Been on Netflix quite a bit over the last several months and recently discovered that the Scooby Doo series, Mystery Inc, was up on the streaming service. Having not finished it I had to jump on the last series incarnation of the classic franchise. Before I go onto the series itself I’d like to back up, talk a bout about my own impressions of the famed franchise and how I ended up catching this series.
Let me be very clear, I don’t like Scooby Doo. Rather I always been indifferent to it. Not to say I never watched the series because I did. It was always on. An impressive feat for a show that never had a single incarnation go more than 40 episodes until Mystery Inc. which ran 52. That’s right, all those Scooby Doo episodes you watched as a child were from 7 incarnations with the original series (1969-1970) only going 25 episodes itself. Scooby Doo came into prominence as a result of parental anger over violent cartoons. It was designed to be an alternative and in doing so established the type of non-violent cartoons that made up most of American cartoons until Masters of the Universe kicked off a wave of action packed animated programs in the US. Most of Scoobys episodes (especially through until the early 80s) were exactly the same. You can say that about a lot of cartoons but Scooby in particular stuck to the same exact format. Think of any Scooby episode. The teens end up in some vacated or lightly populated area (or near a house, port). The place is being menaced my a monster or ghost. They split up (clues, danger and food) and after getting what they need, they set a trap. Big reveal and the classic “I’d have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for you meddling kids.” While other cartoons played good versus evil there was usually some narrative differences and set up changes making episodes stand out more clearly. Not with Scooby Doo.
Now Scooby Doo had multiple incarnations going up until now. After a Pup Named Scooby Doo he disappeared from most of TV other than some TV movies but the gang made a bigger comeback in the late 90s and early 2000’s with live action movies, a new TV series in 2001, and the beginning of the wave of direct to video movies starting in 98 and continuing now. Most of which I had avoided because Scooby Doo is not interesting. Sure I caught the film and thought it was pretty amusing and self aware, with a good idea for the bad guy, but not enough to make me rethink my feelings for the show or the characters. Fred was a boring one dimensional leader, Daphne a boring one dimensional cute girl, Velma a tad more interesting is the smart one and then of course the popular Shaggy and Scooby who I never liked. They did a lot of eating and running and screaming, so what? The only thing the Scooby Doo gang could do to interest me was random Cartoon Network spots (like mocking Fred’s ascot) or the gang showing up in Johnny Bravo. While I did take some amusement from the live action movie I just found Scooby Doo generally worthless and wondered how it kept coming back around.
Back in 2010 I was on a family vacation so while with my much younger cousins I had my first taste of three shows. One was Phineas and Ferb, which I’m surprise to know has been around as long as it had. I didn’t much care for the episode I saw. Another was Adventure Time, Cartoon Networks darling. I thought that episode was incredibly strange and didn’t quite return to it until months later. The third was a clip of the then recent Mystery Inc., a new take on the franchise. My instant reaction was dismissal but something about the animation and delivery seemed amusing. So I made a note to look at it later. When I had the chance, I caught the first two episodes and was floored. They were fun, ridiculous, amusing take on the classic formula. In the first episode when the cast got a run through where they talked to their parents-I was very much enamored by Fred and Daphne. Daphne’s line about “We’re just solving mysteries. All the kids are doing it,” just brought a smile to my face. The second episode which was the most classic in feeling with their Mystery Machine breaking down at a haunted port featured a scene where each of the teens called their parents to pick them up only for their parents not to for rather dumb reasons. Daphne’s mom for example saying it was dark out and that was pretty much it. Fred went from the rather arrogant one dimension leader to this trap obsessed mega dork. So into traps and mysteries it took him time to figure out Daphne liked him and even after was still a huge dork. Fred Jones not only became interesting, he was the true star of the show. If Mystery Inc. did one think right, it made Shaggy and Scooby the least interesting. They were essentially the same characters, everyone else became more developed.
Take Daphne for example. While still danger prone she had a very sweet personality and some great lines through out. Her attraction to Fred is odd but endearing. She had clever lines, was proactive, and watching the development of her and Freds relationship was wonderful. Velma was given a bit more attitude and they played up a very interesting angle about her desire for a strong interpersonal connection. Her brief relationship with Shaggy ends rough and you can see a certain jealous toward her friends with how they are all paired-Fred and Daphne or Shaggy and Scooby. She wants a strong connection. This angle gets played a bit more in the second season. As I said, Shaggy and Scooby are essentially the same. Moving past them the characters are surrounded by an interesting supporting cast. Freds father the Mayor, Sheriff Stone (voiced by Patrick Warburton, famous for his voices but not as much for his live action work), Angel Dynamite the DJ (voiced by Vivica Fox) and Mr. E (voiced by comedian Lewis Black). The series also brings back charters from other incarnations like Hex Girls (a band) and Vincent Van Ghoul (a tribute to the late actor who voiced him in old episodes).
The series takes place in Crystal Cove, Worlds Most Haunted Place which departs from some of the previous incarnations where they were from Coolsville. The city is an important setting as Mystery Inc. has a larger series spanning arc involving an original Mystery Inc group, the towns weird history of “monsters” and more. Part of that larger arc deals with parts of a relic known as the planispheric disc which is being pursued by the mascot of the previous Mystery Inc, one Prof. Pericles, a talking owl. An owl who was in jail for being involved in the disappearance of the previous Mystery Inc. The first season has more monster-of-the-week stories but toward the end more of the major story kicks in with a pretty impressive season finale. One of those sorts of game changing season finales. Despite the silliness of Mystery Inc. there not only was heart, but also a bit of dark storytelling bubbling under the surface.
The second season plays up the larger storyline and brings in a little new blood to keep the story rolling. The first few episodes back were fun and it was interesting the way they gave Scooby a little more to do. I always had problems with that damn dog but found some of what they had for him in season two to be rather interesting, even if I don’t think it really worked. At least they tried and that made him more interesting to me than previous takes. The last several episodes building into the kind of story you’d never expect out of Scooby. One that is mostly a departure but makes for some interesting theories about its overall place in the series. It also brings that darkness more clearly to the surface if you had missed it. My feelings on it are mixed. I both loved it and felt it failed. I enjoyed Mystery Inc.’s take on the classic formula so I was sad to see them abandon it in favor of a different type of series but found it ultimately delivered. The ending itself was one that I thought about for days after, they wait worked out for Crystal Cove and the group-also a single line from a supporting character about Velma toward the end which made me wonder what the creators were hinting at.
One of the aspects that I most appreciated through out the series was how they did the disguised monsters. Sure you could usually guess who did it but the explanations of why and how were more a little crazier and grander. The way the monsters are in this series are even crazier than any previous animated version. Just like Fred’s traps are even crazier than ever before. Even though these were fun the series strength was the way the characters interacted with one another and their community. They felt more like a group of friends than any series I had scene with maybe the exception of a Pup Named Scooby Doo (though I barely remember that one, I thought I liked it as a kid). The humor, the darker elements of the larger series arc, and the strong supporting cast made for a much more rounded series than any previous Scooby. After it I learned to appreciate Shaggy and Scooby for who they were. While never favorites I thought they had some good stuff in the show. Velma and Daphne were a joy to watch through out. Both funny, both brought good drama, I really enjoyed them. Then there is Fred, how can I properly explain to you how much I loved Fred Jones through this series? I could point out the story arc about his family which was a stand out. There were several episodes that he played a major part in including the alternate dimension episode. How about the relationship with Daphne? His part in the first episode of season 2? The fact he buys a magazine called Traps Illustrated and has bobby trapped his home and others? I can’t find the right one to express love for so I’ll leave you with the one line that had me almost die laughing.
“Stop that-you know the concept of time confuses me”-Fred
Mystery Inc is amazing.