Scream “jinkies!” and put on the square glasses: From Warner Bros. Animation, Velma is an animated comedy series unraveling the origin story of Velma Dinkley, the iconic orange-turtlenecked brains of the Scooby-Doo Mystery Inc. walk. In a departure from the family-friendly approachable Scooby-Doo franchise, Velma is an adult-oriented show (see poster with the blood-splattered glasses), with Rick and Morty spirit Harley Quinn cited as major inspirations.
Executive producer Mindy Kaling, who also voices Velma; showrunner Charlie Grandy; Constance Wu (Daphne); Sam Richardson (Norville, who will be known as “Shaggy”); and Glenn Howerton (Fred) joined fans at New York Comic Con 2022 to explain the new direction for the long-running horror comedy series. Fans in attendance also got a sneak peek at the show with a screening of the entire pilot episode.
The show introduces Velma in her high school years as a bespectacled loser. If two cockroaches copulating in the opening scene doesn’t establish Velma‘s tone, the next scene should do the trick: nude teenage girls partaking in physical violence in the gym showers (all while debating the ethical appropriateness and exploitation of blatant nudity in media). Later, the corpse of a teenager is found in Velma’s locker, making her the prime suspect in the eyes of two cops (Wanda Sykes and Jane Lynch). Of course, she has to solve the mystery to clear her name. One problem: Velma hasn’t really solved a mystery in a while, not since her mystery novelist mother vanished from her life. And whenever Velma tries to solve a mystery, she gets harassed by ghastly zombie-like spirits.
This preview also reimagines the Mystery Inc. crew as high schoolers. Popular girl Daphne is the antithesis of Velma; she’s a cartoon mean girl, and is also the most pop culture-savvy of the bunch, said Grandy. Kaling added, “Daphne has her own mysteries about her own life.”
Velma and Daphne begin the series with a burning grudge for the other, as they were former childhood friends. When developing the series, Kaling (who also co-created Netflix’s teen-centric Never Have I Ever) brought her love for high school shows that explored “people from different social strata find[ing] something in common.” Velma is a high school show, “so we get to see all the high school events and dances in addition to it being a murder mystery.”
No one involved with HBO Max or the Scooby franchise pushed back against the racier and gorier direction the team wanted to take with the iconic mystery gang, according to Grandy. He affirmed Warner Bros.’ support: “They said, ‘Great, go have fun.’”
The biggest revelation? The Velma pilot makes no allusion to Norville having a dog. Think Gotham and its conspicuous absence of Batman. Grandy addressed the brown-spotted Great Dane (not) in the room by explaining that the team thought hard about what it could do to distinguish Velma as an adult show. “What made Scooby-Doo a kid show is Scooby-Doo,” Grandy said. “We couldn’t have a take on it, like how can we do this in a fun and modern way. [Our efforts] coincided with Warner Bros. Animation saying we can’t use the dog!” For Grandy, the omission of the iconic Great Dane accentuates the adult tone of Velma — although who knows what will happen along the show’s serialized journey.
Since the original Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! debuted in 1969 on CBS, Velma and the gang have survived several iterations, from cartoons to live-action movies to video games. Just this week, Velma made news when the most recent direct-to-video animated movie (finally) confirmed her as capable of gay crushing.
The recent depiction of Velma’s gay identity (after decades of ambiguity and James Gunn’s failed attempt at confirming her sexuality) seemed to have been in the moderator’s mind when he asked, “Is there a Velma and Daphne moment?” insinuating romantic shipping and rousing the crowd to cheers.
Kaling replied, “[Velma] has unresolved sexual tension with a lot of characters.” Here Velma does get really face-to-face close with Daphne at one point in the pilot, and she does find the arrogant Fred annoyingly hot. “We were drawn to this journey of self-discovery for her,” Kaling said. “We wanted to honor the other interpretations and do what’s modern.”
High school Velma’s only friend is Shaggy — proper name Norville — who’s shown to be more mellow. Shaggy “definitely doesn’t like drugs,” he says in the pilot. His “joke-telling” — actually just him sincerely admitting his crush on Velma — plays a role in saving the mystery-solving heroine later in the pilot. So how does Shaggy grow into a “burnout” later in the canon? Grandy promised, “You will see the evolution of the character.”
Velma‘s creators reimagined the character as being of South Asian descent, like Kaling, because “most Indian American [women], when they see a skeptical, hardworking, underappreciated character, they can identify with her. This show is for them.”
Daphne and Shaggy have also been reimagined as East Asian and Black, respectively, like their voice actors, because “no one on [Scooby-Doo] is defined by their whiteness,” said Kaling — “except Fred is extremely white.”
That made Howerton (an alumnus of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia spirit Kaling’s The Mindy Project) perfect for the role, with his penchant for playing entitled white men. He agreed, saying, “It’s similar to what me and my friends have done together as the extremely entitled white kid, like, Mom, give me exactly what I want! I kinda expected [the voice direction] two stop me But no one has stopped me.”
The moderator asked a question regarding the euphoria of on-screen representation. When did the cast see themselves on television? Wu answered — likely alluding to her role as Jessica Huang on Fresh Off the Boat, the production of which has recently arisen as a topic of her revealing book — “I think I might have played here. First time I saw her, it might have been myself.” For Richardson, he saw himself in the Black Power Ranger.
It remains to be seen whether Velma will explore its characters’ reworked ethnicities; the show seems to be prioritizing a mix of adult-friendly comedy and gratuitous violence that only animation could pull off. The first season of Velmawhich will also feature Stephen Root and Weird Al Yankovic as guest stars, is scheduled to debut on HBO Max in 2023.