‘Velma’ is not nervous.  It’s just average.

‘Velma’ is not nervous. It’s just average.

‘Velma’ is not nervous.  It’s just average.

At the VelmaHBO Max aimed at adults Scooby Doo spin-off, familiar faces get involved in all kinds of gritty, censored activities. Velma (played by the show’s executive producer Mindy Kaling) and Daphne (Constance Wu) deal drugs. Fred (Glenn Howerton) is shot in both legs. Shaggy (Sam Richardson), known by his birth name Norville, tries to sell a kidney on the black market. Scenes of gratuitous violence appear in almost every episode: limbs are severed, corpses roll out of garbage cans, riots break out in the prison.

Nosy kids getting into wacky mysteries with their dog, this show is definitely not. And in the months leading up to VelmaSince the debut of , the creative team seemed to anticipate the backlash to the bold changes they had made. Creator Charlie Grandy argued that the writers’ alterations — including cutting Scooby out of the gang, reimagining Velma as a misanthropic South Asian teenager, and incorporating grotesque jokes — felt authentic to the spirit of the original series. “We wanted to be respectful,” he explained. “We didn’t just want to take these beloved characters and put them in outrageous or gross situations and say, ‘Isn’t it crazy that you did this to Velma?’”

If only viewers felt the same way. Since Velma began airing on HBO Max this month, audiences have been panning the series with negative reviews. Many complaints are – as is often the case with projects that change the ethnicity of originally white characters – knee-jerk, racist reactions to seeing familiar figures in a new context. Other viewers say the show is too vulgar, turning Velma and her gang into characters they no longer recognize. But the real problem with Velma it’s not that your updates do Euphoria it looks like child’s play; is that their nervousness comes at the expense of their own characters and punishes the audience for getting invested. As a certain member of Mystery Inc. rummaging around in the dark for her glasses, the series is unfocused, confused and hopelessly lost.

The questions start with Velmathe overreliance on television meta jokes in place of a compelling plot. The show follows Velma as she tries to find the serial killer targeting high school girls, searches for her missing mother, and tries to overcome the nightmarish hallucinations that occur when she pursues cases – storytelling beats meant to parody dark teen dramas such as riverdale. This concept, however, gets old quickly. Characters constantly pause the action to call out and summarize narrative tropes rather than letting the story unfold. In an upcoming episode, for example, Velma explains her relationship with her father in terms of the television story before the scene unfolds. “If there’s one thing teen dramas get right, it’s that nothing is really a teenager’s fault,” she says. “We are all just paying for the sins of our fathers. They’re lying to us, or trying to change us, or hiding some dark family secret. But when it comes to really bad parenting, nobody tops my dad. The monologue is bland, unsubtle, and completely unnecessary.

Even worse, these moments reduce the ensemble to static joke-telling machines. Kaling and the rest of the cast give enthusiastic performances, but their animated counterparts never come across as real teenagers or coherent characters. They tease each other by pointing out the stereotypes they embody, flattening everyone into the very archetypes they’re skewering: Daphne is a hot girl obsessed with being popular, Fred is a womanizing rich kid with daddy issues, Norville is a loser who can’t get over it. get laid, and Velma is a hypercritical pariah. When characters grow up, the evolution is either inconsistent or simply played for laughs. Velma, in one episode, realizes that she “has no idea how to be a woman in a way that is non-judgmental about other women”, but in the next chapter, she is once again petty tearing down a female classmate. Fred reads The Feminine Mystique, only for her attraction to “inner beauty” to become a joke. The show, as a result, doesn’t feel smart; looks bad.

In other words, Velma it’s not really reimagining Velma – or Daphne, or Fred, or Norville – at all. Through endless references and half-hearted attempts at self-aware humor, the show seems more concerned with pulling apart the original franchise: the ridiculousness of the mysteries, the absurdity of the gang’s efforts, the tropes each character has perpetuated. However, in doing so, the series fails to make new observations about Scooby Doo or about the teen drama genre. It just delivers a relentless barrage of outdated pop culture commentary. In the eight episodes I’ve seen, the weak jokes come first. Take a shot of Velma and her dad going to a strip club for lunch, for example. The setup could have been an opportunity to examine the characters’ awkward relationship, but it’s mostly done for shock – as well as getting a sick joke about how the strippers strip because they’re still chasing dad’s attention.

Mature updates of revered cartoons can work. HBO Max itself is home to one of the best: Harley Quinn, a colorful extension of the DC animated universe that follows the titular character from the comics striking out in his own right. like Velma, the show is violent, full of meta jokes and concerned with portraying a female character’s journey of self-discovery. but unlike Velma, the series has a clear reverence for the original franchise; treats Harley with respect, prioritizing her development even amid quick jokes. Velma, in turn, emphasizes its shallow humor, yielding a project that strives to be playful and doesn’t understand its protagonist’s appeal. No, reboots must not be carbon copies of their source material. But they shouldn’t dismiss it either – or make fun of viewers who care.

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