Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated is the eleventh iteration of the franchise. As opposed to most long-running properties rebooted ad nauseam, this is when it gets spectacular! (Not to be confused with a live action fan project that looks like it takes itself too seriously.) It’s perfect for fans of Gravity Falls & the new DuckTales. I’d seen a smattering of episodes when it was fresher, but Cartoon Network’s crazy scheduling thwarted me from taking it all in. Apparently it took four years to air two seasons, so it was easy to lose track. Once I heard it was on Netflix, I gobbled it up. This happened weeks before the coronavirus became a global scourge. I’d planned to publish this around SCOOB!’s theatrical premiere, but who knows when that’ll be now? Now you have another binge recommendation for quarantine. To really explain why it’s superlative, however, I’ve gotta go full SPOILER mode. Jinkies!
The appeal of Scooby-Doo is you get a new flavor of Mysterio each week. It’s a strong concept, but most will have trouble naming episodes of earlier iterations that are legitimutantly quality. This series is fifty-two episodes, the majority written by Michael Ryan, all of which are worthwhile. There’s continuity with overarching mysteries this time! There’s a good balance of mythos & standalone episodes. (My least favorite was one with a family of Irish thieves pretending to be extraterrestrials instead of Leprechauns, only because the other episodes raised the bar so high.) This doesn’t directly remake earlier episodes, but classic monsters (plus Scrappy-Doo, Flim-Flam from The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo, & the Luna Ghost from the first live action movie) are in a museum as mementos of the gang’s offscreen exploits.
Although thoroughly updated, there’s lots of legacy love displayed. Original Scooby-Doo: Where Are You? star Frank Welker continues to voice Fred & Scooby. He still sounds amazing! Matthew Lillard reprises Norville “Shaggy” Rogers from the movies while Casey Kasem, the original Shaggy, plays his dad. Mindy Cohn & Grey DeLisle also return to portray Velma & Daphne.
The animation, headed by Victor Cook & Derrick Wyatt, looks modern without losing the franchise’s retro appeal. The families are color coded: green Rogers, orange Dinkley, & purple Blake. The Jones aren’t, which could foreshadow Fred is adopted. The one-off Voltron uniforms look keen. If only they’d piloted a Mystery Machine mech! Their wetsuits are less stylish for lack of ascots.
The classic personalities of 4/5 Mystery Inc remain intact. (The early Velma-Shaggy-Scooby love triangle disturbed some purists.) Fred is usually the most boring character, but they actually made him interesting for once. He seems to be somewhere on the autism spectrum. His obsession with traps makes him useful beyond driving the Mystery Machine. His trapomania steams from a fear of abandonment, which also drives his clingy devotion to Daphne. His ascot is no longer his most intriguing aspect. Thanks for putting some peanut butter & jelly on that whitebread!
Alright, people, listen up! If animation has taught me one thing, it’s that all authority figures should be Patrick Warburton. Sheriff Bronson Stone loves barbecue smokers, cowboys, & Crystal Cove’s Mayors! He also solved The Lament Configuration without trying. Fellow Seinfeld alum John O’ Hurley plays a salty skipper with a nose-patch. Gary Cole is the perfect mix of smarm & exasperation as Fred Jones Sr. As the inversion of Scooby, Udo Kier is chilling as Professor Pericles. The Twin Peaks references are explicit, including casting Michael J. Anderson. The whole voice cast is delightful.
Crystal Cove is clearly corrupt as its tourist economy is based on capitalizing on its hauntings. It’s “The Most Hauntedest Place On Earth!” Why aren’t The Broken Spine & The Bloody Stake real places I can frequent? By exposing assorted spooks as frauds, Mystery Inc. finds itself in opposition to the local government, especially Fred’s dad. Mayor Fred Jones Sr. looks like Senator Kelly & has big Norman Osborn energy but is more likable. Velma Dinkley’s parents run the local monster tourism businesses. Crystal Cove parents will abandon their children if they become spookified. The town’s local corporation, Destroido, has been declared a sovereign nation that has its own Annihilation-style biome. The series wisely doesn’t make Crystal Cove look grimdark because appearances can be deceiving. By not beating audiences over the head with this, it’s more sophisticated than most dark revamps.
The original series didn’t have good mysteries that you could solve at home because too much info about motives & trickery techniques were kept from audiences. This reboot amps that up to ludicrous degrees. A vengeful environmentalist turns herself into Swarm with cicadas because she didn’t have any penguins. A cheesemonger disguises his trained monkey as human assistant & the Hodag to commit larceny. (The Piranha-Goat remains the only monster neither its identity nor its motive unmasked.) It doesn’t matter because these scams are a fun warmup for the true challenges to come. Most aren’t even land-grabbing hoaxes since those guys already won!
Cynics say that SCOOB! only exists to set up a shared Hanna-Barbera movie universe. Mystery Inc beat that to the punch! (These characters periodically crossed over for decades anyway, so I don’t get these complaints against SCOOB! It proudly follows the capitalization & exclamation tradition of FILLER!) “Mystery Solvers Club State Finals” written by Mitch Watson is one of its best episodes. Characters from Jabberjaw, Speed Buggy, Captain Caveman & the Teen Angels, & The Funky Phantom cross over. Not only does it feature Guinea pig cosplay with authentic vintage threads, but also “We have to drown something so I can bring it back to life again!” Outside of Scooby’s dream, we learn Blue Falcon & Dyno-Mutt were created by Dr. Benton Quest. Tom & Tub of the obscure Moby Dick & Mighty Mightor appear with Scooby the seal (who predates the dog), & it even links them to Sealab 2020. Vincent Van Ghoul (previously voiced by the late Vincent Price) recurs. An ersatz version of Doc Savage pops up too!
Adam Beechen’s “The Shrieking Madness” is another superlative episode. It guest-stars Jeffery Combs as HP
Lovecraft Hatecraft & Harlan Ellison as himself! The Shrieking Madness of Char Gar Gothakon: The Beast That Hath No Name is fun to say! Aside from the literary jokes, Char Gar Gothakon is arguably its best monster design.
Matthew Sweet does the new themesong. Daphne joins the
Goth Pussycats Hex Girls cosplaying as the Black Violet Queen. There’s a faux Velvet Underground singing about The Wicker Man. An entire episode hinges upon ska. Mr. E plays a most sinister keytar.
Often a beloved franchise revival, such as the Star Wars, will alternate longtime fans by showing its leads screwed up during the interim. The reboot is able to have its cake & eat it two by ingeniously introducing an earlier iteration of Mystery Incorporated that schismed twenty years ago. (Then it retcons in even more mystery quintet predecessors.) The team-members have obvious parallels. The current Mystery Inc. (made of characters the audience is attached to) has to redeem their legacy. So the “original” Mystery Inc is actually the new one while the “new” Mystery Inc is original. It’s super confusing! This sneakily confirms fan expectations that classic is better.
The first season finale reveals that The Freak of Crystal Cove is Mayor Jones. He blackmailed the original Mystery Inc into leaving town twenty years ago. Then he double-crossed his traitorous co-conspirator, Professor Pericles, & got him incarcerated at
Arkham Asylum For Animals Crystal Cove Animal Asylum for the Criminally Insane on trumped up charges. He even stole Fred from his biological parents, Brad Chiles & Judy Reeves. (Fred is not yet eighteen, so this must’ve happened later). He’d essentially retired from supervillainy to raise Fred & get into regular villainy politics.
Mystery Inc breaks up in the fallout from the season one finale. Fred grows a ridiculous hobo beard! Although Velma is arguably the team MVP, the second season premiere makes it clear they’re stronger together as a united quintet. Daphne Blake, whose parents are literally stupid rich, turns out to be a necessary component. Grim foreshadowing, however, suggests, Scooby must die to avert the calamity that befell they gang’s predecessors.
Who is the best member of Mystery Inc, & why is it Hot Dog Water? Daphne’s temporary replacement (a.k.a. Marcie Fleach) is a rare female teenage dirtbag barely represented aside from Excision’s Pauline & Wetlands’ Helen Memmel. She’s voiced by Lina Cardellini, the theatrical films’ Velma. This ethical wildcard pioneered the use of super-helium harvested from her dad’s Creepy Spooky Terror Land amusement park. Her being released early from prison in exchange for making its computer system more brutal to inmates is even funnier than Brie Larvan hacking her release date.
Rather than being the series Big Bad in season two, Mayor Jones is taken off the board. The main antagonist is revealed to be the original Mystery Incorporated! All the human members had adopted aliases to add to the mysteriousness. Now going by Mr. E, Ricky Owens secretly runs Destroido with Ed Machine as its figurehead. Mr. E had been aiding his successors in season one in a scheme to oust Mayor Jones. Brad Chilles & Judy Reeves became celebrity trappers known to the public as the Sternums. Although seeming initially perfect, Fred’s real parents turn out to be more toxic than his fake dad. (They get plastic surgery to resemble Fred & Daphne to drive home the parallels.) Cassidy Williams befriended the team as DJ Angel Dynamite. She’s the one who’s not evil. Professor Pericles convinces them to restart the quest for the Planispheric Disk.
Prof Pericles met Violet Gluck in 1930’s Germany. Some of the fashions have led fans to theorize that the show’s present is actually 1969 like the original series. Most of its other elements, like cellphones & ska’s popularity trajectory, implies it’s just the modern day. Much of the science is futuristic. So I choose to believe the series is contemporary with anachronistic aesthetic embellishments like Gotham & CAOS. Either way, Pericles is an old bird who lied about meeting Ricky as a youngling.
“The Gathering Gloom” is a fun filler episode that lampshades obvious villains by having Velma instantly identify one named Count Evallo von Meanskrieg. “We don’t monster profile, Velma!” (This moral is played straight that time when Jim Gordon was a cappuccino swilling orc biker that made video games.) The rest of the team get swept up by a foreign Bjorklund family out of a Hammer film whose cottage abuts Crystal Cove Cemetery. It’s very silly!
After two seasons of Young Justice where every time “The Team” got one over on The Light it turned out to be a Xanatos gambit (I hear they shake up the formula in season three.), it was refreshing to see Mystery Inc. actually outfox their elders. They even disguise Charlie the Haunted Robot from the original series as Krampus! The reversal doesn’t last long, but they still got the Planispheric Disc shards. (Apparently if you cut a hard-drive platter into pieces, it’s possible but very expensive to reconstruct the data.)
There’s a fan contingent that strongly believes the supernatural should never be involved because it ruins the show’s secular humanism. This series shows both approaches work. For the first 3/4 it’s the team against non-magic impostors. Then real supernatural kicks in. The quintet got in so much practice thwarting frauds that this effectively raises the stakes. Now it’s a challenge! There are Nazi robots & genetically engineered Skull Cattle (Skuttle?) in between to bridge the gap. The horrible herd is particularly terrifying for ravaging the entire town before becoming an invasive species in the Pacific Ocean.
As the team’s biggest rational skeptic (Don’t even get her started on Space Kook!), Velma nearly has a nervous breakdown upon learning the supernatural is real. Her mum helps her understand that the frauds they’ve been unmasking had been subconsciously inspired by real occult beings. This adds to the cosmic horror of the series & is a great compromise in general. Crystal Cove is so named because that’s where the crystal sarcophagus of an imprisoned alien demon was brought by Conquistadors. (It’s also the setting for the non-animated portion of Supernatural’s “Scoobynatural.”) The Annunaki pantheon of Mesopotamia may be ancient aliens, but they’re magic-wielding aliens!
One of the most memorable features of the original cartoon was that Scooby-Doo is a talking dog. There’s no effort to explain or contextualize this. (One reviewer of the 2002 movie wrongheadedly wondered why a Great Dane couldn’t be taught to speak English well.) A lesser update would explain why Scoobert-Doo has this unique ability, which would undermine how nobody is ever amazed by this. Instead SDMI had the brilliant idea to make Scooby-Doo just one of the numerous talking animals that inhabit its world. Revealing why he can talk seems like it’d be missing the point, but this series makes it work by positing the most guano mad reason: Scooby-Doo can speak because he’s descended from Annunaki aliens.
The three part finale is nearly flawless. The final episode begins with an homage to David Lynch’s Dune featuring Amy Acker voicing an alien-possessed dog. All other TV is ruined for me. The tension is ratcheted up to the peak of dread, making the team’s victory more of a relief. The entire supporting cast is killed as Pericles merges with the unleashed
Mondas Nibiru demon! It would’ve gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids!
They even rewrite the universe to give everyone a happy ending. Crystal Cove has become “The Sunniest Place on Earth.” Destroido is now the eco-friendly Creationex, run by Owens, Williams, & Pericles. Sheriff Stone & Mayor Janet Nettles have spawned a brood. Hot Dog Water even appears to be shacking up with bisexual icon Velma Dinkley! Her former rival for Shaggy, bisexual icon Scooy-Doo, has likewise transferred his affection to Nova. Shaggy is single but surprised to learn he’s now an award-winning chef. Daphne’s sisters are unemployed spinsters envious of her engagement to Fred, which is the only unnecessarily petty note. Fred has now only been raised by his biological parents, but his former stepfather is still proud of him as his soccer coach. The gang, however, are existentially horrified to discover they unwittingly created a world without mystery! (Harlan Ellison also remembers the prior timeline because it’s not his first reality overwriting rodeo.) So they go on a cross country road trip to search for some before attending Miskatonic University together. This is a satisfying note to conclude on. Do gators still come from mines?
Not only is this series a deconstruction of the classic cartoon tropes, it’s also a reconstruction. It manages the rare feat of getting me invested in everything that made this franchise endure for decades by putting meat on its bones. It’s vibrant & optimistic. Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated makes me want to find three friends so I can bust spooks with my cat! Zoinks!