Velma always seemed like a bit of an odd experiment, a re-imagining of Scooby Doo in adult animation format where the danger is real and the jokes are more crass. It could have worked, but by all accounts it…doesn’t. Not at all.
The first two episodes of Velma have arrived on HBO Max. They haven’t really impressed critics, but audience reviews? Those are brutal.
Currently, Velma is reviewing with a very-poor-for-HBO-Max 50% from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, and has only a 9% from hundreds of audience scores.
Before you hop in and say “well this is people review bombing the show because it’s made the cast more diverse” that’s…kind of one of the weirdest things here. Velma seems like it’s upsetting both sides of its potential audience here. Sure, there will be the usual “diversity recasting” haters, but if you watch the show itself, it feels like it’s almost making fun of shows that do diversity casting or social messaging. It’s led what you might have assumed would be a more left-leaning fanbase for the show to accuse creator Mindy Kaling of making it actually a somewhat conservative project, as people cite past comments she’s made and things like her liking recent JK Rowling tweets as evidence of her personal views.
Above all else, it feels like the humor just is not connecting for really any audience. The show feels like it’s trying to annoy anyone that watches it, and the Scooby Doo IP almost seems secondary to the entire concept. Scooby Doo has found great success over the years as both a kids cartoon and with live action movies, and while it’s possible some adult animation version of the concept could have worked, this iteration seems to have rubbed all potential audiences the wrong way. This is a show that finally has Daphne and Velma share a kiss, and yet its potential liberal audience is writing it off because of how antagonistic it all feels.
It's a shame, because this really is a stellar cast here. Constance Wu, Sam Richardson, Glenn Howerton. And I’ve certainly liked Kaling’s work before, whether that was back in The Office, The Mindy Project or most recently, Never Have I Ever. But Velma? Something went deeply wrong here, and it’s getting roasted harder than pretty much any new show I’ve seen since The Witcher: Blood Origin on Netflix. Though even that climbed to a 13% audience score eventually. Right now, Velma has really nothing else to compare itself to in terms of how badly it’s scoring, and it cannot blame a politically driven review bombing campaign given that both sides of the aisle dislike it for different reasons. What a bizarre situation.
Update (1/15): Time has not improved this as more people have watched the show, which HBO is now saying is its most-watched Max original animated series premiere ever (not that there’s much else to compare it to, even Harley Quinn premiered on DC Universe).
In short, Velma has hit the holy trinity: It is in fact being bombed by right-wing viewers complaining about “woke” content. And yet unlike other series that do this, left-wing viewers are not finding the show defensible, and are also scoring it low. Not because of “woke” content, but because it’s just...bad. And then you have the third pillar, upset Scooby Doo fans who like the classic series and IP and hate that it’s being used in this way for a bad adult cartoon. That may actually be the largest group, based on the reviews I’m reading online.
Mindy Kaling has continued to attract ire online for Velma, with many citing her constant “self-insertion” into her series, with the repeated theme of an Indian girl desperate for white attention that’s also in place across her other shows.
But it’s also been brought up that Charlie Grandy is actually credited as the creator of Velma. Grandy has been a frequent collaborator of Kaling’s and in the wake of Velma’s issues, has been accused of being a “nepotism” case, the son of a former Love Boat star and congressman, with his mother a Hollywood TV writer. It’s gotten pretty personal with both of these two, with many looking for explanations as to why Velma is this bad.