Welcome back to Boomb Tube, Multiversity’s weekly column detailing the current Cape Cartoons scene. This week we kick off a new special edition of the column! Considering that it’s the summer and we’ve all burnt through the new season of Orange is the New Black, we are now in dire need of shows to binge on! You can’t go outside! It’s too scary!
Or you know, you’re also a responsible adult who likes to kick back and watch a lot of TV. I don’t know. Truthfully, I’m trying to cater to both demographics.
Anyway, if you’re a shut-in or just need something on Netflix to kill time then listen up because we all need to have a very serious discussion on one of the most underrated cartoons of the past decade: Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated aka “What Would Happen if You Mixed The Venture Bros, True Detective, and “The Invisibles” All Into One Kid’s Cartoon”. Mild spoilers ahead!
Scooby Doo has always been a franchise defined by its formula. Hip kids and their talking dog roam around the country in their Manson Family van and solve supernatural mysteries that usually turn out to be the cause of poor people in costumes looking for a way to get rich so they can keep their home or something. Sometimes the formula changes, like in that movie where Scooby and Shaggy fell in love with aliens or when everyone met the WWE’s John Cena, but the formula’s usually the same.
In fact the formula of meddling kids and their talking dog has become so engrained into pop culture that it’s responsible for 40% of the content on shows like The Venture Bros, Harvey Birdman, Robot Chicken, and way more. Aside from their jokes, the frankly horrifying idea of these four kids and this talking dog that just talks for no reason perpetually stumbling upon maniacs who dress up as monsters to save their ski resort rather than apply for an appeal to the bank has hardly ever been elaborated on. The talking dog, the masked bad guys, the cyclical nature of the gang’s lives; none of these have ever truly been explored until Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated.
And by dragging up these mysteries, among many others, Mystery Incorporated proves itself as one of the freakiest and most mind-blowing cartoons that also happens to be the eleventh incarnation of a show about groovy teens and their talking dog.
The show distinguishes itself from the prior ten iterations of Scooby Doo by actually taking place in one setting: Crystal Cove. Crystal Cove is “The Most Hauntedest Place on Earth”, a seaside town which Mayor Jones would love to turn into a monster trap. Unfortunately, his son, Fred, and his meddling friends keep unmasking all the monsters in the town and robbing it of potential streams of revenue.
Oh, wait, yeah, I should probably mention: Fred has a dad. Velma, Shaggy, and Daphne have families too. By setting the series in one location rather than a vague road trip, Mystery Incorporated gets the chance to (literally) ground the characters and focus more on their personalities and relationships. Fred has a jerk dad more obsessed with profit than his own son. Daphne lives in the shadows of her sisters while her parents urge her to give up being a mystery solver and do something real with her life. Velma balances working at her parent’s Spook Museum and her relationship with Shaggy which they’re both keeping a secret so as not to make Scooby jealous.
Yeah. There’s a love triangle between Shaggy, Velma, and Scooby Doo. This show is wild.
One reason this show becomes so compelling is due to the utilization of the weekly monster mysteries as a background to the real plot of the series rather than as the meat of it. One episode may have a ghost trucker rampaging around Crystal Cove but the real story of the episode revolves Fred’s reluctance to commit to anything he may deem as “grown-up” and his tendency to dive into his love of building traps. The reassembling of the “Monster of the Week” formula into a B-plot doesn’t just allow for Dawson’s Creek style angst though; over the course of the series, right from the first episode, Mystery Incorporated starts to unveil a conspiracy in town around something horrible happening to another Mystery Incorporated that worked out of Crystal Cove twenty years prior only to mysteriously vanish. As they unravel this mystery, in between encounters with manticores, man crabs, and (I am not even kind of joking) Captain Caveman, the horrible truth (which is bad enough to be the plot of a Sam Shepard play) is finally revealed.Continued below
And that’s the end of season one. In season two, the truth fights back. Characters who were previously sought out return only to make peoples’ lives a living hell. Like, “kidnap someone and then wear their face to fool their friends” level of living hell. The nature of the forces that have been manipulating the deadly game everyone’s been playing are anything but comforting and in fact the result of an existential crisis for the Scooby Gang that, when fully described, sounds like a monologue said by Rust from True Detective.
If that sounds horribly depressing then, well, it kind of is. Mystery Incorporated goes a lot darker than its predecessors, even down to the monsters of the week I mentioned earlier. In the 70’s show you’d have some guy in a mask called The Creeper but here the gang faces down a flying manticore. Charlie the Robot? How about an actual robot attack dog from “Fahrenheit 451” that poses as Scooby while attacking innocent people. Heck, one of the main villains is a parrot that acts like Hannibal Lecter. The bad guys in this show do not let up for a single second!
At this point, from my description, it might be easy to assume that Mystery Incorporated is just some post-modern garbage attempt at making Scooby Doo “relevant” and “gritty” but that’s not entirely the case. All the drama for the show isn’t presented solely as shock value. If anything, the looming mysteries feel like elements that should’ve been part of the Scooby Doo canon since day one. And the gloominess that can overtake the show at some points is beaten back by the show’s quirky sense of humor, like the episode where one of the bad guys turns out to be a Christopher Walken impersonator. Or anything revolving around Patrick Warburton’s bumbling Sheriff Bronson. Or the episode where Scooby Doo, Shaggy, and The Hex Girls straight up reenact that “Battle of the Bands” scene from Scott Pilgrim while fighting a zombie ska band. Even though it delves into the gloomy side on occasion, the tone of the show is much more closer to, say, Batman: The Brave and the Bold than Watership Down.
Speaking of The Hex Girls, Mystery Incorporated also does a solid job of incorporating its vast continuity. Vincent Van Ghoul from The 13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo shows up as a washed up actor, morbid jokes are made about Scrappy Doo’s absence, and, in addition to a number of Hanna-Barbera characters, Blue Falcon shows up as Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns.”
Other Hanna-Barbera characters are the same. It’s just Blue Falcon who delivers street justice to the perps of Crystal Cove. I’d list them more thoroughly but in an effort to keep the surprises fresh, I’ll let it be.
It’s not all just old characters and callbacks, however. Mystery Incorporated also introduces plenty of new characters that breathe fresh air into the franchise’s otherwise dead supporting cast. In addition to the aforementioned parents, there’s Mister E, the mysterious power player behind many of Crystal Cove’s events. Helping out the kids is Angel Dynamite, a Foxy Brown style DJ who has a few secrets of her own. Also assisting the kids in their quest to discover some awful Lovecraftian truth is… er… H.P. Hatecraft and his best friend, the actual Harlan Ellison. That’s right, the critically acclaimed writer of “A Boy and His Dog” and “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” has his own Scoobypedia page (watch out for spoilers on that link). And most importantly, the series also introduces Marci AKA “Hot Dog Water” (she smells like it) voiced by Linda Cardellini, who played Velma in the live-action movie and who not only gets some of the best moments in the series but is also a possible same-sex love interest for Velma.
While all these disparate elements are well and good on their own, in Mystery Incorporated they all melt together to form an actual mystery revealed over time that has dire consequences for not just the characters of the show but for the entirety of the Scooby Doo franchise as we know it. If you’re a fan of Scooby Doo, be it from nostalgia or just general affection, then this is already the type of show you’d enjoy with plenty of continuity nods, humor, innovative reimaginings of the characters. Beyond all that, however, it’s a genuinely compelling mystery that touches upon the deceit that’s often shared along the generation gap and the horror of being stuck in a role for too long.Continued below
I would talk more at length about it, but I’d be afraid of giving away too many spoilers. Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated is definitely the type of show I have a lot more to say about but I’d hate to ruin it for anyone, so if you have time over the summer and check this show out let me know in the comments or through my e-mail at the bottom of the post if you’d like to see a more in-depth analysis of Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated. Until then, rev up your Netflix queue, go outside, and enjoy your summer before we return to the usual Boomb Tube programming next week.
Oh and one last thing. If you’re a fan of Twin Peaks:
… You’re definitely going to want to check this show out.