Velma

Velma HBO

Credits

Cast

Network

Reviewer

Emily Tsiao

TV Series Review

What happens when you take a beloved children’s cartoon, reimagine it to represent modern secular cultural values and throw on a TV-MA rating? Well, you get HBO Max’s Velma.

According to Velma (the bookish brains behind the Scooby Doo crew), she’s here to share her origin story and set the record straight about how Mystery, Inc. was founded. But if you’re expecting a fun story told from the perspective of the gang’s token nerd … think again.

Velma (both the show and the character) is crass, lewd and frankly, perverse. It takes every adult joke you’ve ever heard about Scooby Doo’s pals (from the Mystery Machine being a “sex van” to the marijuana references) and pairs it with the modern secular world’s idea of “normal”.

Velma is a judgmental, sexist jerk who uses the fact that her mom disappeared two years ago as an excuse to shun society. Daphne is a drug dealer. And Fred is a pre-pubescent (as in he literally hasn’t gone through puberty, spurring many jokes and uncomfortable commentary on his manhood) potential serial killer.

The only sort of nice person in the lot is Norville (aka Shaggy), who gets laughed off when he proclaims romantic interest in Velma and, if my research into future episodes is correct, eventually imbibes in “Zoinks,” “Jeepers,” and “Mystery Machine” (the street names for the drugs Daphne peddles).

But that’s not all. All four are involved in a “love quadrangle.” Norville loves Velma, who loves Fred. But Fred is dating Daphne (who is upset that they haven’t had sex yet). Then Daphne kisses Velma and both girls start having complicated feelings. And that’s just in the first two episodes, folks.

Zoinks! That’s a Lot of Content.

So let’s talk about the actual plot of the show.

As I said before, this is something of an origin story, and Fred isn’t the leader of a ragtag teen band of investigators. He’s a murder suspect. The mystery begins when two of the gang’s classmates turn up dead with their brains removed. (And yes, we get to see the bloody, albeit animated, corpses on screen.)

Velma gets Fred convicted of the crime, but then she questions whether she got the right man. She continues her search but is impeded by heart-stopping hallucinations (brought on by the guilt she feels at having never solved her mother’s disappearance two years prior).

And it would appear that Velma employs Daphne and Norville to help her solve both mysteries (and overcome her hallucinations in the process).

And HBO Is Getting Away with It Too

Fred, Daphne and Velma all demonstrate violent tendencies. Weapons are used willy-nilly, resulting in dismemberment, gunshot wounds and, as we already know, death.

Additionally, Daphne has two moms who are possibly the worst detectives ever portrayed on television. Fred’s father is a misogynistic jerk more worried about the world discovering the heir to his menswear empire hasn’t hit puberty than he is about proving his son’s innocence. Velma’s dad impregnated a waitress at the local malt shop while his wife was still missing.

And if that wasn’t enough, Velma tries (and fails, in my opinion) to poke fun at itself. The opening scene of the series features a group of animated teen girls showering after gym class (critical bits hidden by soap suds). Daphne pointedly asks her classmates why many pilot episodes feature more “gratuitous sex and nudity” than the rest of the series. And an argument ensues about whether it’s “hot” or “perverse.”

The show continues in this vein, brushing off all its bad behaviors with the defense of “sex sells” or “it’s comedy.” But viewers beware: Watching this show will have you scrambling for the remote faster than you can say “Jinkies!”

Episode Reviews

Jan. 12, 2023 – S1, Ep1: “Velma”

When a girl turns up dead with her brain removed, Velma attempts to overcome her fears in order to solve the mystery.

Velma finds the bodies of two teen girls with their brains removed. Velma accidentally causes a cigarette to hit her mom in the eye. Thereafter, her mom’s eye falls out at random intervals. Two girls get into a fistfight (and one seems to love the violence). Velma hits Daphne with a hockey stick, knocking her across the room. Fred is shot in both legs by police. A boy’s feet are accidentally cut off when someone throws a paper cutter. Someone crushes cockroaches with a boot. Velma tells a girl that she’d be “killed off for being horny” if their lives were a TV show. Police draw their weapons on innocent people. Velma and others make several death threats. A boy runs into a girl, knocking her down, without apologizing. We learn Velma was voted “Most Revenge-y.” We hear that “slutty” girls “deserve” to be murdered.

Velma has hallucinations of a witch-like creature that can turn its hands into tentacles. When this happens, she imagines the creature is killing her and in real life, her heart actually stops. A woman saves her using CPR after one such incident.

A group of teen girls shower in the locker room (we see their bare rears but other critical anatomy is hidden by soap suds). The girls debate whether “gratuitous sex and nudity” is perverse. One girl insists that women kissing other women is “hot” and encourages classmates to do so. Two cockroaches have sex. Someone calls the Mystery Machine a “weird sex van.”

Daphne expresses anger and embarrassment that she and Fred haven’t had sex yet. (We later learn that Fred is embarrassed that he hasn’t hit puberty yet, and many comments are made about his manhood when it’s discovered.) They kiss, then Daphne gropes Fred’s rear and tries to unzip his pants, which he stops. We hear a lot of jokes about Daphne’s gay mothers. We learn that Velma’s dad got his girlfriend, Sophie, pregnant. Velma’s horrified by an impromptu nude pregnancy photo shoot (where camera angles hide Sophie’s nudity). Prostitutes stand outside a police station. We hear a girl was a boy’s “Plan B” if his current girlfriend got too clingy. Velma uses a crude acronym to describe someone’s father.  Sophie says she lets teens have sex in the bathroom at the malt shop she owns. We see pictures of teens making out there, and it’s implied they did more. Velma says she wouldn’t mind seeing naked pictures of certain people. Someone wonders if Fred is gay.

Someone asks if Velma’s mom put cigars out on Velma’s arm (she didn’t). Velma remembers taking action to help her mom quit smoking. Her mom called alcohol “idea juice” (and a flashback shows a young Velma drunk after getting into it). Sophie sells shirts with quotes about wine. Someone wonders if a girl was killed over drugs.

There are many disparaging remarks about race, gender, privilege and social and economic classes. We hear rude comments about people’s appearances and intelligence. People, especially teens, are just mean to each other. We see a man urinating outside a police station. Fred says he has a “disease” that prevents him from recognizing people who aren’t “hot.” Velma argues with her dad about whether her mom went missing or just ditched them. Her dad thinks she left them, so he has moved on. But Velma thinks she disappeared, which is why she hates her dad’s new girlfriend. Swarms of cockroaches are seen throughout Coolsville. Fred and his father make many misogynistic comments. A drawing shows a nude rear end with a poop emoji. A girl eats a fry out of the trash. Someone nearly urinates from laughing. People throw food at a girl in anger.

A girl says that audiences “love” when white people play Jesus in movies. Velma says God must not be real if two inept detectives are running an investigation (these same cops had neglected to solve Velma’s mom’s disappearance).

We hear several uses of “a–,” “b–ch,” “d–n” and “h—”, among other crudities. God’s name is also abused eight times, and someone exclaims, “Holy mother of God.”

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Emily Tsiao

Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and geeking out with her husband indulging in their “nerdoms,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything they love, such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate and Lord of the Rings.

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