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‘Velma’ Delivers Raunchy, Forgettable Fun

4/5 Mystery Machines

Velma holds a frying pan with Fred and Velma's father in the background.

Warner Bros. is trying out a new formula: Take a beloved children’s show, modernize it, and turn it into an orgy of sex jokes and swear words. I’m talking, of course, about HBO Max’s smash hit series Harley Quinn.

Wait, it’s Velma. Velma‘s the thing I’m talking about.

Premiering on January 12, Velma is a prequel to the classic Scooby-Doo cartoons. Instead of focusing on a great dane that’s scared of ghosts, though, the series centers on Velma Dinkley (Mindy Kaling), the turtleneck-wearing brains of Mystery Inc. The animated sitcom follows Velma as she tries to solve two mysteries in the town of Crystal Cove: a serial killer who’s stealing the brains of hot girls at her high school, and the disappearance of her mother. Velma is joined by the rest of the Scooby Gang—at least, the human members—and together they explore subterranean caves, break into abandoned amusement parks, and lob insults at each other that are so devastating you’ll spit out your Scooby snack.

The characters are funny, but all the quips and one-liners undercut their genuine emotional connections. Velma endures body-shaming and casual racism from her schoolmates, but she’s not above insulting them in return. Daphne (Constance Wu) is searching for her birth parents and juggling her popularity as a hot girl with her desire to rekindle an old friendship with Velma. Fred (Glenn Howerton) is a spoiled brat whose parents expect him to take over the family business, and Shaggy (Sam Richardson) is a strait-laced nerd who makes calculus jokes and tries to convince Velma that he has a crush on her.

Of all the character updates, Shaggy’s is the most drastic. In fact, he doesn’t go by “Shaggy” at all. Throughout the eight episodes critics were given for review, Shaggy uses his legal name, Norville. I’m guessing they’re setting him up for some some sort of dramatic transformation—maybe a giant blunt flies right into his mouth in the season finale?—but in all the episodes I’ve seen so far, he’s just not that interesting. It’s a shame, because Richardson’s comedic range is intergalactic. I was really looking forward to seeing his take on everyone’s favorite mystery solving stoner.

Overall, Velma‘s biggest achievement and greatest downfall is its sheer, unadulterated bitchiness. I loved watching all the characters snipe at each other, and the best jokes are laugh-out-loud funny. The show also has some good digs at sexism and patriarchy. But sometimes the show’s gags are just rooted in plain old hipster fatphobia. The joke, supposedly, is that calling someone fat is a terrible thing to say, but the show still expects us to laugh at the use of “fat” as an insult.

However, if you’re all caught up on Harley Quinn and you’re looking for more cartoon raunchiness (along with some great diversity and queer representation), Velma will scratch that itch. Who knows which property Warner Bros. will reimagine next? Maybe they’ll take Yogi Bear and turn him into a coke-snorting antihero. They could call it … Cocaine Bear. Or something. I’m just spitballing here.

(featured image: Warner Bros.)

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Julia Glassman (she/her) holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and she consumes massive amounts of Marvel media, folk horror, science fiction, fantasy, and nature writing. She lives in Los Angeles, where she reads tarot and makes yarn on her spinning wheel. You can check out more of her writing at https://juliaglassman.carrd.co/, or find her on Twitter at @juliaglassman.