I watched Velma on HBO Max — and this Scooby-Doo series is a Scooby-Don’t

(L to R) Velma (voiced by Mindy Kaling) is shocked, while Daphne (voiced by Constance Wu) looks at her with an annoyed expression in Velma, on HBO Max.
(Image credit: HBO Max)

We're all for adult comedy, but HBO Max's Velma is not hitting the right marks. The series, which comes from executive producer and star Mindy Kaling (The Office, The Mindy Project) is a reimagining of the Scooby-Doo characters you may very well know and love. The series arrives at a big moment for HBO Max, as The Last of Us is about to be the next big HBO series.

But I wanted to give it a chance. Last night, I tried to unwind with the series, and found myself either bored, annoyed or easily distracted. And let me say up front: the changes to the characters' races and backgrounds is not the problem.

Yes, in moves that might upset die-hard fans, many things are different. Scooby-Doo is not here yet, and that's chief among them. Shaggy is now Norville, his original government name, and he's Black, too. Velma is brown, Fred's a vain, self-obsessed rich kid and Daphne is nearly straight out of Mean Girls. 

And all of these characters are voiced by great actors: Kaling for Velma, Sam Richardson (The Afterparty) for Norville, Glenn Howerton (It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia) for Fred and Constance Wu (Crazy Rich Asians) for Daphne. All actors I'd want on a project. It seems like a can't-miss. 

On paper, it all sounds pretty good, right? It's just how everyone acts that's the problem. And it's not just yours truly that doesn't like the Velma show, it's been hit with a weak 50% Rotten Tomatoes score and a 9% Audience score on that site (which typically suggests review bombing — though this show makes me think otherwise).

Let's break down where Velma goes wrong:

Why HBO Max's Velma series is a fail for me

Velma is, like all Scooby-Doo projects, a mystery show. But because Velma is an adult animated series, we're dealing with a much grimmer mystery at hand. But, that mystery takes a backseat in the non-existent Mystery Machine to... supposedly cheeky references.

The series intends itself to be extremely edgy and relevant, and it's nearly-always not. Just look at this joke that Shaggy makes, which I can't believe is something airing in 2023:

Norville (Sam Richardson) says "Damn it! This is exactly what happened to my vlog about Lil Wayne." in Velma.

(Image credit: HBO Max via Twitter/@Stupacabra)

Constantly, the characters fill time by reminding you the series is not the original Scooby-Doo. And right when Velma begins to have anything close to character development — Velma and Daphne used to be friends, and they're possibly rekindling this friendship — the series has to scream the story beats out at the audience via dialogue. 

And it just doesn't stop. Until you hit stop, which you probably will early on.

The internet is not happy about this Velma show

The confusing twists made to the series are completely befuddling. As I watched the first episode, I had to pause and rewind on dialogue where Velma admits that she is stealing math homework answers from Shaggy. 

I'm all for all of the variants in Loki, but Shaggy being a math whiz and Velma needing his answers is just weird. Twitter user @DPlexHD points this out, writing "wait why does Velma need homework answers from fucking Shaggy? one of the key traits about her is that she's yknow.. the smart one"

And as for the aforementioned character developments that get hammered into the audience's ears? Stuart Gipp, Twitter user @Stupacabra, shows that here:

Twitter user @ThatRetro is one of many pointing out how Velma fails where another HBO Max adult animated series succeeds. Because, yes, everyone who feels disappointed by Velma should immediately check out Harley Quinn.

And looking at the 900-plus audience reviews at RT, you'll see more misery. I'll highlight a one-star review from Tandy B, who wrote "The most upsetting thing is that this COULD have been awesome, if made by different people. An adult reimagining of Scooby-Doo is awesome. But unfortunately that's not what this is. It's just a really really bad show. The jokes are bad and cringey. The characters are unlikable. I even tried showing episode 1 to everyone in my house and no one could make it through because it's just so bad. Thanks for ruining what could have been an awesome show."

Velma reviews: What the critics say

As noted above, Velma has a 50% Rotten Tomatoes score at the time of publication. 

And the critics don't mince words. Gwen Ihnat of The Wrap writes: "You have to wonder, in the development of Velma, where did everything go so horribly wrong?" Joshua Alston of Variety notes: "It’s been done before, and much better, using unique takes on the gang that maintained their essence, so Velma is never as groundbreaking as it seems to think it is. More than that, these characters are just really unpleasant to spend time with."

Brian Lowry of CNN (which is under the Warner Bros. Discovery umbrella alongside HBO Max) said Velma "demonstrates the limits of stretching what amounts to a one-note joke into a series."

Outlook: Yes, just skip Velma

Sure, you might want to watch Velma, out of loyalty to some of the cast or Kaling herself. But I beg you: don't feel a need to keep watching. This is a miserable show with rare flashes of fun. Fred seems to actually be the only well-developed character, and that's the biggest surprise in the series.

In my personal shows of 2023 list, Velma is likely to sit dead-last at the bottom. Yes, despite not being an action or epic, it's this year's Rings of Power: another adaptation without any life (or care for the source material).

And it couldn't have worse timing. It arrived alongside an HBO Max price hike, and a far-superior HBO series is about to debut. So, I implore you: if you have HBO Max, which we say is the best streaming service, get ready to watch The Last of Us online.

Henry T. Casey
Managing Editor (Entertainment, Streaming)

Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.