Sunday, November 15, 2015

Random Review: Scooby-Doo Mystery Incorporated Season 1

All right... the time has come. I am officially getting ready to delete the content from Really Rather Random Guy (dot blogspot dot com) and in preparing for that, I wanted to import a bunch of the content that I know will then be lost forever, by bringing the posts over here to Goodwill Hunting 4 Geeks (dot blogspot dot com). So, with that in mind, I thought I would preface these entries with the fact that they are indeed OLD blog posts from an OLD, now DEFUNCT blog, and cross my fingers and hope that folks will still want to read them.

This post was originally published online back on February 2nd of 2014.

When I was a kid, I would get off the bus and run into my house to catch the last 10 minutes of General Hospital. I wasn't especially interested in General Hospital, but I couldn't stand NOT having the television on for the ten minutes I had to wait for Scooby-Doo Where Are You! The played a solid hour of Scooby when I got home from school, and I sat, glued to the tube for that hour, breathless with anticipation for what monster the gang might encounter next. I disliked the unmasking at the end of each episode because the thrill for me was always the monster and the mystery. 

The show never felt stupid or hackneyed to me as a kid because I was so engrossed in imagining what it would be like to meet the Creeper or the Ghost of Captain Cutler, that the plot never mattered much to me anyway. 

As an adult I've continued craving the same sort of storytelling, and the entertainement industry has been happy to comply with shows like the X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. 

And of course, my love for Scooby-Doo goes on undaunted, even as an adult:

My sons and I have started watching Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated, which is the most recent incarnation of the show. We've been semi-binge watching it on Netflix (which for a 3-year-old and 5-year-old equals 2-3 episodes 3-4 nights a week) and I will openly and honestly admit that I have become wholly addicted to it. There are some mild SPOILER warnings in effect here, as I won't let any really big cats out of bags, but there are some mild plot twists and turns I want to talk about. 

I was HUGELY skeptical of the format of this show when I first discovered it. I saw a few episodes on Cartoon Network and decided the show just rubbed me the wrong way. It wasn't "my" Scooby-Doo, and there were some things that just genuinely, outright annoyed me about what I saw. So I ignored it and hoped it would go away. Then while my sons and I were looking for some cartoons to watch on Netflix, my 5 year-old noticed that there was a Scooby-Doo show on there. With chagrin I realized that it was the version of the show that I had decided to ignore... but no such luck when these kids are involved:

So... we tried it out. And the weird thing about it was... I didn't HATE it!! In fact, I was so impressed by the first two episodes that we made it regular viewing. We found that a few of the episodes were a bit too intense for my 3 year old... so he would pick and choose how long he sat and watched with us. 

Intense? Scooby-Doo? Yes. This was not their Dad's Scooby-Doo. 

Well... not really. Scooby himself is pretty much unchanged. Classic, constantly craving and craven Great Dane Scooby-Doo is his same old design. I think one of the only major changes to Scooby is the fact that there just isn't as much screen time for the big guy these days. But the rest of the gang? Some pretty MAJOR changes. Some great, some TERRIBLE. One of the interesting things that Mystery Inc. is playing around with is inter-personal, romantic relationships between the team-members. More on this later. 

Shaggy is another oldie-but-goodie that they didn't really mess with much. He is still Scoob's tried-and-true best bud, and still sports the same green shirt and brown pants he always has. Just as scared-stiff and starving as his canine compatriot. I can't think of a single significant thing that has changed about this fellow for the new show.

Daphne is really where the new design of the show starts to creep in and weird me out a bit. The art-style of the show has them lose her lower eyelid (and almost all of her eye) in the tan of her face. Then her pupil-less iris is lavender. The rest of her design is still pretty classic. The headband, purple dress, and (toned down) green scarf of her signature look are all in attendance. Her character is now openly in love with Freddie, and expresses it on a regular, pining-for-the-guy-who-doesn't-even-know-I'm-alive sort of way. It honestly gets pretty annoying. Because the reason Daphne can't get Freddie to notice her is... well, let's take a look at Freddie. 

Fred is a pretty big redesign, in his own way. Freddie has always suffered from Cyclops-syndrome, where in newer versions of the property, where the kids have personalities (like in the live-action films) he's just sort of the "hero". They have tried to sort of break Fred out of this shell in the past, and they've also had a heck of a time trying to deal with Fred's ascot, often redesigning his wardrobe to make it look more contemporary (and usually more generic in the process) Mystery Inc. sort of goes back to Fred's roots, OWNING the ascot, beefing up his chin to Bruce Campbell levels, and bulking him up to make him look even more like a jock than before. But one of Fred's most annoying traits in the new series is his complete autism-like obsession with TRAPS. To the point where about 50% of his dialogue is about nothing but TRAPS. It starts off as annoying... but actually has its moments where it works pretty well. It is mostly Fred's distraction over his love of traps and how much he values his friendships that makes him oblivious to the whole Daphne relationship thing... at first. 

Arguably one of the most dynamic re-designs is Velma. She's similar to her old design in that she has glasses, an orange turtle-neck sweater, and is the "brains" of the group. But gone is the old bowling-ball style hair-cut, which is now also graced with a couple of ribbon/barrette things, and gone is the easy going attitude. Velma now brings most of the snark to the team. Where Daphne tends to be the positive princess, Velma takes a bit of a cue from this girl:

Not to a grating degree, but we definitely get a much more dry and ironic Velma than we ever have before. It isn't bad. It sort of gives her character a bit more... character. But it is definitely NOT the Velma I grew up crushing on. And speaking of crushing on:

This happens. I like the idea of Shaggy and Velma as a couple. It has a nice, symmetric feel to it, when I always assumed that Fred and Daphne were a couple. What I do not like is what this show decided to do with Shaggy and Velma as a couple. Velma in the first few episodes is an absolute text-book stereotypical harping girlfriend. And when she isn't exerting all of her energy trying to change Shaggy is some way (his diet, his wardrobe, his tendency to like, say "like" a lot) she's spending the rest of it being JEALOUS OF THE DOG. Yeah, Velma is jealous of the relationship that Shaggy and Scooby have. And it's just as horrible as you think that sounds.

So what we mainly get from the girls is boy-chasing. What we mostly get from the boys is their being oblivious to what the heck is wrong with the girls unless it directly effects their working as a team in some way. Which it does. In some pretty major ways. But beyond that, each of the characters actually does kind of get their moment to shine. Much fun is had with Daphne's penchant for being clumsy, often kidnapped, and a delicate flower. They manage to use much of these in new, positive ways. Just as Fred's obsession with making elaborate, Rube Goldstein-style traps in the old show is exploited for often-time annoying dialogue "humor" it also tends to work out that Fred saves the day with his knowledge of mechanics in some surprising ways. 

Added to the cast is Angel Dynamite, a sort of Foxy Cleopatra, Pam Grier sort of character who runs the local radio station. At first you wonder what the heck she's doing on the show, but the pieces start slowly coming together later as it seems almost EVERYONE the kids meet or interact with on the show has something to hide. She brings a bit of fun to the proceedings, and she hearkens back to the 70's hey-day of the Scooby-Gang. 

Also added to the mix is a semi-serial storytelling format that is new to the Scooby-verse. My 5 year old would thrill whenever a message from the mysterious Mr. E would appear, either helping the kids with their current case, or hinting at far larger (red?) herrings to fry in Crystal Cove, the town where all the action takes place. There were definite plot threads that carried over from episode to episode beyond just the typical freak-of-the-week stories. Stories that involved this guy:

The sinister parrot, Professor Pericles, who used to hang out with his own group of mystery-solving teenagers, the original Mystery Inc! The ultimate fate of the original gang of kids with the Mystery Inc moniker is the real story to pay attention to even as giant crab-men and flaming ghost-trucks are attacking. 

This is one of the areas where the new Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated gets it right. When we're dealing with the underlying conspiracy that is bubbling literally right under the surface of Crystal Cove, the plot thickens, and even as young as my boys are, they could see the threads being tied together in some places. It was genuinely cool to watch my 5 year old try to figure out what the secret behind the red circle around the parrot in the picture above was. 

The new show does NOT slouch on the monster front either. Often the mysteries themselves are incredibly flimsy, with motives and pay-offs being more than a little far-fetched (which they often point at and wink about in homage to the bizarre and illogical lengths criminals would go to in the original series) but the creatures themselves? Holy cow you guys! Some of these were a bit TOO scary for my three year old. The monsters are creepier, the designs are (usually) cooler, and the creature sequences are way more interesting (and menacing) than just watching the gang run down the worlds longest repeating hallway while a green-faced phantom chases them with his arms raised. 

You can often trace the pedigree of many of the monsters back to famous films and other sources. Like the image above where Fred's trapping skills help him to outwit a SAW-like adversary (without losing any limbs in the process, I might add). In this same episode I was grinning as I checked off movies like "The People Under the Stairs" and others while my kids just watched the gang try to survive a secret-passage-and-trap filled mansion that sank into an underground cavern. 

Other creatures, like this Anthropophagi-inspired monster, make the "Ghost of Hyde" look about as menacing as someone's kindly grandpa. One of my beefs with the show is how inhumanly strong and invulnerable they make some of the monsters appear to be, only to have the villain unmasked turn out to be a pimply geek or a teenage girl or something. But this is another detail the show chooses to shrug off with a wink with the occasional explanation of "Pilates" or "helium" or whatever. But that's okay. We're not watching this show for the scientific CSI explanation at the end. We're suspending disbelief pretty high here.

One of the things that I genuinely dislike about the show... but which is a necessary evil for the format unfortunately, is the gang's ignorance of how this all works by now. In the first season, they acknowledge that the Scooby-Gang has already had a pretty storied past thwarting crooks in costumes. There is a museum in Crystal Cove run by Velma's parents that features a collection of all the classic villains, like the Creeper, the Space-Kook, and Captain Cutler's ghost, just to name a few. And yet, no matter how many villains the gang unmasks, each new villain is taken at face-value as a REAL monster. 

There's never just that moment where they all sigh and say, "Okay, who's under the mask this time?" It's always "What could a vampire possibly need with a rare orchid? Let's research it at the occult bookstore!" I mean, in one episode Velma befriends a mermaid and then seems genuinely betrayed when it turns out it's (SPOILER) just a woman in disguise. And let's not even get into Daphne falling in love with a biker gang-leader ORC. I was just like: "Are they seriously just accepting this as reality? What?

I think one of the greatest offenders has to be the "Que Horrifico" episode where an Aztec demon "spookifies" the entire town's population of children. Including kindergarteners. The solution to this mystery is so mind-numbingly IMPOSSIBLE that you can't help but laugh. Let's just say the idea of herding cats came to mind. But again the solutions to the mysteries are never really the point. They're usually no more meaningful than the punchline to a knock-knock joke. It's the spoofing of horror tropes and of the original series itself where the fun comes in. 

I mentioned in an earlier post that they had sci-fi author Harlan Ellison as a guest star on the show in a sort of bizarro homage to the old guest-stars like Phyllis Diller or Don Knotts. And that isn't where the homages stop! In the second episode "Creeping Creatures" we are treated to a cameo by a family suspiciously similar to the Griswolds of the various National Lampoon's Vacation films. The Chevy-chase-like dad and the Mom who was actually voiced by Beverly D'Angelo (!) riding with their teenaged daughter in the wood-paneled station wagon. There's no mistaking the reference.

We also see the return of old Scooby-Gang allies like the Hex-Girls, pictured above. I like how much the show tends to embrace all of the aspects of the storied Scooby-Doo history. We get a few quick gag references to Flim-Flam and Scrappy Doo as well, but I'd like to see them do even more. What I think would truly drive me over the top would be an appearance of Red Herring, the recurring character from A Pup Named Scooby Doo that Freddie had an obsession with. 

There are a lot of great gags involving other Hanna-Barbera properties, such as a blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance by Yogi Bear in a prison for criminally insane animals, a very brief Johnny Quest cameo in the penultimate episode of the first season, and the episode pictured above that was JUST. AMAZING. Jabber-Jaw, Captain Cave-Man, Funky Phantom, and Speed Buggy all make a dream-sequence appearance for an episode called "Mystery Solvers Club State Finals". They TEAM UP you guys!

Another returning ally is Vincent Van Ghoul (obviously no longer voiced by Vincent Price, but the voice actor, Maurice LaMarche, is so dead on that you can't really tell) who also makes a series of cameo appearances throughout the show in a series of b-movies being watched by Shaggy and Scooby. They get to meet the famous actor in an episode, and save him from a monster tailor suited to terrorize him. It's these sort of nostalgic touches coupled with the wink-wink attitude towards older viewers, the higher-stakes, more menacing monsters, and the overall tone of the show that make Scooby-Doo Mystery Incorporated such a rewarding watch for me and my kids together. 

In fact, my only gripe is that I went out to purchase the first two seasons on DVD and discovered that only Season 1 is collected as a complete set right now. As for Season 2, they're going the route where they release 13 episodes as a "collection" and then a different (sometimes overlapping) set of episodes as a different collection. No complete series collected yet. I say "yet" because I have no idea if they plan on actually releasing the complete second series on DVD at any point. Do and I'll buy it! Cartoon Network has a bad habot of screwing their viewers around with multiple "collections" of episodes before finally releasing a collected season (if at all). I'm still waiting for Batman: The Brave and the Bold to just come out as Season 1, 2, and 3!!! The second season hasn't been released on Netflix yet, so I can't speak to whether or not the quality continues to climb, or if things start to go downhill... but I hope to find out sometime soon. Amazon makes you pay 1.99 per episode (it's not available on Prime) and there's no way I'm going to pay that. 

Bad-Ass Scooby Gang by Noelle Stevenson

But I did happen to pick up a copy of the 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo... so the boys and I will be giving that a try. Right now we're working our way through the first two seasons of Scooby-Doo: Where Are You? the original show. They seem to love it just as much as Mystery Incorporated, so we're going to plow our way through that on DVD. 

The gang playing a familiar, classic boardgame. By Andrew Kolb.
But I'm holding out hope. The kids and I are chomping at the bit to get more Scooby-Doo into our brains through our eye-holes... and that's a great feeling. Every time one of the boys gasps at a monster, or at the finding of a clue, or at an ingenious trap used to foil a villain, that's just one more point on my scorecard. 

I thought I'd finish out this review-slash-whatever-it-turned-into with some of my favorite fan-art from the web. NONE of this art is mine... but you can find it all out there by googling pretty easily.

That's it for me tonight kids! We're hunkering down up here in Maine for an oncoming blizzard, so I have no idea if I'll even have power much less internet over the next few days. But I still have some Valentine's day stuff to post (Late. As usual.) so keep your peepers peeled for that right here! 


  1. I have not seen an episode ever. But it is on my list if a DVD set ever comes out.

    1. I can't recommend it highly enough! It def. has its flaws, but the gold to be found in there for Scooby-Doo fans far outweigh the problems.

  2. I watched Mystery Incorporated and was appalled by their portrayal of Velma as a control- freak, harpy-like girlfriend who wanted to change everything about Shaggy and his life. She rejoiced when Scooby was kidnapped, for pete's sake, even though Shaggy was obviously devastated over losing his BFF! That is simply not the Velma way. I bought the second season back in January and plowed through it, and I can tell you it gets better (my husband even watched some of it with me) And weirder. But there are also movie/tv references galore, and they calm down on the borderline mentally challenged Fred, the obsessed-with-nothing-but-Fred Daphne, and Velma is simply her snarky ( I do like that change about her character, admittedly) but back-to-caring-about-the-gang self. Some of the episodes are pretty dark, to the point where I was a bit surprised that they put certain things into a kids show (but I won't spoil anything for you:-) Also, the second season is out in its entirety- disk one is called "Scooby-Doo Mystery Incorporated: Danger in the Deep (has the first 13 episodes on it) and the disk two is "Mystery Incorporated: Spooky Stampede (which has the remaining 13 episodes on it) Great article!

    1. I would seriously say that while I found the romantic angles to be very interesting in some ways, they just went about it ALL wrong. There was absolutely no pleasure to be had from watching Velma and Shaggy as a couple, and it really hurt Fred as a character to have him seem so oblivious to Daphne's feelings. Honestly, for a show that in almost every other way has a lot of cleverness going for it, you'd think the writers would have been smarter than that.

  3. Mystery Inc. doesn't look bad. Though I'm a purist for the original, your review certainly piques my interest. The animation style looks pretty good. I dig the cell shading and the blockyness, and it looks like they are trying to stay true to the original background paint style. How's the incidental music?

    1. I honestly can't remember. I don't believe there are many homages to the older shows at all, musically... but I wasn't really paying attention to be honest. The opening theme has no lyrics, which was kind of weird for a Scooby-Doo show, but honestly it didn't bother me either. I love the original show, don't get me wrong... and I think this show kind of tries to honor that in some ways. If you try not to take it too seriously then there is way more pay-off. It feels like its really tring to honor the old shows while still trying to do something new and relevant, unlike some of the past reboots like "Get a Clue" which eschewed the entire classic concept in favor of a bizarre new one.

  4. I have since ordered season two on DVD and am anxiously awaiting its arrival. Can't wait to start watching it with my boys!

  5. Never watched this one but just watched a couple of episodes of So Cool Scooby Doo which i found to be fun and a nice throwback to the original series(they even use music in the chase scenes) the character designs remain true to the originals but is drawn in the style of Family Guy which was strange to me at first but actually works...Check it out if you get a chance Derek it's not bad at all.

  6. Watch closely and you'll notice that Red Herring IS in fact in many episodes. He never speaks, but it's very clear that it's him. One particular example is the episode where Fred is caught wrestling with one of his frat brothers. Those red curly locks, freckles and buck-teeth could only belong to one guy!

    1. Be Cool Scooby Doo's even better, Mindy Cohn also doesn't play Velma anymore


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