Scooby Doo, where are you? Velma takes centre stage
Warning: Spoilers ahead
“This is my story told my way. And it starts with a murder, b–tch.”
Since the 1969 debut of Scooby Doo, Where are You!, seemingly countless iterations of the show have kept up a pretty consistent image of the ragtag group of detectives that make up Mystery Incorporated.
But HBO’s new animated series, spearheaded by The Office alum Mindy Kaling, has completely revamped the classic characters.
The first episode of Velma wastes no time in telling the audience who’s in charge of the show.
It also sets a distinctly ‘Kaling’ tone for the whole production.
Velma is taking the lead. Photo: HBO/Binge
Velma, voiced by executive producer Kaling, is young, brash, snappy, and keen for the world to know she’s the one who brought the Scooby gang together – not Fred and “his weird sex fan” (Daphne).
This is the first clue that, despite the high school setting, Velma is not meant to be an introduction to the Scooby Doo universe for older fans’ young kids.
The next major clue comes just minutes later in the form of a tongue-in-cheek violent fight between naked characters (with strategically placed bubbles) in the middle of a girls’ locker room.
New depths to old characters
For audiences familiar with Kaling’s body of work, particularly The Mindy Project and Never Have I Ever, Velma treads familiar ground.
The dialogue is full of witty quips, social commentary and pop culture references, but perhaps the biggest shock to long-time Scooby fans will be the changes made to the main gang of characters, and their group dynamic.
Velma is still whip-smart and mystery obsessed, but the latest update sees her personality become an extension of Kaling’s classic main female character persona – young, headstrong and slightly narcissistic despite self-esteem issues.
“Could exercising and eating less fried food help? We’ll never know,” Velma remarks in episode two.
This quote could easily come from most of Kaling’s recent productions, as could the moment where Velma chooses to swear to tell the truth on Shonda Rhimes and a Grey’s Anatomy DVD instead of God and the Bible.
Velma’s mental health issues are explored through paranormal hallucinations, and she also quickly self-identifies as a lesbian, something speculated about the original character for years and recently confirmed in the 2022 movie Trick or Treat Scooby-Doo!
Fred is self-absorbed and spoiled, but there’s more to him than meets the eye. Photo: HBO/Binge
Fred (Glen Howerton) and Daphne (Constance Wu) are possibly the vainest they have ever been as the seemingly stereotypical king and queen of high school society – but they each have a lot going on beneath the surface.
Shaggy, going by his official first name Norville (Sam Richardson), has undergone the biggest transformation with his staunchly anti-drugs stance.
For die-hard fans, this might almost be sacrilege, but fear not!
Velma hints we might see Norville turn into something like the stoner audiences know and love – this is an origin story, after all.
We see Norville’s pre-420 era. Photo: HBO/Binge
A certain four-legged member of the gang is missing from the first two episodes of the show, so it remains unclear if Norville will get his partner-in-(solving)-crime, and whether that partner will say more than “Woof!”.
As Velma starts off, the main quartet are nowhere near becoming the well-established, close-knit group of mystery solvers made famous by previous series and movies, but that leaves a lot of room for the show to grow.
Room for nostalgia in new era
In a departure from classic Scooby Doo adaptations, Velma seems to be a character-driven show with a couple of major ongoing mysteries threading through the episodes, rather than the solve-and-forget format fans of the original will be familiar with.
Apart from Kaling, the cast is packed with the instantly recognisable voices of stars such as Wu, Jane Lynch and Wanda Sykes, but they’re not distracting enough to take attention away from the story.
The ethnicity of the characters also largely reflect their voice actors, which means there is now an Indian Velma, an Asian Daphne, and a Black Norville – but they all still manage to bear a close resemblance to original depictions.
The Scooby gang has had a makeover, but they’ve managed to keep close to their roots. Photo: HBO/Binge
There’s still plenty of room for comfortable nostalgia to be found in the animation which, despite the welcome new diversity among the main characters, still has a recognisable classic Scooby Doo flair thanks to nods back to original character designs and colour palettes.
Audiences will also hear characters utter ‘zoinks’ and ‘jeepers’, but not in they way they’ve come to expect.
The writing feels more relevant to Millennials than Gen Z, especially in the slang used and choice of celebrity name-drops (think Steve Harvey, Rachel Brosnahan and Don Cheadle), but it could certainly still resonate across different age brackets.
The quality of the cinematography and music choices help keep Velma young yet grown-up enough not to be relegated to guilty pleasure status for adult audiences.
Velma is a thoroughly enjoyable interpretation of the Scooby Doo universe, but old-school fans should prepare themselves for some graphic violence and language, non-PC one-liners, a dose of typical high school drama and a tearful rendition of Ginuwine’s Pony.
Velma premieres on January 12 on Binge in Australia
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