Recap/review of the first “Velma” episode

 

Soooooooo… I saw the first episode of HBO’s Velma. You know, the “adult” Scooby-Doo show that doesn’t have Scooby in it, and features lots of “edgy” humour and lots of self-referential mockery, and which fans declared to be the worst thing ever before it even came out.

But I was willing to give it a chance. I’m all for new takes on old franchises, even if I don’t really see the point of Scooby-Doo if the dog isn’t there. (This was apparently an executive decision, mind; the higher-ups at Warner Animation explicitly told the showrunners that the dog was off-limits.)

Besides, I kind of like Mindy Kaling, show runner and also the voice of this incarnation of Velma. She’s not my fave comedian or anything, and she’s done and said some stuff I REALLY don’t agree with… but I adored The Sex Lives of College Girls (also on HBO), and even if Mindy did like one tweet by hyper-transphobe JKR, she was nothing but supportive towards teen actress Josie Totah (whom I mainly know as Lexi from the tragically-too-brief 2020 revamp of Saved by the Bell) when she came out as transgender, and seems fairly LGBTQ-positive otherwise… so I’m willing to accept that this one like was a mistake and not a declaration of hatred towards trans people.

I won’t lie, when I saw the trailer for the show, I thought it was kind of funny. A bit on the nose with the self-referential humour, but still… so It was with cautious optimism I sat down to watch the first episode. And… well, here’s roughly what happened. 

DINA M’S (somewhat parodic, very critical) RECAP OF THE FIRST EPISODE OF VELMA

 

Velma: Origin stories suck. They’re sexist and stuff. Anyway, here’s my origin story, which doesn’t suck because I’m cool and everyone sucks but me.

Daphne: Hello, I’m a pretty teenage girl in the girls’ locker room. I’m going to go take a shower with my equally pretty classmates. 
Equally Pretty Classmates: We’re pretty and naked. Look how naked we are!
Daphne: Now that we’ve got the viewer’s attention, let’s turn this communal shower into a discussion forum an talk about how gratuitous nudity in pilot episodes is bad!
Other Girl: Nah, gratutious nudity in pilot episodes is HOT. Almost as hot as pointless naked catfights in the shower.
Daphne: I’ll give you pointless naked catfight in the shower!
Daphne and Other Girl: (Have pointless naked catfight in the shower.)
Daphne: This is gratuitous, you slut!!
Other girl: This is sexy, you whore!!

Velma: (arrives fully clothed)
Velma: (beats Daphne with a stick)
Velma: Why are we talking about this and not about race-blind casting in TV shows! By the way, I’m Indian in this show, and Daphne’s a bitch.
Daphne: I’m Asian and YOU’RE a bitch!
Other Girl: Wouldn’t it be hot if you two kissed now?
Velma: This isn’t Riverdale. We’re not melodramatic enough. Like I said, everyone sucks but me.
Velma: (goes to open her locker)
Dead Girl: (falls out)
Dead Girl: (is dead)
Velma: Okay, that girl sucks AND she’s dead.

One short title sequence later…

Velma: (is in handcuffs at the police station)
Velma: Well, this is a great beginning to a mystery. Oops, I said “mystery.”
Velma: (has a creepy hallucination)
Lesbian cops: (enter)
Lesbian cops: Hello, sweetie honey sugar pie, ex-friend of our daughter Daphne, whom we totally adore.
Velma: You guys suck. My mother disappeared two years ago and you haven’t found her.
Lesbian cops: Oh yeah? Well, YOU KILLED THAT DEAD GIRL! CONFESS, YOU MURDERER!
Velma: I’m not a murderer, it’s just that I want to kill everyone because they suck.
Lesbian cops: Okay, well, you’re still our number one suspect. Now go investigate and find the real murderer. You have 24 hours before we arrest you.

Velma: Lesbians suck. Hey, is that Fred? SWOON.
Fred: Yeah, isn’t it so hot that I’m so hot?
Fred: (takes selfies)
Fred: Who are you, by the way?
Velma: I’m Velma. We’ve known each other for years.
Fred: Yeah, well, I’m a narcissist or something, so I don’t care.
Daphne: (arrives)
Daphne: Stay away from my boyfriend, bitch! You killed Dead Girl! Hey, Fred, wanna make out?
Fred: Okay.
Fred and Daphne: (make out)
Velma: I didn’t kill Dead Girl. I don’t know who did, it’s a mystery. Oops, I said “mystery.”
Velma: (has a creepy hallucination)

Velma: Dad, I’m being accused of a murder I didn’t commit!
Velma’s father: Yeah, well, it’s your own fault. Ever since your mother disappeared, you’ve been lame.
Velma: I’m not lame, you’re lame! And you got a waitress pregnant!
Waitress: I’m not just a waitress, I’m the owner of the malt shop! But more important… I’m pregnant! Let me pose for naked photos! Look how naked and pregnant I am!
Waitress: (poses naked)
Fetus: (poses as well)
Velma’s father: (takes pictures)
Velma: My dad’s taking nude pictures of his pregnant girlfriend, with his daughter in the room.
Velma: And the baby in her belly is posing too, making creepy-shaped bumps on her belly.
Velma: There’s something disturbing and wrong about this, but I can think what…
Velma: Oh, wait, I know what’s wrong here.
Velma: WE DON’T HAVE A CAMERA! WHERE DID MY DAD GET A CAMERA?!

Daphne (is making a speech)
Daphne:
Thanks for coming to this wake for Dead Girl I’m so sad she’s dead. I mean, she was a slut and a whore, but still.
Daphne: By the way, while I have your attention, I just want to say Velma’s a bitch.
Velma: Fuck you too.
Daphne: My lesbian cop mothers told me she was the one who killed Dead Girl!
Lesbian cops: Daphhne, we told you not to tell anyone how little we care about the confidentiality issues!

Fred: I’m sad that Dead Girl’s dead, too. OH NO BEING SAD MEANS I’M NOT A MAN!
Velma: If it helps, I have creepy hallucinations.
Fred: Who are you again?
Velma: Still Velma. We’ve still known each other for years.
Fred: And I’m still a narcissist. Or have some other condition I’m not sure the writers bothered to define.
Fred: Or I’m just a self-obsessed douche. I don’t know.
Fred: So what’s this about hallucinations?
Velma: Well, my mom was a writer. She wrote mystery novels. Oops, I said “mystery.”
Velma: (has a creepy hallucination)
Velma: No, wait, this is a flashback scene that reveals my angsty past. We can’t muddle this up with creepy hallucinations. For this one scene, I can say the word “mystery” without having a creepy hallucination, okay?
Fred: Um, okay. So… mystery.
Velma: Mystery. My mom wrote mysteries. And she was the one who gave me my love for solving mysteries.
Velma: Two years ago I solved the mystery of where she hid my Christmas presents. She went out to get me another Christmas present, That was the last I ever saw of her.
Velma: The lesbian cops found her car, abandoned and empty except for her glasses and a wrapped present for me.
Velma: So I did the only logical thing. I swore off mysteries for good, started wearing her classes, despite not actually needing glasses, and vowed never to open that present.
Velma: That’s totally not foreshadowing, by the way.
Velma: And ever since then I’ve had creepy hallucinations. It’s because I feel so guilty. My mystery obsession had caused my mother’s disappearance. 
Fred: Wow. Learning this made me emotionally connect with you. I even remember your name now.
Fred: Well, bye.
Fred: (leaves)

Norville: Hey! I’m in this show too!
Norville: I know who killed Dead Girl.
Norville: By which I mean I don’t know who killed Dead Girl.
Norville: By which I mean I can guess who killed Dead Girl.
Norville: By which I mean I can’t guess who killed Dead Girl.
Norville: DON’T DO DRUGS, KIDS!
Velma: Is there a point to any of this?
Norville: Yeah. See, before Dead Girl died, I lent her my camera to take pictures in the bathroom at the malt shop.
Norville: NOT FOR CREEPY REASONS, OKAY?! I just suspected there to be drug dealing going on in that bathroom.
Norville: DRUGS ARE BAD. WORDS CANNOT EXPRESS HOW MUCH I HATE DRUGS.
Norville: But now Dead Girl’s dead and the camera’s missing.
Velma: Camera?! OMG! My dad suddenly has a camera! That can’t be a coincidence!!

Velma: (arrives home)
Velma: (snatches the camera)
Velma: Wait, there’s nothing on this camera but a bunch of pictures of babies dressed as vegetables.
Velma’s father: Yes, the waitress and I have been taking vegetable baby pictures.
Waitress: That was how we paid for the camera.
Velma: There are so many questions here that I don’t want the answer to. 
Velma: But if this isn’t Norville’s camera, the mystery is who DID take Norville’s… Oops, I said “mystery.”
Velma: (has a creepy hallucination)
Velma’s dad: Dammit, Velma, stop having those creepy hallucinations!
Velma: I can’t, I’m too consumed with guilt! My mom vanished because of my mystery obsession!
Velma’s dad: No, Velma. It’s been two years, so I suppose now’s the perfect time to tell you: Your mother didn’t vanish because of your mystery obsession.
Velma: ….she didn’t?
Velma’s dad: Not at all. She just ran off because you’re a terrible person.
Velma: Oh. Well, that’s different. That’s nothing to feel guilty about! 
Velma’s dad: Exactly! No more guilt!
Velma: No more guilt!
Waitress: And now that you don’t feel guilty, why not start dressing sexy?
Velma: That’s an awesome idea!

Velma: (enters school)
Velma: (is wearing sexy clothes)
Schoolkids: Wow, Velma’s hot now! We love her! YAY!
Schoolkids: (flirt with Velma)
Girl: No, we don’t! She killed Dead Girl! We hate her!
Schoolkids: Oh, okay, then. We hate her! BOO!
Schoolkids: (throw things at Velma)
Fred: No, don’t hate her! I talked to her yesterday, and she’s just sad.
Schoolkids: Oh, okay then. We’re indifferent to her! YAWN.
Schoolkids: (ignore Velma)

Velma: (cleans up in the bathroom)
Velma: (is wearing her regular outfit again)
Daphne: (enters)
Daphne: So, Fred tells everyone not to hate you, huh? I guess he’s YOUR boyfriend now?
Daphne: Whatever. I didn’t want him anyway. We’ve been together for a year and he hasn’t tried to fuck me even once.
Velma: He hasn’t? Is he gay?
Daphne: …YOU’RE gay!
Velma:
Daphne: And Fred never even lets anyone see him naked! Even in the bathroom at the malt shop!
Daphne: (leaves)
Velma: That was a weirdly specific note to end on.
Velma: OMG! The bathroom at the malt shop! Dead Girl was going to take pictures there! 
Velma: And that’s the very same bathroom that Fred doesn’t want to be seen naked in! THIS CAN’T BE A COINCIDENCE!

Velma: Norville! Fred killed Dead Girl and stole your camera! Help me break into his house so we can find the camera!
Norville: Okay.
Velma: (breaks into Fred’s house)
Norville: (waits outside)
Norville: (gets bored)
Norville: (calls Velma on the phone)
Velma: Not now, Norville! I’m in the middle of solving the mystery! Oops, I said “mystery.”
Velma: (has creepy hallucination)
Norville: No, don’t hallucinate! I love you!
Velma: You love me? Hah! That’s so funny I stopped hallucinating!

Velma: (finds the camera)
Fred: (enters)
Fred: You can’t have that camera! There’s a picture of me in it!
Velma: So I was right! Dead Girl did take a picture of you in the bathroom!
Fred: Yes… and now I’m gonna do the same to you as I did to her.
Fred: (psycho grin)
Velma: Help! He’s gonna kill me like he killed Dead Girl!!
Lesbian cops: (enter)
Lesbian cops: (shoot Fred in the kneecaps)
Fred: (falls over in pain)
Fred: I wasn’t going to kill her, I was going to bribe her to keep her mouth shut! Just like I bribed Dead Girl to give me the camera!
Fred: The fact that I talked and acted like a psycho has nothing to do with it!
Lesbian cops: Whatever. You’re arrested for the murder of Dead Girl, punk.
Fred: But I didn’t kill Dead Girl!
Lesbian cops: Yeah, that’s exactly what Velma said too. We didn’t believe her either.
Lesbian cops: Oh, hi, Velma. Guess you’re innocent after all.

Norville: Well, that’s that, I guess.
Norville: So why do you still have hallucinations if you don’t feel guilty about your mother anymore?
Velma: Because while being a terrible person isn’t a valid reason to feel guilty, being obsessed with mysteries is. And I realized she DID vanish because of my mystery obsession.
Norville: Okay.
Norville: Hey, what’s this in your garbage?
Another Dead Girl: (is also dead)
Velma: Oh no! Here we go again!

…yeah, this wasn’t very impressive. I think I see why this show fails. Self-aware comedy really only works if you’re actually self-aware. And dramatic revelations about a character’s traumatic past don’t really have the same impact if you introduce plot twists about them five seconds later. 

There is the core of something half-decent here, but it’s sort of ruined by how the characters seem to be… not so much characters as mouthpieces for whatever criticism of pop culture and fans of pop culture that the writers have. (Trust me, I cut out a LOT of the snarky trope discussions and Velma mocking pop culture cliches.) The entire thing moves much too fast; you’re not allowed to get a feel for the characters and the setting before the dialogue tries to deconstruct and mock them. And as a murder mystery it falls flat because the mystery fails to engage. There’s just no reason to care who killed Dead Girl when the characters are all flat and unlikeable. 

Maybe the show gets better as it goes on, but the first episodeis a definite failure.

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