A Bizarre Take on Scooby Doo’s Brainiac: The Scooby-Doo formula is comforting: meddling youngsters solve a terrifying mystery and expose a villain with the help of a cute dog. Repeat after me! Of course, this issue has been explored in a number of different ways. Numerous spin-offs have altered the main Scooby legend since Mystery Incorporated first appeared in 1969.
Sometimes Mystery Inc. is made up of children, other times genuine otherworldly threats exist, and still other times Scooby and friends work alongside Batman. However, no matter the modifications, the central conceit of a good mystery and the valiant group that solves it always remain the same.
The newest Scooby Doo spin-off to appear on our screens is Velma. The genesis story of Velma Dinkley, the resident brainiac of Mystery Inc., is explored in the adult animated comedy Velma (voiced by Mindy Kaling). How did she begin cracking the case? How did she bring together the now-famous quartet of Norville “Shaggy” Rogers, Daphne Blake, Fred Jones, and herself? (Scooby-Doo is not visible in the image.)
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Velma wants to see everything from a fresh perspective. I was expecting to like Velma because I adore Scooby Doo and she is my favorite Mystery Inc. character. With the skills of Kaling, Constance Wu (as Daphne), Sam Richardson (as Norville), and Glenn Howerton, an adult Scooby Doo series has a tonne of promise (as Fred).
But as I followed the show’s mystery as it developed, a deeper conundrum emerged. Why does this not work as a terrific Scooby spin-off when it has all the necessary components? The mix of uneven comedy, a lack of sufficient mystery, and a fundamental misunderstanding of Velma herself is the cause.
Velma gives Mystery Inc. a crazy spin.
In Velma’s own words, “with a murder, bitch,” her origin narrative begins. In the village of Crystal Cove, a serial murderer is killing popular females and stealing their brains. Velma must track down the offender. The sole issue? Her absent mother, Diya (voiced by Sarayu Blue), who vanished two years ago, haunts her every time she attempts to solve a case.
Velma gets the chance to test out the show’s horror’s potential intensity with an audience that is more mature in mind. It is generally successful. This Scooby Doo isn’t the Scooby Doo of our childhoods, as seen by the gruesome depiction of brainless corpses, which is beyond Scooby Doo’s standards. Additionally disturbing are Velma’s hallucinations, which feature skeletal hands and creepy mother issues.
Unfortunately, what begins as an engaging plot technique to examine Velma’s inner demons quickly becomes uninteresting. Every time the title character Velma is poised to make headway on the case, she experiences the same kind of hallucination, with little to no escalation or emotional consequence. The most terrifying aspect of these visions is actually how much the plot is hampered by them.
Not all of Velma’s problems include murders and abandoned mothers. She must also worry about the highs and lows of high school. Her conflict with her erstwhile best friend Daphne, who left Velma for the trendy set, is one of them. Velma has an odd attraction to hot jerk Fred, who doesn’t even know her name, and she has a weird friendship with Norville, who is obviously onto her.
All four of the program’s main characters have humorous performances, but Howerton steals the show by giving a truly insane version of Fred Dennis Reynolds’s levels of wrath. I can’t say the same with Velma’s writing, though I can say that the vocal renditions are frequently pretty humorous. There are a few lines that will actually make you laugh out loud, but overall, the jokes vary from cheesy references to awkward efforts at meta-commentary.
Why do characters comment about the increased sex and nudity in TV pilots while showing a lot of cartoon flesh in the first episode? Why are we given a lengthy joke about flashbacks later? The critique in these pieces lacks bite, so it reads as tacky lampshading. Only when Velma makes fun of Scooby Doo does its meta-ness work in its favor.
Norville is a straight-edge nerd who announces out in front of the camera that he detests drugs, as opposed to the silly, maybe high Shaggy we’re used to. Exasperatedly saying, “I know this is what you’re really here for,” Velma responds to accusations that she is a lesbian. These wink jokes are funny. However, Velma’s parade of sex, drugs, and letting Velma use the word “bitch” doesn’t generally receive the humorous support necessary for such a premise.
Velma’s biggest foe is Velma.
The major character of Velma is portrayed poorly, and I don’t mean this in a toxic, racist sense of “they changed Velma’s race and explored her queerness, hence I don’t like her.” I mean this in the sense that “they totally changed her personality.” The joy Velma experiences from solving a mystery is one of the things I love most about her as a character.
Scooby-Doo is typically motivated by her intellect and mistrust of the paranormal. However, Velma kills any enjoyment in investigating mysteries by clogging up the investigation with its constant hallucinations. Relationship issues and high school problems take priority over snooping, therefore the majority of Velma’s behavior that we witness is vengeful, self-centered, and plain cruel.
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Earlier iterations of Velma could be snarky or feisty, but this Velma is always calling people names and speaking down to them. This show tries to contextualize the rage of its lead character in the death of her mother and her failure to succeed in high school. Sadly, it rarely offers her opportunities for development or repentance to offset her steadfast misanthropic behavior.
Kaling’s creations The Sex Lives of College Girls and Never Have I Ever both feature complex, troubled young women; Velma follows suit. But there, characters gradually learn from their errors. Here, Velma is stubbornly obstinate in her defects to the point where she hardly resembles the fervently inquisitive character we know and love. To be Velma Dinkley, you need more than just an orange sweater and some spectacles. I’m hoping Velma will understand that.