Is HBO Max’s Velma as bad as everyone says it is? (Spoiler alert: yes)
At this point, you’d have to be living under a rock if you haven’t heard about HBO Max’s new animated series Velma and its…less than desirable reviews. I myself have read through countless Reddit posts and watched many review videos on YouTube, none of which have a nice thing to say about the show other than the obvious diversity portrayed therein.
With all the negativity in the air about the show, I’ve taken it upon myself to watch the first episode and see just how bad it really is, with a soft hope that maybe people are just overreacting a little. I mean, the episode is only 27 minutes long. It can’t ruin my whole day, can it?
I almost feel bad for what I’m about to write. I really hate to kick someone while they’re down, but I cannot in good conscience say, “this is great,” just because a whole team of people put a lot of work into making this show.
So, here goes.
The episode starts out with an admittedly cool opening that actually reminds me of the good old days of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! There’s a montage of close-ups around a bedroom with lightning flashing outside the window. Classic.
But then we get some super judgy narration talking smack about both male and female hero tropes in storytelling, and implying that Velma’s origin story is going to be better. Different. Oh, and she also says, “bitch,” so it’s super edgy.
Immediately after we’re treated(?) to some very self-aware dialogue about sex and nudity on TV…while Daphne and her friends are, and I mean this literally, butt-naked in a high school shower. They’re teenagers. GROSS.
And the best part is that Daphne essentially talks about how all a TV show needs is good writing. Which, frankly, is hilarious. Because none of the dialogue in this show is natural at all.
The gym shower scene starts off the trend of, “Oh, haha, we’re calling out bad TV practices while we’re doing them, but it’s okay because we’re so self-aware. Isn’t it funny?” Something that–I was going to say, “trickles,” but now I’m going to say–floods through the duration of the whole episode.
Honestly, that kind of self-awareness/breaking the fourth wall can work for me, but only in small doses. Velma does not know how to do this without making me feel like I’m drowning.
I will say, I feel like I can see what Velma was trying to be. A Scooby-Doo show for adults with more diversity. Cool. I can definitely get behind that. But this show is chock-full of slams and forced edginess and so much self-righteousness that there was no room whatsoever for any likable characters or, um, funny jokes. It’s such a shame because I can think of twenty different ways I could write an adult-themed show with Scooby-Doo characters that wouldn’t turn off audiences everywhere–including the audience it seems to think it’s for.
While Velma’s guilt-induced hallucinations are pretty interesting, and the plot about her being accused of a murder she didn’t commit had a lot of promise, everything else about the show just rubs me the wrong way.
I know a big part of comedy is that everyone and everything should be allowed to be made fun of, but when almost every line in every scene is taking jabs at everything it possibly can in its 27 minute runtime, it gets exhausting.
And honestly, Velma’s just a rude, annoying character who acts like she’s a victim all the time, even though she’s just as nasty as all the “bitches” she goes to school with. And the only person who is genuinely nice to her, Norville, AKA Shaggy, is treated like absolute shit. Yes, he has a crush on her, and she has no obligation to return his affections just because he’s a “nice guy,” but she could just actually be a nice friend to him instead of being such a jerk. I mean, he tries to help her through one of her hallucinations near the end, and she’s still a dick.
The only joke I found that worked for me was in the middle of the episode. After Velma reaches a breakthrough about her mom abandoning the family, she gives herself a cliche makeover that gets everyone at school’s attention. A weird, neckbeardy, white kid with a fedora asks if she’s an exchange student from a more sexually liberated country. A joke that nearly made me sharply exhale through my nose.
I’m sad to say that the character was voiced by Weird Al, one of my childhood heroes. But I guess if he had to be in this painfully awful show, I’m glad he had the only line I kind of enjoyed.
Anyway, I tried super hard to go into this episode with an open mind and see if it really was as bad as I had heard. And it was. Most of the online criticism I’ve seen seems to be unfairly pitched at Mindy Kaling, who produced and voiced Velma herself, but I think people need to remember that the writing credit (or, perhaps, blame) goes to Charles Grandy.
My final thought? Watch at your own risk.