Every once in a while, a TV show comes along that raises the bar. I’m talking about programs like 24 and Band of Brothers, shows that really glue you to your television set and make you go “Wow!” But it’s not just live-action ‘adult’ programs that are able to do this. Sometimes an animated ‘kids’ show raises the bar as well, and we are gifted with series like Reboot and Avatar: The Last Airbender. The most recent animated program to do this is Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated, the latest (and greatest) incarnation of the classic series.
The previous ten series of Scooby-Doo are something of a mixed bag when it comes to quality. They ranged from the good (Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! and What’s New, Scooby-Doo?) to the downright terrible (The New Scooby and Scrappy-Doo Show and Shaggy & Scooby-Doo Get a Clue!), but despite the massive fluctuations in overall quality, they all suffered from the same problems: the stories were predictable, the formula quickly grew stale, and the characters were all quite bland stereotypes.
Mystery Incorporated puts an end to all that though, delivering a show that is both comfortably familiar yet refreshingly new. The stories are full of shocks and surprises, the formula is knowingly and intelligently subverted, and the characters are finally given interesting personalities.
Mystery Incorporated is unique for a Scooby-Doo show, because rather than just having an unconnected ‘monster of the week’, formula, it adopts a serial format. By having an overarching storyline that slowly unfolds over the show’s 52 episodes, the show is instantly made far more gripping and engaging. The episodes still has a weekly villain to unmask, but there is a bigger, darker mystery involving the disappearance of the original Mystery Incorporated that constantly keeps the audience guessing and keeps them watching.
The program also features some of the sharpest dialogue that I have seen this side of a Joss Whedon script. It’s consistently laugh out loud funny and authentically sentimental, and it is guaranteed to put a smile on your face. But the show is also unafraid to explore the darker side of mystery solving, and is surprisingly mature for an animated program. Friendships and tensions are brought to boiling point, villains are driven by incredibly dark motives, and there’s betrayal, torture, and even murder. It’s Scooby-Doo as you’ve never seen it before, and it is brilliant.
Another of the reasons the script is so sharp is that the writing is so self-aware of the Scooby-Doo formula, and is more than willing to make a few jokes at it’s own expense, often leading to some of the show’s best gags – in one episode Fred actually says “Come on gang, into the abandoned factory! We’ll be safe among all the dangerous machinery.” It’s this level of self-parody that makes the program such a joy to watch.
In having an ongoing story, it also means that the characters develop over the course of the show as well. They are given wants and needs, relationships, and conflict, and they are far more fleshed-out and rounded because of it. Fred is still the macho de-facto leader, but now he has a naivety that’s frankly adorable. Daphne is a much stronger character than she has been in previous series, unafraid to stand up for herself, yet always willing to see the best in people. Velma is still the smart one, but there is a loneliness and wanting behind her sarcastic and superior tone, which makes her very sympathetic. Shaggy is still the guy that wishes he could just coast through life, but that desire is no longer treated like the butt of a joke. And Scooby-Doo, far more than a simple sidekick in this show, is portrayed as a loyal and protective friend who is unwittingly forced into the role of a hero. And while everyone always knew that Daphne was in love with Fred anyway, it is a joy to finally see it become cannon.
The voice acting of the main five has always been a strong point on Scooby-Doo, and this show is not exception. Frank Welker, the one true voice of Fred, fits back into the role brilliantly and does equally great work as Scooby. Grey DeLisle (always a personal favourite of mine) and Mindy Cohn, returning from What’s New, Scooby-Doo!, are both fantastic as Daphne and Velma, respectively. And just like he did in the live-action films, Matthew Lillard once again perfectly embodies Shaggy, the part he was seemingly born to play.
The supporting cast, voiced by a plethora of seasoned character actors such as Gary Cole, Patrick Warburton, and Vivica A. Fox, are just as strong. While Sheriff Bronson Stone and Mayor Fred Jones, Sr. are the runaway favourites, stealing every scene they’re in, all of the supporting characters are brilliant, and add another layer of much needed personality to the show. In particular, the relationships between the kids and their respective parents, particularly Fred’s, gives the show a great dynamic and adds a surprising amount of tenderness and heart. And casting Linda Cardellini as Velma’s rival was a stroke of genius.
The guest cast is very impressing as well, amassing actors such as George Takei, Tricia Helfer, Mark Hamill, and James Marsters to add their vocals to the proceedings, and each do with great aplomb, raising the sterling of an already quality show.
One of the most obvious and charming aspects of the show is the fact that it has clearly been made by people who love the classic incarnations. Just some of the ways that this love is shown is through the inclusion of characters like the Hex Girls, the empty costumes of former villains, including Captain Cutler, Miner Forty-Niner, and Charlie the Haunted Robot, on display in the Museum, the background character who looks just like Don Knotts, and the single excellent reference to Scrappy-Doo.
And it’s not just Scooby-Doo that the creators love, it all the classic Hanna-Barbera shows. This is the most obvious in the episode Mystery Solvers Club State Finals, which is drawn in the style of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! and features classic characters such as Speed Buggy, Jabberjaw, Captain Caveman, and the Funky Phantom. Other episodes feature fleeting cameo appearances from famous characters, like Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm, and the entire cast of Jonny Quest. Other characters play a more intricate part in some episodes, like Heart of Evil, which features Dynomutt and a brilliantly OTT Blue Falcon, re-imagined here as a Frank Miller-esque vigilante. All of these aspects make the show a brilliant love letter to a famous era of cartoons and show just how important the source material is to the creators.
It is also obvious that the creators are fans of classic and cult horror as well. A Nightmare on Elm Street, Hellraiser, The Shining, An American Werewolf in London, the works of H. P. Lovecraft, Poltergeist, Saw, and even Twin Peaks, and many others are all referenced in note-perfect homages, making it obvious that the show is intended to be enjoyed by an older audience as well.
Unfortunately, Cartoon Network didn’t seem to realise what they had, and like Fox, chose to bury one of their best shows in a stupid time slot with little to no advertising. Because of this, Mystery Incorporated is something of an unknown gem. I only found out about it when I stumbled across half an episode that someone had posted on YouTube, and became hopelessly addicted to it, then forced my siblings and my girlfriend to watch it. So when you finish reading this, go out there and tell all your friends and family about this show and spread the word about just how good it is.
Hilarious and heart-warming, scary and suspenseful, Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated is brilliant in ever sense of the word. With characters you really care about, and mysteries to keep you guessing, it is fantastic viewing whatever your age. The meddling kids and their dumb dog have finally got a show that lives up to the legacy.