HBO Max Presents “Velma”: An Upsetting, Gritty Reimagining  

A more mature interpretation on a Hanna-Barbera favorite takes the character to new lows. 

By Drew Donato 

Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Animation

In an age of cynical adult animation, “Velma” offers little entertainment value.

Warner Bros. has recently launched “Velma” for HBO Max: a gritty, adult reimagining of the “Scooby Doo” character as she tries to solve mysteries in a town of quirky and edgy characters.  

Despite the bold new changes, the final result of this experimentation has brought an unpleasant viewing experience. It joins 1998’s “Pinky, Elmyra and the Brain” and the 2016 “Powerpuff Girls” reboot in Warner’s collection of shoddily-assembled retools. 

Darker interpretations on franchises considered to be childhood favorites are nothing new, of course. 

They usually make for decent filler in short segments on “Family Guy” and “Robot Chicken.” Recently, Netflix’s “Wednesday” reimagined the Addams Family in a darker setting with a serialized mystery story. 

   At its core, “Velma” is trying to tell a mystery story too, mixed with elements of typical adult-animation “humor.” One would think “adult ‘Scooby Doo’” would present some hysterical moments, but this is not the case. 

Ultimately, the program falls flat with an unbalanced mix of under-developed story and odd adult animation humor tropes. 

Right away, the first problem with the show is how it presents its more “mature” tone. 

The show could possibly use this new rating to tell an engaging story with some creative experimentation and fun jokes, but it appears to be trying a little too hard to let viewers know how “adult” it is. Overly graphic scenes of gore and innuendo reign supreme, with little payoff. 

“This is a scary show with murders,” said Mindy Kaling, executive producer and voice of Velma, in an interview with Popverse. “I think we’ve been inspired with a lot more scary teen shows of late, which is why the show is for adults.” 

The inspiration from these teen dramas does show with the overarching murder-mystery, but even that struggles to maintain intrigue. None of the developments for it work well, and ultimately feel sidelined in favor of poorly-timed mean jokes.  

Much of the show’s story and characters feel like they take cues more from Warner’s “Rick and Morty”,  with cynical dialogue and an over-reliance on meta-humor. In the first five minutes of the pilot alone, there are constant snarky references to the show’s tone and how it anticipates instigating negative reactions online. 

Besides the meta-humor, “Velma” also tumbles when it comes to its characterization. 

Nearly every character feels like a cynical YouTube commentator, constantly making disparaging remarks to each other. Velma herself also makes for an unengaging, mean protagonist at times. 

Any attempt for the show to find some heart, such as Velma’s trauma from missing her mother, is almost immediately sabotaged in favor of more poorly-timed edgy jokes. 

Another glaring issue with this program is the absence of the franchise star, Scooby Doo himself. Perhaps an “adult” setting could allow for some Brian Griffin-tier chicanery, but the canine was off-limits to the crew. 

“It felt like what made [“Scooby Doo”] a kids’ show was Scooby-Doo. That coincided with Warner Bros. Animation saying, ‘Hey, you can’t use the dog,’” said showrunner Charlie Grandy in an interview with Variety. “So we were like, ‘Great, this works out well.’” 

Despite the glaring tonal flaws of “Velma,” there are some redeeming factors to be found. Much of these are behind-the-scenes, such as the stellar animation and talented voice cast (with particular mention to Glenn Howerton as Fred). 

Unfortunately, stellar animation and voice casts are not enough to save the show, as it fights to prioritize “shock value” over an engaging and funny story. The series is currently collecting negative reviews from critics and “Scooby Doo” fans alike.  

Overall, I would not recommend watching this show. If one truly desires a more experimental “Scooby Doo” series with a deeper story, perhaps 2010’s “Mystery Incorporated” would work better.

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