Confession time: I've never really enjoyed Scooby-Doo.
The original show just didn't have that much going for it: formulaic writing, lame jokes, long boring stretches where nothing happens, and an absolute lack of comedic or dramatic tension. It just isn't an easy sell.
However, it is hard to deny that the franchise has been successful. With a string of successive shows, movies, tv-movies, and the like. I'm often left wondering what keeps people coming back.
My first guess was that it was the show's element of mystery. It plays a game with the viewer, making them guess who will be behind the mask at the end. People love that.
But that can't be the reason for the show's success. If it was, then all of the shows that tried to replicate the original Scooby-Doo would have been just as successful. And Hanna-Barbara tried many times to do that, with Jabberjaw, The Funky Phantom, Captain Caveman, and others.
The Art of Balance
Which leaves only one possibility for the otherwise-inexplicable longevity of the show: the characters.
Scooby-Doo is blessed with a bouquet of distinctive characters. Sure, they're stereotypes, but they are perfectly balanced stereotypes. Each one pulls the story in a different direction, but their collective tilt equals out to zero, resulting in a show that always manages to stay on course and feel well rounded, allowing it to cater to almost every taste.
Building a Better Monster Trap
But balanced or not, this exceptional cast of characters was never given anything interesting to do. For decades, their potential was wasted. And, after wasting chance after chance to break the show out of its shell, it seemed as if this disappointment would go on forever.
Until a few years ago, when it seemed as if someone in power finally asked the question, "These characters already have an established following. Why don't we put them in something interesting?"
And that's how we got Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated---the show that took the Scooby gang away from parlour mysteries and into a serial adventure.
The Butterfly Emerges
Honestly, the biggest mystery surrounding this show is "Why did no one do this sooner?".
Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated is a serially progressing story with self-contained episodes, meaning that each individual caper is fun to watch, but you get maximum enjoyment by viewing them all in order from start to finish. The result is something a little darker, a little brighter, and a little more daring than anything we've seen out of the Scooby-Doo franchise or any Hanna-Barbara IP.
Let me give you a few reasons to be excited:
- This show treats all previous Scooby-Doo incarnations as semi-canon, meaning that characters and aspects of any and all Scooby-Doo shows are allowed to pop up and become plot elements of this series, though it is done in such a way that it does not isolate those who are unfamiliar with the original Scooby-Doo
- This show gives each character multi-episode arcs, with their own triumphs and downfalls that accumulate into their character as the series progresses.
- This show takes place in a shared universe with all other Hanna-Barbara intellectual properties, meaning that other beloved cartoon characters from the 60s and 70s can and will show up in the gang's adventures.
- This show ties up all the loose ends and plot holes that have surrounded the franchise from the beginning. Questions such as "Why does Scooby talk?", "Why do so many criminals all try the same ruse to hide their crimes?", "Why does the gang always end up being the ones who catch these criminals?" are all answered.
- This series takes inspiration from many of the great mystery shows of the past few decades, including Twin Peaks and The X-Files and even has the odd reference here and there to provide an homage to these predecessors.
- For the first time in the franchise's history, the heroes are set against an equally worthy group of villains, who present a real challenge and who often have the upper hand.
And I'm only scratching the tip of the iceberg here. This show has tons of easter eggs and plot twists begging to be chronicled in their own wiki (which I know already exists somewhere).
Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated takes place in the fictional town of Crystal Cove, a small American borough with an active criminal population due to rumors of an ancient treasure that exist somewhere inside the city limits. But catching these idiots is par for the course for everyone's favorite mystery solving teenagers.
That is, of course, until one such mystery ends with the discovery of a mysterious locket containing an old photograph. In short time, the gang discovers that the picture has something to do with the original Mystery Incorporated: a similarly organized band of mystery solving misfits that became a mystery themselves when they disappeared without a trace many years prior.
Complicating matters is the enigmatic "Mr. E", who begins to contact the gang through prerecorded messages, urging them to keep pursuing the truth, no matter what the cost. With each new revelation, more and more questions arise, as it becomes more and more certain that the original Mystery Incorporated met with a terrible fate, and that the current generation of crime-fighters may be doomed to repeat their mistakes.
The more mature tone of the series allows it to go in darker directions. Naturally, this allows for the monsters in Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated to be a lot more intimidating than anything found in the original series. In fact, some of them are downright creepy. The gang have far more, and far closer, brushes with death than anything we've ever seen them in before, and in the second season the show makes it clear that permadeath is not off the table for any supporting characters.
Now, for a little context: Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated did not do well, as a TV show, when it was on cable television. The second season did not premiere in the United States. It was only shown here after it had already finished running in Australia and other regions. And while it has become something of a cult phenomenon since then, we are unlikely to get anything like it ever again.
By taking the road less traveled, this show's creators have given us the best interpretation of Scooby-Doo ever made. It is a triumph of storytelling over selling out. It proves that any intellectual property, no matter how played out and milked to the bone, can reinvent itself to become something brilliant. This show did what Thundercats and Transformers failed to do: present us with a remake that not only exceeded the original, but gave fresh justification to the entire IPs existence. This show is a master class on how to revive dead franchises.
As if you already didn't know my feelings on the subject.
Put simply: you should be watching this show. Both seasons and all episodes are now streaming on Netflix, where it has done considerably better than it ever has on TV. Even if you don't like Scooby-Doo. Even if you've hated every previous outing of this franchise, don't pass this series up. You will not believe how much it will surprise you.
Previous entries in the Netflixing series:
- Soul Eater
- The Office
- Young Justice
- Blue Exorcist
- Bojack Horseman
- Black Butler
- Bob's Burgers
- Death Note
- Attack on Titan
- 3rd Rock from the Sun