Scooby-Doo will never die. Ever since its original incarnation back in 1969, the franchise has spawned numerous versions, an endless onslaught of variations on a ridiculously simple premise: four teens and their talking dog solve mysteries. There’s really no way I can explain why such a mundane (for a cartoon) premise has endured for over 45 years, but in that time, the premise has been copied, redone, rebooted, re-imagined, subverted, parodied, dissected and god-knows what else. The last take on it–Mystery Inc.–was considered by many to be the best version in recent memory (an opinion that I seem to be in the minority of disagreeing with, which I’ll get into a bit in the Stray Observations), but then the Great Dane went on a mystery-solving caper with KISS, and now with this iteration entitled Be Cool, Scooby-Doo! airing on Cartoon Network, I don’t know what to think.
The only thing I can really say is what I think of the new show, and all I can say is that it’s okay. It kind of feels like if American Dad, or the early episodes of Family Guy, were filtered through the Scooby-Doo template. There’s a heavy dose of weird, quirky, and absurd humor within the show, and it generally works, but the Scooby-Doo premise is so simplistic that almost any genre could be place on top of it and generally work. The question is if it’s effective. Personally, I think it is, but certainly isn’t in the “necessary/must-watch” category; in the end, it just depends on what you want from a Scooby-Doo show. I imagine “true Scooby-Doo fans” will be lenient to yet another variation of the show, while those preferring the tone of Mystery Inc. fans will ignore its existence.
The biggest change is in Daphne, who has always been portrayed as some variation of a “rich, spoiled girl” stereotype. Here, she’s kind of split between the comic relief and the weirdo, and it’s a change that takes some getting used to. (In “Grand Scam,” she sees a mascot costume and immediately puts it on and starts to yell out terrible cheers.) A quirky take on Daphne is probably less weird than the idea of Fred as the relative straight man, lacking that goofy, clueless edge that defined him for years. It’s also disappointing to see Velma’s intelligence downplayed (and to see her so uncomfortably skinny). She gets to exhibit some smarts, but it seems to all be tied to 1) throw-away informative exposition, and 2) statistics. It would be nice to see her exhibiting her knowledge more, and the team actually utilizing it. And of course, Shaggy and Scooby are still the same, the two gluttonous friends that seem to always get stuck alone together. Although, it was nice to see Shaggy step up his bravado in order to save his precious baseball stadium, suggesting Be Cool, Scooby Doo! will at least try to push its characters a little bit.
As for the actual episode, “Grand Scam” is a pretty open-and-shut case, filled with red herrings and obvious, and not-so-obvious, suspects. (I guess I could spoil it, but the identity of the ghost is freaking obvious, and would anyone really care?) The central mysteries were never really interesting in Scooby-Doo, but in this series, they do allow for some classic elements to pop up, most notably the third act “music-cued-wacky-chase” scene to pop up. The animation is very hit or miss, with some occasional nice touches (the lighting and framing of Scooby/Shaggy/Daphne, and the ghost, in the player’s tunnel was admittedly well done). The character designs themselves, with their creepy, slightly off-centered eyes and grossly thin limbs, is another issue entirely. And the jokes themselves consist of characters doing wacky things, and characters reacting to wacky things, which can be funny if timed-right (and only occasionally are). Be Cool, Scooby-Doo! is an easy-going show to watch when there’s nothing else on, and kids probably will enjoy yet another iteration of the four-teens-and-talking-dog set-up. But this cartoon isn’t exactly a complex televisual mystery that needs solving, or even observation.
- Okay, because I know it’s going to come up: yes, I wasn’t a fan of Mystery Inc., although I did like a lot of elements about it, particularly the scenic designs, the use of colors, and the genuinely well-done action scenes. I think it kind of got so caught up in its series-long story-arc that a lot of the characters outside of Freddy and Velma got lost (and even Velma has some issues). If you care I wrote a more detailed critique here.
- Of the episodes that aired this week, I found “All Paws on Deck” to be the best. It gave every character a story to work with, made the most use of the show’s goofier tone, and had the most jokes that landed. Its central mystery wasn’t the best–that belongs to “Mystery 101”–but it worked well enough.
- Fred is afraid of widths, which is so stupid that it made me chuckle, but it was surprising to hear it come up in another episode. I doubt we’ll see it again, though, it’s too nonsensical to make sense past that.
- Velma more insecure in this series, which isn’t in display in this episode, but it’s kind of a lame trait to give her. It comes off as another way to downplay her confidence in her intelligence. IT’S OKAY TO BE SMART, HOLLYWOOD.
- I sort of like the montage where the various kids explain the criminal behind the mask and his/her motive, but Scooby-Doo’s mysteries always have a layer of BS on them that make the reveal fairly meaningless. Scooby-Doo was never a franchise where if you were paying close attention you could solve the case, and Be Cool, Scooby-Doo is no different.