All the ways ‘Velma’ has changed the Scooby-Doo gang for the worse compared to ‘Mystery Incorporated’

Velma and Shaggy in 'Velma' and 'Mystery Incorporated'
Images via HBO and Cartoon Network

Reviews are flying in for HBO’s adult animated comedy Velma, a spin-off of the Scooby-Doo franchise centered on Velma Dinkley, but things aren’t looking good. After the initial reactions came flooding in, Velma struggled to claim higher than a 14% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, which has since raised to a measly and oh-so-telling 18%. Among the many, many bones that Scooby-Doo fans have picked with Velma Dinkley’s solo venture, there’s a matter of representation that needs to be addressed. From what we remember of the old-school Scooby-Doo shows like Where Are You! and Mystery Incorporated — airing from 1969 to 1978 and 2010 to 2013, respectively — is that Mystery Inc. are all unique, relatable and — above all else — likeable individuals whose crime-solving misadventures have entertained youngsters for generations.

HBO’s Velma series was announced in February 2021 with the official cast announcement coming in October 2022. In this raunchy, gory, and uncensored twist on Velma’s origins, many of Mystery Inc.’s memorable gang are notably raceswapped, a decision backed by showrunner Mindy Kaling, who also voices Velma. Race isn’t the only drastic change to come from Velma, a spin-off that — in almost every way imaginable — disrespects the true biography of these pop-culture icons. In Velma reviews, call-outs and rants all across the internet, the HBO adult animation is being compared unfavorably to Mystery Incorporated, the Cartoon Network television series and eleventh incarnation of Mystery Inc. in Hanna-Barbera’s Scooby-Doo franchise. This tongue-in-cheek series became an instant hit, solidifying itself as many a Scooby-Doo fan’s favorite.

All controversy aside, let’s state the obvious: Mystery Inc. are all white; Scooby-Doo isn’t side-lined in his own namesake; Velma isn’t canonically gay (yet), though the hints are unmissable, and the list goes on. That being said, there’s a lot to unpack with Velma, which — and we’re afraid to say it — sacrificed authenticity, nostalgia, and good story-telling for a more mainstream, “meta” series that taints the Scooby-Doo name. Here are a handful — among other — problems that lead Velma to pale in comparison to Mystery Incorporated.

Velma is Mindy Kaling personified… and not in a good way

Velma in 'Velma' and Velma in 'Mystery Incorporated'
Images via HBO and Cartoon Network

Observations surrounding Velma that point out Mindy Kaling’s overpowering presence as the show’s frontrunner. In fact, many disgruntled viewers are claiming HBO’s Velma is nothing more than an animated insert of Kaling herself. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Kaling touched on the out-of-the-box decision to make Velma a reflection of Kaling’s South Asian ethnicity. She said: “The essence of Velma is not necessarily tied to her whiteness. And I identify so much as her character, and I think so many people do, so it’s like, yeah, let’s make her Indian in this series.”

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Velma’s iteration of Velma has lost her individuality to Kaling’s entitled sense of self-promotion, stripping the character of all that makes her accessible, and reducing her to a caricature of Kaling’s persona. It’s not that Velma’s South Asian ethnicity is a problem, but that the writer/performer’s sensibility overrides Velma’s canonical qualities. (Velma isn’t the only character to suffer this fate, either. But we’ll get to that later.) Whereas in Mystery Incorporated, Velma is charismatic, intelligent, and sometimes even goofy, Kaling’s portrayal is needlessly inappropriate, often sexualized, and in short, rather idiotic. All of that doesn’t sound very Velma-like at all.

Additionally, there wasn’t any need for romance in Mystery Incorporated, just good old-fashioned sleuthing. In Velma, the titular character is seen as attainable by literally every other member of Mystery Inc., so she’s not only a poorly represented minority, she’s nothing more than a love interest — just like every other fictional female character. Do we even need to point out the fact that Velma was recently confirmed to be canonically gay and HBO still wrote her character with heterosexual tendencies towards Fred? Velma‘s writing — in comparison to Mystery Incorporated — is predictable, lazy, lesbian-erasure drivel.

Fred Jones, the resident megalomaniac 

Fred Jones in 'Velma' and 'Mystery Incorporated'
Images via HBO and Cartoon Network

Everyone knows that Scooby-Doo‘s Fred is a real heartthrob. He’s got the smarts, the charm, and — most importantly — he’s respectful towards women. It’s made quite obvious throughout the dated Scooby-Doo lore that Daphne Blake has romantic feelings for Fred Jones, both of whom flirt with one another sporadically. In Velma, Fred isn’t pining for Daphne so much as Velma Dinkley herself, except he’s not the sweet, caring, amiable Fred we’re familiar with. Instead, he’s an offensive, misogynistic megalomaniac whose only concerns in life are hitting on women and flaunting his vanity.

Moreover, Velma completely emasculates Fred; one of the things that made Mystery Incorporated work is that Fred is equal parts brains and heart, taking it upon himself (as men often do) to save the damsels in distress, hatch all the plans, and take credit for other people’s work. Except he isn’t overbearing when he does it. Meanwhile, Velma‘s rendition of Fred is a weak, servile man whose worth is determined by girls finding him attractive, not his integrity. Fred’s overwhelming neediness in that regard depicts him as an effeminate douchebag and, honestly, it’s not a good look for him.

In summary, Fred is rich, entitled, snobbish and rude. His existence depends solely on validation and even Velma‘s official synopsis describes him as personifying “mediocre white richness,” then proceeds to comment on the size of his genitals, which — as we can gather from his ‘pick me’ attitude — aren’t very big, as per the hot topic of discussion in the show’s subtext. What happened to sweet, dorky, ‘would do anything for anyone’ Fred? We miss him.

Daphne is Chinese and somehow more over-sexualized

Daphne Blake in 'Velma' and 'Mystery Incorporated'
Images via HBO and Cartoon Network

We get it. Mindy Kaling is South Asian, so Velma is Indian. Constance Wu is originally Taiwanese, so Daphne is Chinese. We know why HBO did it, but why did they do it? We’ll admit there’s a severe lack of representation in Mystery Incorporated; every single main character is white, so there isn’t much room for inclusion for POC. Save some pointless side characters and Lena Dupree from Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island (perhaps the most notable POC in Hanna-Barbera’s extensive roster), there isn’t much variety in the Scooby-Doo franchise. Granted.

Still, besides the fact that Kaling is Indian and Wu is Taiwanese, what other reasoning could defend an abrupt, staggering change in ethnicity for Scooby-Doo‘s leading ladies? There isn’t one — and that’s the problem. We’re not supporting the erasure of POC by any means. They deserve a voice and presence in our media, but adding their ethnicities to a story that doesn’t call for it — especially when it doesn’t add to the narrative or paint them in a very flattering light — might be just as insulting to them as it is to Scooby-Doo fans. POC have been fighting for equality for years, just for HBO to make its South Asian character completely unlikable and its Chinese character a drug dealer. Just leave well-enough alone.

Now that we’ve addressed the first elephant in the room, we’ll move on to the other one. Daphne isn’t canonically gay in Mystery Incorporated — nor any other Scooby-Doo media — because she’s Fred’s love interest, which is understandable. Scooby-Doo doesn’t allow Mystery Inc.’s alleged feelings for one another — whomever it may be — dictate the story. It’s pure, crime-solving fun. And that’s all it’s ever been. Velma is canonically lesbian, so we have our LGBTQ+ representation through her, but Velma doesn’t only queer-bait viewers by teasing Velma and Daphne, but as mentioned above, it reduces Velma to the trope of the main guy’s love interest, and Daphne to the groveling, love-sick puppy who’ll do anything for Velma’s affection — and she isn’t even gay. Mystery Incorporated portrays Daphne as a kind, compassionate and humble individual who doesn’t take her wealth for granted, but Velma disgraces POC by making Daphne, who’s Chinese, a traumatized drug dealer. This is as opposed to Fred, who’s a wealthy, successful and sought-after white male.

Shaggy’s conspicuous stoner status

Shaggy Rogers from 'Velma' and 'Mystery Incorporated'
Images via HBO and Cartoon Network

Shaggy’s “stoner” status has become, over the years, ingrained into Scooby-Doo lore. In fact, the 2022 live-action Scooby-Doo movie, starring Matthew Lillard as Shaggy, hints on numerous occasions towards Shaggy’s dependence on drugs, specifically weed. Considering Scooby-Doo began airing in 1969, Shaggy was likely modeled after the stereotypical ’70s “hippie” stoner. Obviously, they couldn’t have Shaggy smoking blunts on a children’s TV show, so instead, there’s an abundance of adult-only jokes that youngsters would never understand. They couldn’t even make direct references, so there needed to be a degree of obscurity when referencing Shaggy’s… “hobby.”

Again, Shaggy is raceswapped in Velma, losing his outdated “hippie” aesthetic and instead looking like a Rastafarian hood rat, again insulting an entire population by insinuating that their skin color has — in any way, shape, or form — anything to do with being a stoner. It dehumanizes Shaggy, as well as POC, by assuming that their lifestyles are all the same and degrading POC by assuming their characteristics purely based on the stereotypes associated with their skin tone.

There isn’t too much more to say about Shaggy other than the fact that in Mystery Incorporated, he’s always seen goofing around with Scooby, who’s entirely absent from Velma, but that leads us to our next point.

Scooby-Doo, hold the Scooby

Shaggy, Daphne and Fred from 'Velma' overlapped by Scooby-Doo and an orange question mark
Images via HBO, Cartoon Network and ClipArt Library

We’ll keep this short and simple. Velma is suffering from a severe lack of Scooby-Doo… and it shows. Even from October 2022, when HBO released the first teaser, Scooby-Doo fans were scratching their heads and pondering what on Earth might have possessed the studio to erase Scooby-Doo from the story. There isn’t even so much as a mention of Scooby’s name throughout, which is quite disrespectful, considering there wouldn’t have been a show without him. According to Variety, the decision to leave Scooby-Doo out of Velma derived from “studio mandates, combined with the crew struggling to come up with an adult take on the character.” We’ll rephrase that. “We could represent all the other characters with offensive stereotypes and assumptions, but we couldn’t find a way to ruin a cartoon talking dog.” Let’s clean our hands of that debate.

Mystery Inc. is Velma, and no one else

Velma looking at a pin board of clues
Image via HBO

While Fred, Daphne and Shaggy all feature in Velma, there’s not only an extreme lack of Scooby-Doo, there’s also an overbearing amount of Velma. Now, let’s not put our foot in our mouths too soon. Velma is about Velma. She’s in the title. However, that doesn’t mean that HBO should degrade any of the gang’s other members. Mystery Inc. wouldn’t be Mystery Inc. without all those involved, who each serve a specific, helpful purpose. In Mystery Incorporated, just like every other iteration of Scooby-Doo, there’s a fair share of duties and responsibility amongst the gang; Fred is the fearless leader; Daphne is secret genius and damsel in distress (who often forces the creature out of hiding); Velma is the in-your-face genius who finds the clues; and Shaggy and Scooby are the loveable buffoons used as bait — sometimes with an occasional stroke of genius themselves. In Velma, it’s a one-woman show. There’s the mindset of “Mystery Inc. would be nothing without me,” and it isn’t a good look for Velma.