Think You Might Want to Watch ‘Velma?’ Scooby Don’t!

There is a comic book character named Green Arrow and Green Arrow was killed off for a few years and then came back to life because that’s how comic book characters do.  In the time that Green Arrow was away being dead, his best friend, Green Lantern, also died and was replaced by a younger Green Lantern named Kyle.  Green Arrow made it no secret that he didn’t care for Kyle and, when Kyle cornered him one day and asked him, “What is your problem with me?” Green Arrow, in a moment of introspection, said, “When I see you, it’s like I’m seeing someone wearing my dead friend’s clothes.”

That’s it… that’s Velma.  It’s a group of strangers wearing my friends clothes and not even doing us the courtesy of acting anything like our friends at all.

Velma is a 2023 animated mystery comedy from HBO Max and starring Mindy Kaling as Velma from Scooby Doo or at least, someone who claims to be Velma from Scooby Doo.   When a deranged serial killer begins chopping up girls and removing their brains, all suspicion falls on Velma who must prove her innocence by finding the real killer.   We’re told it’s an origin story.  I’m not so sure.

To say that Velma is a misfire is putting it lightly.  There is nothing about this series or the characters that I remotely recognize.  I have been a lifetime fan of Scooby Doo for all of my life!  But Velma misses the mark so spectacularly, I have a hard time even calling this a Scooby Doo adjacent spin-off. 

When I first heard about this series, I was actually excited.  I think that there is a lot of potential for an adult-targeted Scooby Doo series where the gang could take on darker mysteries with higher stakes and occasionally slip in the odd profanity once in a while.  Let’s face it, if you were a ten year old when Scooby Doo first premiered, you’re in your 60’s now.  Mystery Inc can grow up with its audience.

But this… this is not mystery inc.  Every character has been overhauled to such a significant degree that they are unrecognizable.  Shaggy, for example – and named Norville in this series – is a lovesick sidekick who, thus far, has demonstrated no signs of cowardice, gluttony, or any of the hallmarks that we know him for.  Daphne is a shallow, abrasive airhead obsessed with popularity, and Freddy is a spoiled idiot, heir to an ascot fortune who can’t take care of himself.  Out of all the characters in this series, the closest one to anything that we recognize is Velma herself – she’s intelligent, a tad cynical, and uncool, but at the same time, she’s annoyingly naive, infuriatingly mean to people around her, and it’s incredibly difficult to find anything to root for.

It is as if this series took these beloved characters and decided to change everything about who they were to generate conflict which says to me that they didn’t understand the characters in the first place because the seeds for conflict were already there and have been for over 50 years.  Velma’s analytical and skeptical nature always clashed with her teammates.  Shaggy’s cowardice always put him at odds with Velma and Daphnie but he was also the easy-going glue that held the gang together.  I can’t believe that someone was paid to write this show and didn’t recognize that the collection of archetypes that the series already came with are busting with built in conflict and didn’t need to be demolished and built again from the ground up!  You can watch Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated and see the endless possibilities that this group of characters lends to both comedy and drama.

But I get it… Velma was trying to do what Harley Quinn did.  Take characters we love and release them into a raunchy comedy, the difference between Velma and Harley Quinn is that, at the end of the day, Harley Quinn is still Harley Quinn.  Poison Ivy is still Poison Ivy and Batman is still Batman.  These characters, though exaggerated versions of themselves, still respect who their characters are and where they came from while Velma seems satisfied with putting them all into a black plastic back, throwing them in the garbage and starting over, but this is like tearing down a historical landmark to erect a Walmart.

Even if you can look beyond what this series has done to a much loved IP, the series is still fairly intolerable.  The two premiere episodes feebly attempt meta commentary on everything from sex and nudity to cartoon adaptations and all of it hits with a resounding thud.  Honestly, I thought that it came off as arrogant rather than insightful.  When it came to humor, I don’t think I laughed once.  A lot of the jokes were derived from snarky comments that came off as mean, Norvile talking about how he would never do drugs or pining after Velma who is so clueless that it makes Velma seem cruel, and Fred acting like a child.  I mean a literal child.  These are the kind of jokes that makes Family Guy look intellectual in comparison.

Velma is bad and I hate that it’s bad because I believe that there is a lot of potential in a Scooby Doo series aimed at adults.  Someday I hope to see that, but today is not that day because Velma isn’t a Scooby Doo spinoff, it’s a bunch of strangers wearing my friend’s clothing and acting like strangers.   If you were hoping for a Mystery Inc series that aged and matured with you and you happen to see Velma beckoning you from the main menu of HBO MAX, take my advice and Scooby Don’t

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