HBO Max’s latest entry into the Scooby-Doo canon, Velma, has the kind of pedigree that usually signals hit. Executive produced by veteran TV auteur Mindy Kaling, who also voices the animated series’ title character, it’s a show about one of pop culture’s most beloved nerds. Like Riverdale before it, Velma also takes a kids’ entertainment staple and gives it a new, winkingly adult twist. Yet, with all of that going for it, the show has still become the internet’s new favorite punching bag.
Tweets knock the show’s attempts at edgy humor mocking the culture wars. Parodies take aim at its plot lines. Forbes has made a beat of dramatically chronicling the backlash: Showrunner Charlie Grandy, “a frequent collaborator of Kaling’s” and “the son of a former Love Boat star,” has apparently “been accused of being a ‘nepotism’ case,” one post declared. As another put it, succinctly enough, “Everyone Hates Velma.”
The full truth behind this fallout, as usual, is complicated. Despite the vitriol, people are watching the show; according to HBO Max, Velma was its biggest animated series premiere ever. Problem is, they’re watching it through the lens of the entire history of Velma and the Scooby-Doo franchise as a whole.
For one, Velma opted for color-blind casting, with its title character now being a South Asian woman. For another, this Velma is portrayed as more overtly queer. But while it might be easy to chalk up backlash against the show to the usual racism and/or homophobia that tends to accompany this kind of thing—and there’s likely still a bit of that in play here—what’s going on with Velma runs deeper than that.
The biggest gripes about the show seem not to be that it’s addressing issues of diversity in the Mystery Inc. gang, but rather that the show is doing it in a flat, one-note manner. And when it comes to Velma’s sexuality—something that’s been a topic of discussion in Scooby-Doo discourse for years—any attempt to address the matter needs depth.
For decades, through various Scooby-Doo properties, the writers behind the character have hinted that Velma is gay. In her earliest iterations, she was definitely queer-coded, and James Gunn, who wrote two Scooby-Doo live-action movies in the early 2000s, claimed a few years back that Velma was “explicitly gay” in his initial script in 2001. “But the studio just kept watering it down and watering it down, becoming ambiguous (the version shot), then nothing (the released version), and finally having a boyfriend (the sequel).” During Pride month in 2020, Tony Cervone, who was a supervising producer on the animated series Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated, made a post on Instagram saying his Velma was “not bi. She’s gay.”
But Velma’s sexuality in Mystery Incorporated, which aired from 2010 to 2013, was only ever hinted at. Then, late last year, in the animated movie Trick or Treat Scooby-Doo!, the subtext became text: Velma had a crush on a female villain, and the internet loved it. As The Washington Post reported, a teenager from Ontario was one of the first to spot the confirmation, and her gushing tweet promptly went viral: “OMG LESBIAN VELMA FINALLY CANON CANON IN THE MOVIES LETS GOOOOOO.”