consistently entertaining things on the internet. It is definitely a show Christians should know about and talk about.

If there is one abiding technical criticism worth mentioning, it is the fact that the series largely approaches long-term plotting in a very relaxed way. There is a tendency for the series to veer away from serious consequences at the end of each episode, with serious emotional conflicts being deflected by moments of comedy and action before these characters can grow or react to their experiences. This is possibly a concession to the fact that these toxic characters aren’t ready for that kind of emotional honesty, but from a narrative perspective it means that vital moments of character growth are always pushed off into the future.

As a result of this, a major plot point and moment of character development — one of the most important in the series that probably should have been included in the first season — ends up at the end of the Season 2 premiere. The second season has also received a lot of criticism since it began, with fans complaining about changes to the writing quality, although I mostly disagree with those.

The series could use more moments of definitive character growth more frequently. Still, the inconsistencies are mostly just evidence that these toxic characters are slowly facing the consequences of their actions by the time of the second season, grappling with emotional problems that they haven’t before. There are still seven more episodes to the second season, and hopefully, the show is able to build upon them well.

The Bottom Line

 

Helluva Boss is gruesome, violent, sexually charged, and revels in the toxicity of its characters, but manages to capture painful truths about toxic relationships, how they work, and what drives people to self-loathing.

 

9

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Tyler Hummel

Born into the unexplored residential backwater of Chicago, Tyler Hummel is a graduate of Tribeca Flashpoint College where he studied Sound Design for Film and Interactive Media. When he isn't hosting his public access talk show The Fox Valley Film Critics or collecting DragonBall Z figurines, he enjoys writing and directing short films. As with Rick from Casablanca, "he's a man like any other man, just more so!"

4 Comments

  1. Oana Popescu on March 26, 2024 at 4:06 am

    Helluva boss is one of the best series I’ve ever seen. Yes, it has demons from hell, yes, it has some parts that, a religious and/or conservative person would find offensive. But that’s just the minor part of the story. The series could have been set on Earth with no religion involved and the story would have still been great. It is a beautifully written character-based story, full of emotions, and human interactions/relations that anyone would relate and… and many other things…. Just skip the Pilot, watch the first two episodes and then decide to continue or not.

  2. Wing on October 8, 2023 at 1:44 am

    The fact that it positively portrays demons and has LGBT themes is enough to not even watch it.

  3. Shannon on August 21, 2023 at 3:13 pm

    Also, you should always remember to be careful with what you watch, what you see, hear, read, because it can manifest, because the word “Entertainment” has the word “Enter”. And the main thing that causes influence in kids is shows, movies, video games, and a lot of it is demonic and vile. And the content of this show has a lot of evil and wicked things that God cannot contend with.

    Matthew 18:7-10

    Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!
    If your hand or your foot causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire.
    And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.
    “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.

    • Bigmoneyedc on February 11, 2024 at 8:46 am

      It sounds more like you should helen keller yourself and the ones you love if you want heaven? This is irrelevant to actual review on Helluva Boss. And if we are gonna say something religious and silly about the show and the bible, more people have sinned through the latter than they ever will the former.

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