Scooby-Doo is back with an animated series that explores Mystery Inc. before they united to take on mysteries across the United States. Yet, this time around, the series will not include the iconic cartoon dog and also takes some cues from popular R-rated series. Velma is trying to be the most unique take of a classic franchise, but somehow loses its way in trying way too hard and also overcompensates with its meta-humor.
There’s one thing worth praising about Velma and that is the animation. The character designs are surprisingly detailed and the hallucination sequences are actually quite impressive visually. Once they add some shading, the animation suddenly pushes the series to shine beyond just being Scooby-Doo meets Family Guy. There are also some surprisingly creative shot composition that make this series visually stand out from others.
Yet, not even some of its most visually stunning moments can’t cover the series’ general issue of just trying too hard. The series opens with a sequence of supposedly 15-year-olds naked in the showers talking about clichéd plotlines. Theere’s no subtlety in this series that seems quite desperate on showcasing that it’s subverting expectations by repeating some we’ve seen with other shows.
Many compare it to Harley Quinn, but that series has the advantage of feeling like a DC Comics adaptation first and a meta-commentary second. In the case of Velma, it feels like the series was written to subvert the storylines and expectations of these characters before looking at its characters. There’s an overarching mystery but it feels like the series is more interested in making fun of TV storylines rather than telling an actual story.
We have a murder mystery at its core, but it seems more like an afterthought. There’s no real hint at who might actually be the murderer. So, you as a viewer have no incentive to get invested and just wait for the reveal. Plus, we have a mystery built around her mother going missing that also doesn’t really feel relevant. Velma’s big character struggle is she feels guilt over her mother leaving in the form of hallucinations when she solves “mysteries.”
Yet, it also changes the rules of when and how they appear; something pointed out in the series. Telling the audience that a clichéd plotline is the way it is while still doing it takes away from the experience. It falls flat as a joke and the subversion isn’t as poignant as it may have seemed at first. The running gag built around Glenn Howerton‘s take on Fred Jones goes on for too long and overstays its welcome; once again taking away any commentary it was trying to make. It’s stumbling something that Be Cool, Scooby-Doo managed better back in 2015.
Mindy Kaling gives a decent performance as Velma Dinkley, who is constantly sarcastic and not a very likable character most of the time. Her dynamic with Constanze Wu‘s Daphne is the most interesting part of the show, but they also try so hard to subvert expectations that they end up repeating old cliches, such as with Norville’s attempts to woo him. The fact they are desperately trying to avoid the character’s well-established name showcases how it takes away elements we’ve come to love without honoring them along the way.
The diverse cast is great and could’ve been used for great effect to further explore these characters. Making good use of their backgrounds to establish what they have in common and how they differ to create a strong bond for the future members of Mystery Inc. It’s not even original in this attempt, as even the film SCOOB! that released in 2020 when Gina Rodriguez voiced the character, which added elements to the character from her new cultural background.
Meta humor can be funny, but if used reasonably. The risk of using this kind of humor is that it comes at the cost of an interesting story arc or an abundance of cynicism. Most of the cast is extremely one-note and besides the before-mentioned duo, there’s not much development here. They took very specific character traits from the original and blew them up in a way that loses what made these characters so memorable.
Subsequently, the humor doesn’t truly land because most of it is trying to be clever. Norville making a comment he doesn’t like drugs isn’t funny, because the whole running gag was never alluded to in the first place. Hell, the original live-action Scooby-Doo movie made a better joke around that jokey assumption back in 2002. That same film was built around the idea of subverting the clichés that developed around the series. So, the show’s core premise isn’t as original as it’s trying to be.
It tried too hard to be clever while doing a schtick we’ve come to expect once “meta-humor” is alluded to even for a second. Outside of its animation, the series sadly falls flat even if it could’ve been so much more. There’s nothing wrong with a more adult take on Scooby-Doo and it could’ve worked with this cast of characters. Yet, the show’s cynical take on subversion is overshadowing any of that potential leaving us with an uninteresting mystery to watch.