Monday, September 9, 2013

Microreview [TV]: Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated, Season 1

The Meat

Let's not beat around the bush: there has been a lot of bad Scooby-Doo. As a matter of fact, even if we grew up loving Scoob, re-watching the original series (arguably the best there was) as adults holds pretty much nothing but nostalgia value. But Cartoon Network managed -- however briefly -- to give us the best Scooby-Doo series ever, in the form of Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated. Let me be clear, this show isn't "Good for being Scooby-Doo," it's just good television, period. Look, I mean it's not Breaking Bad, but if you're a fan of smart animation, this one should be on your list.

There are a lot of elements familiar to the Scooby-Doo formula here, like the weekly bad guy in an impossible costume with an asinine plan for revenge or minimal personal gain, but new elements, too, like more in-depth character development and a serialized mystery that spans the entire season. The show draws writing talent from all over the animation spectrum, from Animaniacs, The Powerpuff Girls, Johnny Bravo, Batman: The Animated Series, and many more shows, and this creative team deftly walks the line of self-awareness without ever tipping into empty self-parody. The show weaves in very smart references to H.P. Lovecraft and Harlan Ellison (who provides his own voice), Vincent Price, Alien, Twilight, and other Hanna-Barbera series from throughout the last fifty years. You're not going to miss anything if you're not steeped in Cthulhu lore, for instance, but catching the references is fun.

Also fun is trying to place the excellent voice cast, which is deployed as deftly as everything else in the series. In the first episode, they cast Casey Kasem as Shaggy's dad, and it keeps going from there. Frank Welker is back as Fred (as he's been since Day 1) and Scooby, James Hong nearly reprises his role as David Lo-Pan from Big Trouble in Little China, there's a partial Seinfeld supporting cast reunion with Patrick Warburton (Puddy) and John O'Hurley (J. Peterman), recurring parts for Lewis Black, Maurice LaMarche (The Brain), Linda Cardellini (Freaks & Geeks), Vivica A. Fox, Udo Kier (as a murderous parrot), and Gary Cole (Lumberg from Office Space). And the writers give them a ton of memorable quotes, like two of my favorites from one episode:
  • Fred: Quick, whose bones are the most delicious?
  • Scooby: Those churros look suspicious.
For all the silliness that goes on between the members of the Mystery, Inc. gang (Fred, for instance, can't choose between his love for Daphne and his love for making complicated traps), there's some real darkness that creeps in, as well. There are meaningful betrayals and disappointments, some of the bad guys are actually kind of brutal, and there are some jaw-dropping moments that I can safely say I never expected to see in an episode of Scooby-Doo. I watched the show with my four-year-old, but she's a unique kid who wants to grow up to marry Darth Vader, so on the whole I'd recommend showing it to slightly older kids (you can check out our handy Nerds of a Feather Guide to Nerducating Your Children for further reference), or just watch it on your own. That's cool, too.

The Math

Objective Quality: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 for the writing; +1 for the voice cast; +1 for naming the weird girl at school "Hot Dog Water."

Penalties: -1 for ringing the romance-between-gang-members bell a little too hard; -1 for Cartoon Network pulling the plug on the series after Season 2.

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10, which means you should should add it to your Netflix list, like now, man.