Everyone is talking about “Velma,” the new R-rated animated series based on the lore of “Scooby-Doo,” that just debuted on HBO Max.
Centered around the titular mystery of Mystery Inc. (now voiced by Mindy Kaling), who is dealing with her missing mother, her strained relationship with Daphne (Constance Wu) and the fact that her plutonic BFF Norville “Shaggy” Rogers (Sam Richardson) is secretly in love with her. Oh and Fred (Glenn Howerton) is the prime suspect in a series of grisly murders. (That’s right, there’s a serial killer on the loose scooping out peoples’ brains.) Featuring course language and plenty of nudity and gore, “Velma” takes the preexisting franchise into much darker, more mature territory.
It’s such a huge swing that you are right to wonder where this series came from (and who okayed it). TheWrap asked creator Charlie Grandy and star Mindy Kaling about the show’s secret origins and if there was any pushback to how extreme it went.
How did this show come about?
Charlie Grandy: Mindy and I both moved over to Warner Bros. at the same time and she’d been thinking about doing some animation and was looking over the catalogue of characters. It’s like, Oh, I’ve always related to Velma as the sort of unsung hero who does all the work but gets none of the credit. And how fun would it be to do an origin story about that character?
Mindy and I have worked together a lot. Mindy knew that I loved animation, I watched a lot of it. I talked a lot [about it]. And she said, “Would you want to maybe try something like that?” And it started as conversations and it really started to snowball from that point. We pitched it softly to Warner Bros. Animation. They said, “Yeah, we would love to do this, so go and do it.”
Was there any pushback to how hard-edged your take was?
Charlie Grandy: Not at all.
Mindy Kaling: No, it was just excitement. It’s so great because we love this character. She’s so iconic and obviously one of the few characters from the era that she was created that I could actually identify with. And it’s no surprise I love writing about young women. Charlie created the show. I just played the part. But this world of teenagers was such a fun world that I’ve loved to explore before and it was such a great way to work with actors who we normally couldn’t get to be on a live-action show – Ming-Na Wen and Russell Peters, and obviously Glenn and Sam and Constance and Yvonne Orji, all these people who were killers on their own show, were willing to come do voices on this. It’s such a dream experience.
There’s so much “Scooby-Doo” lore at this point and you obviously have homages like original voice actor Frank Welker voicing Fred’s father. Was it hard to balance the references and the reinvention?
Charlie Grandy: I think the key was always keeping the original in the forefront of your mind and really just letting that be the compass. What really attracted me to the project was I loved “Scooby-Doo” growing up and I loved both the comedy and also the horror. And the goal for me was to try to update both for an audience. We’re not just necessarily taking these characters and updating them in the sense that, “Oh, now they’re super crass and it’s not what you thought.” It’s trying to keep the suspense and the horror and the jokes, but for something that would be engaging to an older, more mature audience.
Again, when you look at those original characters, they have their iconic outfits and they have some small character traits, but it’s not a ton. It felt like, Okay, we have these few things. How can we put story weight on those things? How can we make that a big reveal the first time a character does something or is wearing something that you haven’t seen before? You want it to have meaning. And it ended up being really helpful in terms of breaking stories and thinking about stories.
“Velma” is on HBO Max now.