Mild spoilers below for the early episodes of Velma.
Almost as if it was the result of a masked villain’s terror-fueled antics, HBO Max’s latest meddling foray into adult animation, the Scooby-Doo-less prequel Velma, has been subject to some wildly negative critical reviews, viewer reactions, social media commentary, and other forms of brutal lambasting. And not even the same ignorance-based criticisms (at least entirely) that came out when it was revealed Velma’s central character would be an Indian teen voiced by Mindy Kaling, but rather some astute and fairly on-point judgment calls. Almost offensively too self-aware? Yep. Too grossly horny to balance out its sex positivity? Yep. Boasting an overeagerness to treat Scooby-Doo history as snarkily as possible? For the most part. But it’s not necessarily the avoid-at-all-costs trainwreck that it’s being perceived as.
Even in today’s plague of pop culture oversaturation, it’s pretty hard for any piece of entertainment to get released that is inarguably 100% absent of value, and the same goes for Velma. As such, here are five things that are still worth highlighting and celebrating about the NSFW series.
The Entire Cast's Voice-Acting Skills
For all the complaints aimed at Velma’s content and characters, far fewer are criticisms aimed directly at the performances of the star-studded cast. The core Mystery Inc. characters are voiced with aplomb by the aforementioned Mindy Kaling as Velma; It’s Always Sunny’s Glenn Howerton as the infantile Fred; Veep vet Sam Richardson as the race-swapped proto-Shaggy, Norville; and Crazy Rich Asians’ Constance Wu as Daphne. Beyond those talents, Velma boasts a wide variety of talented co-stars in Nicole Byer (Nailed It), stand-up comedians Fortune Feimster and Russell Peters, Melissa Fumero (Brooklyn Nine-Nine), Sarayu Blue (Never Have I Ever), Yvonne Orji (Insecure), Wanda Sykes (The Upshaws), Jane Lynch (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) and Office Space co-stars Stephen Root and Gary Cole. That’s not even an exhaustive list, either, as Scooby-Doo’s voice himself Frank Welker is also in the mix.
Velma's Horror-Tinged Animation Looks Pretty Awesome
I don't so much dig the concept of Velma sporadically hallucinating whenever mystery-solving is addressed — not only for being similar to Wednesday, since I don't really like her "vision" power either. But those hallucinations are admittedly where Velma's animation is at its best, and it achieves a semblance of the legitimately creepy visuals occasionally conjured up by Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? and the many different spinoffs over the years. But even outside of those segments, Velma has quite a few macabre and vivid moments that would serve as excellent posters for a horror fan's walls.
The Jokes That AREN'T Overly Meta Or About Sex And Drugs Are Funny
All the fan goodwill that accompanied Velma's first LGBTQ+ storyline in the 2022 feature Trick or Treat Scooby-Doo! has largely been lost within Velma's sloppy sheets, but most of the time when the show opts for situational humor, or jokes born out of complete randomness, it can indeed inspire audible snorts and chortles. I really don't need Norville's character development being split between lackluster weed references and lusting over Velma, but I could spend all day listening to Sam Richardson generally musing about whatever weirdness is happening. This show is also a veritable buffet for anyone who particularly enjoys self-deprecating humor, though I’ll admit that it does get a bit too needlessly hateful with these beloved characters.
Daphne's Moms Are The Best
Even though I already put a spotlight on the voice cast at large, it's worth doubling down to celebrate Jane Lynch and Wanda Sykes for voicing arguably Velma's best characters, Donna and Linda. The pair serve as Daphne's moms, as well as bumbling police officers, and they fit squarely into the sillier side of things, where just pronouncing a word a certain way can spark giggles. Perhaps my appreciation is tied also to the fact that, at least for the first batch of episodes, Donna and Linda's relationship to each other and to Daphne isn't endlessly mined for trite lesbian jokes and mixed race gags that would have seemed inevitable based on a lot of the other humor.
Velma's Aesthetic Callbacks To Scooby-Doo Lore
As indicated above, Velma can often be its own worst enemy when referencing well-established Scooby-Doo elements and lore, as it wields the heaviest of tools to hammer things home. Which inevitably adds more enjoyment to the fan service-y details that don't scream at viewers to acknowledge them. Such as posters and other imagery of classic villains and monster costumes. (Those specific details, as seen above, also warrant an interesting thought experiment about what those images are actually depicting within this universe.) Other bits, such as the screennames above, serve as references to Scrappy-Doo, obviously, but also to Scooby-Doo co-creator Joe Ruby (who also served as the name sake for the titular Great Dane's sister Ruby), and to The Hex Girls rock band that first appeared in Scooby-Doo! and the Witch's Ghost before later showing up in various other projects. References like those are a lot more fun to think about when viewers aren't being bludgeoned with them.
So while you won't find me going to bat in saying Velma was absolutely worth everyone's efforts, I also don't think the seemingly endless hatred pointed in its direction is warranted, either. As it goes with most shows, those who don't like it don't need to watch it, with the comfort of assuming HBO Max might have blindly cancelled it anyway.
Velma streams new episodes each Thursday for everyone with HBO Max subscriptions, with two episodes dropping each week. Head to our 2023 TV premiere schedule to see what new and returning shows are dropping that hopefully won’t turn the Internet into an upside-down dumpster fire.