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Zoinks! There’s nudity and swearing and stuff in this Velma show

Would a Doo by any other name still smell as sweet?

Velma strikes a thoughtful pose as equations are superimposed over her, like in the meme about the thinking lady. Image: HBO Max

HBO Max’s latest adult animated comedy premieres today, and it’s a bit of a swerve: Velma, starring and executive produced by Never Have I Ever creator Mindy Kaling. Scooby-Doo’s sweater queen is a surprising character to build an R-rated comedy around, and it’s likely you have some questions. So did we! Here’s what we found based on the first two episodes, which premiere today.

So Velma is a prequel, right?

Yes. Velma takes place before the Mystery Inc. gang from the classic Scooby-Doo cartoons got together, or even met the pup that made them famous. The premiere describes itself as an origin story for Velma, a whip-smart, frustrated high schooler whose interest in (and fear of) mysteries stems from the disappearance of her mystery-writer mother.

How dare they invalidate A Pup Named Scooby-Doo like that?

I know. But Velma is doing its own thing, with a new take on the characters that starts with their basic archetype and runs in a completely new (and racebent) direction with them.

It’s an adult cartoon, right? How adult are we talking?

Pretty adult! The premiere starts with two cockroaches boning and then immediately segues to a nude girls’ locker room shower fight between characters having a metatextual argument about premiere episodes using nudity to cynically gain viewers’ attention. So yes, it’s adult in the sense that there is swearing and sexual content, and it’s also adult in the sense that it’s interested in jokes that will fly over your head unless you’ve been around long enough to watch a lot of TV. Also Daphne is a drug dealer.

So like Harley Quinn?

Yes! Harley Quinn is a good reference point, tonally. It’s not as violent or off-kilter — these aren’t Gotham City super-criminals, after all — but in its silly murder mystery, Velma is similarly interested in using its characters to make a sincere, yet funny, exploration of queerness and what it looks like when radically different characters come together.

I’m detecting a lack of Doo-ness here. What makes it Scooby-Doo?

Honestly? Not much! But there isn’t really much to Scooby-Doo either, if we’re being honest. That’s part of the charm! For now, the biggest thing in common (beyond the characters and their iconic, subtly updated outfits) is the presence of a mystery, which is surprisingly gruesome: Someone is murdering the hottest girls in Crystal Cove High School and stealing their brains.

Otherwise, the show’s character dynamics aren’t necessarily lifted from the text of Scooby-Doo, but Scooby-Doo fandom. In Velma, observations modern adults might make about Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! become actual character dynamics: Doesn’t Fred seem like an entitled white guy? How does Shaggy (here still going under his government name, Norville) become such a burnout? Doesn’t Daphne seem like kind of a Mean Girl? And of course, What if Velma had sexual tension with everyone, but mostly Daphne?

Yet I heard there will be no dog. Is this true?

Unfortunately, you are correct: There is no Scooby-Doo in this Scooby-Doo show. I’m watching lots of Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated to cope.

Oh man. Wasn’t that a great show?

Sure was! And it’s also streaming on HBO Max, if you need a fix of classic Scoob with a modern twist that’s more family-friendly.

Two episodes of Velma are now streaming on HBO Max, with two new episodes arriving weekly.

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