Velma premieres January 12 on HBO Max.
By Elazar Abrahams
Social outcast Velma, drug dealer Daphne, bratty Fred, and pre-stoner Shaggy who goes by his birth name, Norville. No dog in sight. The Mystery Incorporated squad featured in Mindy Kaling’s new Scooby-Doo prequel sure isn’t the one long time fans are used to.
Kaling’s reimagining of the gang’s race and sexuality no doubt has some cleverness buried underneath the thin characterizations. If not for the stellar line-up of voice actors, the ensemble would be nothing more than archetypes despite the brand recognition. Over the course of the eight episodes made available to critics, I slowly became engrossed in the show’s central mystery, but the hook took far too long. The plotting is so convoluted, and no amount of fourth wall breaks or pop culture references to other murder mystery properties can substitute for actual quality.
Like a sucker, I oohed and aahed at Easter eggs like when someone utters the phrase “meddling kids” for the first time. Unfortunately that sort of entertainment quickly hits a point of diminishing returns. Does anyone need to know why “jinkies!” is Velma’s catchphrase?
I hate pitting one show against another, as it’s probably best to evaluate each piece of art on its own, but comparisons between Velma and Harley Quinn, a series that shares the same streaming home, are inevitable. Each are adult animated updates on franchises usually meant for children, ramping up the profanity and violence of their worlds in a style we’ve never associated them with before. Not to mention that the two protagonists each have a tall, redhead bestie that evolves into “more than a friend.” (In Velma’s case, Daphne, while Quinn has Poison Ivy.) I’ve lauded Harley Quinn for using this format to great success — it is one of the best examinations of the Batman mythos ever. Velma, on the other hand, uses its connection to Scooby Doo as a crutch, leaning on familiar names and references when the comedy fails miserably.
Again, the cast is top notch. Aside from Kaling voicing Velma, our POV throughout most of the season, Constance Wu and Sam Richardson deliver great work as Daphne and Norville respectively. Glenn Howerton is absolutely hilarious as a borderline psychotic version of Fred and his character arc is one of the only funny bits that the series pulls off.
Boba Fett from Star Wars was a fan favorite character that the fantasy film series had given shockingly little screen time to. Then last year, Disney+ gave the silent bounty hunter his own seven episode show and audiences realized that maybe some characters are left in the background for a reason. Taking Velma Dinkley, supposedly an underappreciated heroine of Scooby-Doo for decades, and creating a world around her has had the same effect.
I give Velma a C+.