HBO Max’s Velma is a very good time

Still image from a movie

still who film
picture: HBO Max

film It launches with a strong narrative that clearly makes it clear that this is not a clone of the Scooby-Doo characters audiences are already familiar with. “I am Velma Dinkley, and this is my origin story,” Mindy Kaling’s voiceover announces as the first episode begins. She continues, “Usually, the original stories are about tall, handsome guys struggling with the burden of having more power. And if they’re about girls, it’s usually like this: Hey, what made this hot girl go crazy?” Quite right, of course, but it’s a vivid take on the story genre film strive for I say. Thankfully, it’s told amusingly, even if the show tends to fall into the same YA tropes it’s trying to mock.

HBO Max’s animated comedy recontextualizes the four humans who would eventually go on to create Mystery Inc. and adopt the famous Great Dane. (Since it’s a prequel, the show doesn’t have Scooby-Doo yet.) at its best, film is the coming-of-age tale of the titular star alongside Daphne (Constance Wu), Fred (Glenn Howerton), and shaggy Norville (Sam Richardson). It’s a frothy mix of murder mystery and soapy teen drama that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The eight episodes out of the 10 watched for the review are under 30 minutes each, so film It boasts a well-structured narrative with in-jokes, suspense, interconnecting plot lines, well-developed relationships rather than the “case of the week” format, and many antics of monster antics.

At worst, the show doesn’t feel entirely fresh despite approaching the beloved characters in a distinct light. The animation style isn’t all that special either, but at least it feels like a clear homage to the animation that inspired it. film It calls for comparisons of everything from Harley Quinn to Riverdalefrom supernatural King Kaling I haven’t done it before. In fact, the similarities between Velma and NHIEDavey is often distraught: two charming, selfish teens bond over the loss of a parent, and grief becomes a powerful motivator for their actions.

As with any Kaling-produced TV series, including Mindy Project And The sex lives of college girlsAnd The writing here is sharp and full of banter. film It will leave a pleasant impression if you are already a fan of this other content. The show thrives on mile-a-minute jokes, but they don’t all land equally. Expect a slew of pop culture references. (Less than two minutes into the pilot, the gestures—whether subtle or obvious—returnedRiverdaleAnd The wonderful Mrs. MaiselAnd House of liesAnd And this is just the beginning.) The show clearly caters to viewers interested in the zeitgeist.

Underneath the buzzy one-liners is a generic but fun mystery or two. Velma is trying to find her missing mother, Diya (Sarayu Blue), who vanished a couple of years ago. She’s convinced something terrible happened to her mom. Her dad, Aman (Russell Peters), believes Diya abandoned them, so he moves on with the local diner’s vain waitress/owner Sophie (a delightfully acidic Melissa Fumero). Velma is pathologically obsessed with figuring out what happened to Diya, so she usually disregards people unless they’re useful to her quest. The suspense deepens when a masked serial killer begins targeting popular girls at Crystal Cove High. Naturally, this puts Daphne in grave danger.

Don’t worry, though, because Daphne is more than a damsel in distress. She’s essentially the second lead, voiced pitch-perfectly by Wu with a blend of menace and vulnerability. Adopted by a lesbian couple (played by Jane Lynch and Wanda Sykes), Daphne sets out to learn more about her birth parents as the season evolves. The show’s remarkable contribution to Scooby-Doo lore is developing Velma and Daphne’s captivating dynamic. They go from childhood buddies to frenemies to a potential romance without contrivance.

Velma | Official Teaser | HBO Max

Despite the thrills and gore (the killer slices their victims’ heads open, Fred’s mansion hides creepy secrets, etc.), the show’s driving force is its nuanced characterization. After it was announced that Kaling was developing Velma,
longtime fans criticized the character’s depiction as a South Asian bisexual teen as opposed to, well, how we’ve known her for decades. Additionally, Daphne is also Asian, and Norville is Black (and not a goofy stoner without his pet pooch/BFF just yet). So, yes, Velma takes creative liberties. But they’re not used for surface-level hype. We still get the origin story of “Jinkies!” and the Mystery Inc. van. The protagonists’ ethnicity isn’t a defining attribute; it adds unexplored layers to a known world. 

In this case, the world of Crystal Cove is cartoonish and wholesome at the same time. All four kids struggle in their interpersonal bonds—Velma has a crush on Daphne and Fred, remaining oblivious to Norville’s affection toward her. They’re dealing with complex parent-child issues that Velma slowly fleshes out. The seriousness is balanced with plenty of self-referential humor, sometimes exasperatingly, but it mostly works as a joyride.

Velma’s suspense isn’t gripping on its own, but it doesn’t matter. The voice performances make the brief lulls worth it. The actors are clearly having a ball, with the warm chemistry between Kaling, Wu, Richardson, and Howerton shining through even though they don’t appear on screen. The supporting cast is equally charming, including Yvonne Orji and Fortune Feimster as the hot, mean girls at school. This isn’t the Velma we’re used to, but it’s the Velma we deserve to enjoy today.

Velma will premiere on HBO Max with two episodes on January 12

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