Scooby-Doo and the gang have been entertaining audiences since the 60s. Those meddling kids and their dog have been solving mysteries and foiling bad people’s plans for decades. However, we’ve never really explored their pasts, including who they were before Mystery Inc. The new adult animated series, Velma, remedies that by providing an origin story of not only its titular character, but of Daphne, Fred, and Norville. Unfortunately, the loveable Great Dane isn’t part of the show.
The first thing you’ll notice is that this isn’t your father’s Scooby-Doo. There is definitely more risqué material with regards to the violence and sex appeal. Moreover, the four teens have been updated with modern sensibilities, and it plays up the angsty teenage drama. They all have complicated pasts, including with each other. At New York Comic Con, it was revealed Velma was pitched as a love quadrangle. Yes, that includes looking at Velma’s queerness.
There is a host of typical teen tropes. It is an interesting approach, but the character dives feel like a slow burn pushing the overarching mystery to the background at times over the course of the season. It is clever how each character’s backstory is interwoven and connects to the big picture narrative.
The most noticeable differences is the change of ethnicities in the main characters other than Fred. This doesn’t take away from any of them at all because the series still manages to capture the essence of who you imagine them to be. They each carry a familiarity about them from their previous versions. The voice talent is stellar bringing so much to their roles.
Glenn Howerton gives Fred the dim-witted popular guy with a heart vibes who is dealing with his toxic masculinity. Velma is a younger animated version of the lead from The Mindy Project. Mindy Kaling instills her with confidence, smarts, but also a level of superiority that doesn’t’ always make her likeable. You can see why she’s a little bit of a social outcast. Norville feels like any Sam Richardson character, which is a good thing because the actor is brilliant. The character may be the least like his counterpart, but the deliberate decision to not call him Shaggy reinforces the point.
Velma has an enjoyable amount of self-awareness. Whether it’s referencing its genres or the changes it makes from the older material, the show always has sharp and funny lines to retort any would be purists. The comedy as a whole is smartly written with witty one-liners and outlandish situations. Its inclusion helps bring levity to the darker aspects. As with most animated series, there are also plenty of amusing background gags.
The animation is cool and brings a modern touch to these classic characters. In particular, the momentary haunting effects that Velma experiences are well done and help visually display her inner demons. Also impressive, is the ability to create a surprising amount of suspense during the scarry parts. Overall, there is a lurking twisted aura that Crystal Cove isn’t this pristine small town community.
Despite its new take, Velma includes material that Scooby-Doo fans can appreciate. There are Easter eggs scattered throughout such as references to classic monsters and catch phrases. The most enjoyable is the homage to the iconic chase scene bits and how they twist it on its head. It even has nods to other Hanna-Barbera cartoons. You kind of wish there is more but it’s understandable because the show is trying to stand on its own.
Velma is an edgy take in the vein of Riverdale with the laughs obscener and the themes darker. Though it contains your usual teenage drama tropes, the strong cast makes, self-awareness, and Easter eggs make for a fun experience.
Velma will premiere January 12 on HBO Max.
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