After Mindy Kaling’s successes with her past projects like “The Office” and “The Sex Lives of College Girls”, high hopes were set to see a new take on the classic Scooby Doo character Velma Dinkley. After seeing the trailers, I was excited to see how HBO would deliver the character’s sassiness and wit through the lens of making Velma a non-white ethnicity and set in today’s society. However, after watching the first few episodes, it seems that Mindy Kaling overlooked this opportunity to represent minority female leads and instead centered the plot around taking sarcastic “woke” cheapshots at different tropes. For instance, whenever the audience starts to get interested in the action of the plot, Velma disrupts the flow to make a comment reminding us of a stereotype that applies to her character such as with her looks or her lack of popularity. She also constantly breaks the fourth wall in bad attempts to take a dig at “expected societal norms”. No one on the show highlights the topics of mental health, sexuality and hurtful racial profiles more than Velma herself, and they are almost always in ways that make her character look weak and self-deprecating. It’s like Mindy Kaling is projecting her high-school self through Velma, but it’s making viewers less interested in the plot of the show and more concerned about pitying the lead character.
I found myself liking the other characters much more than Velma merely due to them behaving better, as in not making a socially-woke outburst every chance they got, and for actually having substance to their identities beyond their race and orientation. It’s ironic that with the one chance Kaling had to shift the focus of Scooby Doo to one of the most-liked female lead characters, she makes them insufferable. I would have preferred another live-action spin off of the whole gang as opposed to this show that tarnished the good reputation of smart and caring Velma.
Unfortunately, Kaling also perpetuated some hurtful tropes that she probably wasn’t even intending to. With Velma’s constant remarks promoting non-typical behaviors and justifying her questionable actions, she perpetuates a very anti-male sexist mindset and the idea that her being an unpopular minority makes up for her blunt comments and rude interactions. As a Brown girl, I was expecting better representation from this show. Instead of seeing Velma as a heroine like the Scooby Doo franchise has done successfully in the past, Kaling made her character rather unlikable, even making the adults of the show overly incompetent and trying to incorporate too many personal flaws at once into Velma. I think Kaling was focusing too hard on being “meta” instead of developing positive traits in the character, because it’s rather difficult to root for Velma when she doesn’t even seem like the protagonist of her own show.
The plot did become more interesting when Kaling moved away from bashing the male characters and introduced a female companion to Velma, making the dialogue a little more tolerable since it was now more than just a flow of criticisms from Velma. However, I do think “Velma” has a long way to go if Kaling is hoping to keep the show in production. If only Kaling took these concerns into consideration (as these critiques of her work are not new and can be seen in some of her other medias as well). Kaling is so talented, but I don’t think this show was an adequate representation of that skill level. With a 4/10 personal rating, this show isn’t very engaging nor good for watching beyond having it on for background noise. ln full honesty, I wouldn’t recommend this show to others… not even for a Scooby Snack.
Photo Credit: HBO Max