HBO Max’s adult “Velma” series has certainly stirred the pot online, calling for the widespread cancelation of the show amid poor audience reviews and its unfaithful adaptation of the “Scooby-Doo” gang. But it is really as bad as everyone says it is?
The show follows Velma Dinkley (Mindy Kaling), who in this adaptation is an Indian-American high schooler who is a loner, except for her friend-zoned male bestie, Norville Rogers (Sam RIchardson). She has an ex-best friend in Daphne Blake (Constance Wu), but the two have grown apart since Daphne became popular. There’s also Fred Jones (Glenn Howerton), the rich heir of Jones Gentleman Accessories, who is basically a spoiled man-child who is overly reliant on his parents.
Velma’s mother, Diya (Sarayu Blue), disappeared when she was young, and she’s been looking for her ever since. The only thing is, she gets panic attacks whenever she tries to solve a mystery because she blames herself for her mother’s disappearance. The attacks manifest in the form of monsters only she can see, and she’s at risk of having a heart attack if they get too bad.
Meanwhile, a serial killer has been removing the brains of teenage girls in town. In addition to finding her mom, Velma also wants to find out who the killer is, but it’s not as high a priority as finding her mother.
This show has gotten abundant criticism for its depictions if the “Scooby-Doo” gang — as well as its lack of the titular canine — which are not faithful to the source material. Velma is mean-spirited and a downright awful protagonist. We’re also told that she’s smart, but she constantly makes poor decisions and is easily outwitted. Daphne is also mean-spirited to an extent, but she warms up when she starts to connect with the rest of the gang. Norville is an over-achiever and a narc (the show literally calls him a simp at one point) — he doesn’t even have a huge love for food. He’s basically the opposite of the Shaggy “Norville” Rogers “Scooby-Doo” fans know and love. And then there’s Fred.
Fred is usually the leader of the group, is very handy and has a love for traps. He’s also an oaf at times who misreads subtext, which is often used to comedic effect. Fred in this show probably cannot cook for himself and is constantly reacting to the decisions of those around him. He’s also not very active in his own character arc. The only thing he shares with the Fred “Scooby-Doo” fans know is his lack of wit and cluelessness.
With that being said, their dynamic works in its own way and does pay off plenty comedically. Velma works as an unlikeable protagonist because she’s often the butt of the joke, of which there are some that are pretty good. The only issue is that the show has a propensity to over-explain its punchlines to the point where they deflate. Its humor is also painfully dated — no one will understand any of its reference in 5 years.
Its twists are above average and are legitimately good, though the show doesn’t quite stick the landing at the end. If I were to pin one issue holding this show back the most, it would be that it talks too much. It’s never satisfied with giving its punchlines and twists enough time to get their footing; it feels like it either has to over-explain its jokes, load us up with self-commentary or quickly move onto the next thing.
“Velma” is nowhere near as bad as the internet will make you believe. But it’s also a very immature show that suffers from a lack of confidence in its direction that holds it back. This is a show that also would’ve benefitted from being a satire of “Scooby-Doo” under a new IP rather than using the officially-licensed Hanna-Barbera characters as it by all means is its own thing with very little connection to the original characters.
“Velma” Season 1 (2023) gets a 6.5/10
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