Let’s get right to the point because it’s not a lot of good I can say about HBO Max’s “Velma”. Velma as a character always deserved so much more. For those that watched the Scooby Doo cartoons through the decades know that Velma was almost always the MVP of the group. She was the one that found obvious clues, was the one most likely to figure out who the person behind the mask was and so on. But of course, she was the one left behind when the group split up. So, it’s a mystery to me that nearly fifty years later, we get a reimagined origin story of one of the group’s unsung heroes that we are given…this steaming pile.
The pile that we are handed is Velma who lives with her father who is a somewhat successful attorney with an airheaded absent-minded girlfriend whose missing mother gives her standstill PTSD. She is best friends with mean girl Daphne as both try to compete to get into the pants of narcissistic yet paranoid Fred. She is also friends with not quite yet weed headed (come on people, we all know what was in those Scooby snack ok??) Norville Rogers aka Shaggy. She interacts with these characters while still trying to navigate high school in which she is bullied and the adults around her appear clueless.
On the surface, there should be so much to like about this series. The characters are much more diverse, to which I am sure a few conservative elements had their heads explode. Velma is Indian American. Norville is Black, Daphne is Asian American and the adopted daughter of two lesbian cops. Also, when you look at the voice actors behind those characters, Mindy Kaling leading as Velma along with Constance Wu, Russell Peters, Jane Lynch and Wanda Sykes among others, you have to ask, what went wrong?
The short answer is ‘A Lot’. When watching this show, you see a formula here that does not translate well unlike HBO’s other adult animation, Harley Quinn. It feels like the writers, tried so hard to shoehorn the diversity with no clue of who their target audience was. A lot of the jokes were of the variety of ‘let’s throw it at the wall and see what lands’ variety and sadly very few landed. We get it, this show wanted to take an under-rated character as well as an under rated cartoon and breathe some life into it as an adult series but it fails in figuring out how to use the adult animation medium to make it fun and funny. I feel like Kaling and co. tried to cut and paste a lot of what made Harley Quinn works for this project and it just didn’t work.
Kaling’s portrayal of Velma is one of the worst realized versions of the character we have seen over the years. One of the biggest issues people may have is that in a world where reimagined long-time properties try to be more diverse, Velma’s identity comes into question. After the first two episodes, audiences may not care much because it feels like in every other scene, rather than letting things play out organically, the issue is forced to the front of anything else that’s going on. For those that don’t know, Velma as a queen teen has been done before and done so much better than this portrayal. Check out 2010’s Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated for a comparison.
After watching, I feel like it was a rather unpleasant way to see something from my childhood aged up. The meta-humor misses the mark in trying to connect this version of the gang with the old version. It tries and fails hard in wanting to be diverse and to plainly put it, it’s just not fun to watch. Maybe it will get better but I won’t plan to stick around to watch.
“Velma” premiered on HBO Max with two episodes on Jan. 12, with two new episodes releasing every week after that.