Who cares about spoilers.
Velma debuting on HBO Max is the perfect network, because we can very easily compare it to another show with similar premise; Harley Quinn, and showcase side by side why one idea works and the other one is socially engineered to be a miserable failure. Harley Quinn’s third season aired in mid-2022 and the show has already been renewed for a fourth season as of August. I can’t see Velma getting renewed for a second season, and frankly even after one episode the only thing I’m looking forward to seeing is Mindy Kaling’s tantrum once the show gets inevitably shitcanned. Because they’re not starting off good.
As a show that’s been on the air with at least a dozen incarnations and adaptations since the 1960s, we can easily look back to a prior iteration of the gang to see Velma’s presence done better. Every single time. A grittier origin story? Well that’d be Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated. It ran for two seasons between 2010 and 2013 and was far more intelligently written and by people who clearly cared about the property. Which is more than I can say for this goof troop.
Meanwhile Velma is one of the last vestiges of much-loved properties being renovated as vanity projects for egotistical Hollywood losers. Considering those projects have become financial and critical failures at crippling rates over the last few years, it’s probably by sheer dumb luck that Velma wasn’t just filed as a tax write-off and cancelled at the eleventh hour along with all the other garbage Zaslav burned. Because Warner Bros. is learning that there’s virtually no money in shows that purposely take a dump on the original property and then preemptively give the fans of said property the middle finger and call them racist for not enjoying the thing they purposely built to be bad.
By no means is Mindy Kaling a talentless hack, nor are the numerous other name brand voice actors on the show. So what the hell went wrong?
And before I talk about the show itself, I guess it’s worth noting that I really don’t care about them race swapping Velma so she looks like Mindy Kaling. Velma has been not-white at least a few times in Scooby Doo history, including being portrayed as a Japanese girl by Hayley Kiyoko in two live action films and by African actress Sarah Jeffery. Also Scooby Doo himself isn’t in the show because Warner Bros. intelligently would not allow Charlie Grandy to put the dog in a show where he regularly dreams about a high school boy’s penis. At least someone at the company was showing restraint.
Velma’s commentary that her origin starts “with a murder, bitch” perfectly summarizes why a lot of adult animation is lazy garbage and gave me Vietnam flashbacks to Q-Force opening with the main character shouting “hello bitch.” Rather than taking a concept and engineering it for adults the writers just take characters, strip them of their personality, self-insert for the actor’s own personality, and make them say fuck and talk about having sex and show gore. And it might have been better if they went all out, but even trying to be edgy the show is too embarrassed to reveal nipples. Probably because the characters are all high schoolers.
Velma is also aggressively meanspirited with its characters, and like everything else in the show is transparently designed to piss off the fans of Scooby Doo. Why? Because the creators know that hate viewing is their best bet of actually bringing in an audience. Because nobody else cares and in the saturated market this show wouldn’t stand out otherwise. Velma herself is a distinctly unlikeable person that peppers in references to cinema with moments of artificial sentimentality to bamboozle you into thinking the writers know how to make compassionate characters. Daphne has been transformed into the bitchy, self-absorbed drug dealer with two lesbian parents that the show never forgets to remind us are lesbians. Fred has been emasculated to the point of a mental handicapped manchild literally incapable of giving himself a bath or feeding himself at the age of 18.
Also he has a small penis, because if there’s one thing out of touch aging Hollywood boomers think is still biting commentary, it’s references to dudes having tiny penises. Also kinda creepy that Charlie Grandy spends so much time talking about high school boy penis. Shaggy is black now, and who cares, but they turned him into a pathetic beta simp chasing after Velma and doing whatever he can for her because he wants to date her. Oh and he hosts a web show about snacks, because something has to be transferred over.
There’s a big difference in dignity and presentation to Shaggy being a one-dimensional stoner coward and comedic relief, to Shaggy being pathetic and desperate for coochie because the show can’t depict any man in a positive light. Also Shaggy is vehemently against drugs, because the writers want you to know this ain’t your daddy’s Shaggy. But they are also morons.
The gang have changed their personalities over the years, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse. The shows have lampooned prior series tropes to various degrees, like Shaggy’s somewhat cringeworthy Mary Jane line from the live action film or the more positively remembered Freddy loving traps in the newer show. But even in the grittier versions of the show, the characters have always had a charm to them. Maybe not a deep charm, like the 60s show, but a charm nonetheless. The shows were enjoyable to watch. Velma is miserable, a show of characters who mostly come off as abrasive assholes or pathetic to the point of caricature, who are neither likeable or relatable, trying to portray high school students from writers who haven’t been in a high school since before they had internet.
And when I mention the writers knowing nothing about the show, it’s because knowing Scooby Doo might have made the show’s unveiling and writing less embarrassing. Because Velma likes to come out swinging about how groundbreaking it is when it isn’t. As I said, not-white Velma isn’t a new concept. Neither is not-straight Velma. I doubt Mindy Kaling or Charlie Grandy know that. But those iterations of the show didn’t have showrunners making antagonistic self-aggrandizing statements about how “yeah Velma’s not white, deal with it racists” and as a result there was never any notable controversy. Prior iterations actually held at least some respect for the property and its fans, as opposed to these creators who just want to rub their asses over a property that will long outlast any of their shows in the nation’s culture.
Funny enough, the only diversity quota that doesn’t get aggressively shoved in the viewer’s face is in regards to Shaggy having a white dad and black mom. I’m not saying Charlie Grandy is secretly racist, but given the habit of aggressively racist Hollywood liberal types to despise the idea of a white man and non-white woman in a marriage (because white privilege or something), I’m guessing it was added under extreme duress. Which would explain why it isn’t directly acknowledged in the show (at least not yet) unlike the constant references to Daphne’s two adoptive moms.
The show also goes out of its way to miserably try to explain the origin of things. Fred has his ascot because his family owns a gentleman’s clothing brand. Velma got her glasses because they belonged to her mother, whose missing status is the crux of the season’s plot in addition to a group of murdered high school girls. Zoinks and Mystery Machine are the names of drugs being peddled around school. The characters in Velma aren’t people, they are soulless machines spitting out constant one-liners and pop culture references. A lot of Scooby Doo might not have been deep, but it was enjoyable to watch. This isn’t enjoyable to watch.
Speaking of Daphne’s two moms, I’d like to side-track and say I’d rather have had a show about them. Daphne’s two moms are played by Wanda Sykes and Jane Lynch, both of whom have been on my favorite actress list since the 90s. They are both cops albeit depicted as grossly incompetent, and I would eat up a show that focused on the two of them working Crystal Cove and the weird mysteries that happen around town. Wanda Sykes was my favorite part of Q-Force and Jane Lynch was my favorite part of Space Force. I’m noticing a trend here in names.
Velma isn’t some childhood ruining monster, because that would imply the show would have some lasting legacy. I don’t think anyone will be talking much about Velma by the time the season ends, let alone in a year from now. It’ll be remembered as that show that tried and failed to be provocative, the dollar store Harley Quinn poser. The only problem here is that the tidal wave of rage-bait shows has become so overwhelming that most of the people who might have fueled the fire by angrily tuning in a few years back have simply moved on, and don’t provide the same ratings they used to. Those people are mostly watching crap they like.