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

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

In VelmaHBO Max is geared towards adults Scooby Doo Spin-off, familiar faces get involved in all sorts of sinister R-rated activities. Velma (played by series executive producer Mindy Kaling) and Daphne (Constance Wu) sell 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 fill almost every episode: limbs are severed, bodies roll out of trash cans, riots break out in prison.

Mixing in kids getting into crazy mysteries with their dog, this show definitely isn’t. And in the months before that VelmaWhen it debuted, the creative team seemed to have anticipated a backlash for the bold changes they made. Creator, Charlie Grandy, argued that the writers’ changes — including removing Scooby from the gang, reimagining Velma as a misanthropic South Asian teenager, and including grotesque gags — felt authentic in the spirit of the original series. “We wanted to be respectful,” he explained. “We didn’t want to just take these beloved characters and put them in rude or gross situations and be like, ‘Isn’t it crazy you did this to Velma?'”

If only viewers would think the same way. Since Velma Airing this month on HBO Max, audiences have been showering the series with negative reviews. As is often the case with projects that change the ethnicity of originally white characters, many complaints are knee-jerk, racist reactions to seeing well-known figures in a new context. Other viewers say the show is too vulgar and turns Velma and the gang into characters they no longer recognize. But the real problem with Velma is not that make his updates euphoria look like child’s play; It’s that his nervousness comes at the expense of his own characters and the audience gets punished for being invested. Like a certain Mystery Inc. member rummaging around for his glasses in the dark, the series is unfocused, confused, and desperately lost.

The problems start with Velma‘s over-reliance on meta-jokes about television in lieu of a compelling plot. The show follows Velma as she tries to find the serial killer who targets high school girls, searches for her missing mother, and tries to overcome nightmarish hallucinations that arise when she pursues cases — storytelling beats, the dark Teenage dramas like to parody Riverdale. However, this concept is quickly becoming old. The characters constantly interrupt the plot to call out and summarize narrative tropes instead of letting the story unfold. For example, in an upcoming episode, Velma explains her relationship with her father in terms of TV history before the scene takes place. “If there’s one thing teen drama gets right, it’s that a teenager is never really at fault,” she says. “We’re actually all just paying for the sins of our parents. They’re either lying to us, or they’re trying to change us, or they’re hiding some dark family secret. But when it comes to really shitty parents, no one hits my dad.” The monologue is unfunny, unsubtle, and entirely unnecessary.

Worse still, such moments reduce the ensemble to static prank delivery machines. Kaling and the rest of the cast put on enthusiastic performances, but their animated counterparts never seem like actual teenagers or cohesive characters. They tease each other by pointing out the stereotypes they embody, making everyone the archetypes they skewer: Daphne is a hot girl obsessed with being popular, Fred is a rich girl who loves women and has problems with his father, Norville is a loser who can do it. I don’t get laid, and Velma is an overly critical outcast. As characters grow, the development is inconsistent or just played for laughs. Velma realizes in one episode that she “has no idea how to be a woman without judging other women,” but in the next episode she once again pettily tears down a classmate. Fred reads The female mysticism, only for his attraction to “inner beauty” to become a running gag. The show therefore doesn’t feel smart; it just feels mean.

In other words, Velma doesn’t really reinvent Velma – or Daphne, or Fred or Norville – at all. Through endless references and half-hearted attempts at self-aware humor, the show seems most intent on tearing apart the original franchise: the ridiculousness of the mysteries, the absurdity of the gang’s efforts, the tropes each character has immortalized. However, the series fails to make any new observations Scooby Doo or about the teen drama genre. It just offers a relentless barrage of outdated pop culture commentary. In the eight episodes I’ve watched, the weak jokes come first. Take, for example, a scene where Velma and her father go to a strip club for lunch. The setup could have been an opportunity to explore the characters’ awkward relationship, but it’s mostly for shock value — and to land a tasteless punchline about strippers stripping off their clothes because they’re still chasing their dad’s attention.

Mature updates of revered cartoons can work. HBO Max itself hosts one of the best: Harley Quinn, a colorful expansion of the animated DC Universe that follows the eponymous comic book character who goes into business for himself. Like Velma, the show is violent, full of meta-jokes, and deals with depicting a female character’s journey of self-discovery. But not how Velma, the series has a clear nod to the original franchise; It treats Harley with respect and prioritizes their development even amid rapid-fire jokes. Velmameanwhile, emphasizes his shallow humor and results in a project that struggles to be playful and misunderstands the appeal of its protagonist. No, reboots should not be copies of their source material. But they shouldn’t dismiss it either — or mock the viewers who care.

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