You probably watched Scooby-Doo as a kid but grew out of it around the same time you started riding without a booster seat. So when that new Scooby-Doo series came out, you were already in your teens, and had better things to do with your time. You thought. You had no more time to waste on Scooby-Doo. You thought.
But you … were … wrong.
What is it?
Mystery Incorporated is more than the usual monster-of-the-week road-trip Scooby-Doo you grew up with. Yeah, sure, there’s a monster every week, and they “solve” mysteries by catching them in traps that would make Tom & Jerry proud, with motives that wouldn’t drive any right-minded person to put on an elaborate costume and scare people when they could’ve just, say, competed on Face-Off; but MI takes that inherent goofiness and makes it a beautiful thing.
Among many of the things MI’s creators brought to the table for the first time in Scooby-Doo history, one of them was a self-aware satire. They know obsessive sleuthing teenagers and their talking dog solving crimes committed by costumed crazies suspends nobody’s disbelief. So they take that inherent absurdity and run with it, populating an improbale world with emotionally complex characters and a dark and mysterious overarching plotline, filling in the cracks with a snide humor that plays off that dichotomy. Their weekly adventures are generally better than your average classic Scooby-Doo! Where Are You? mystery, even when it’s painfully obvious whodunit (like that time James Hong and George Takei didn’t even bother to disguise their voices when in costume); but they’re just for fun, and for the most part that’s all they are. In every episode, there’s some element of a more interesting side plot, something to develop character or the underlying mystery. When things get serious, it’s all the more impactful thanks to the contrast.
The main plotline revolves around Mystery Inc. gang’s home town, Crystal Cove, and the ghosts and secrets that have been haunting it for years. This, if you will, “mytharc” storyline is a background focus from episode one, and it’s never ignored, never neglected. The show patiently and consistently unravels its plotlines with enthusiastic fascination. Every time a question is answered, it leads to some new secret. As the plot develops the story world expands, fleshing out its history and deepening the mystery. Surprisingly, the series does a really, really good job of maintaining this momentum for two seasons. Honestly, it’s one of the most compelling mystery plots I’ve ever seen on television.
And as that mystery is fleshed out, so are our characters and their relationships. Shippers rejoice, for the gang’s hormones run high. Ever wanted to see Daphne and Fred as a legitimate couple? Or Velma and Shaggy? Did you wonder what effect that might have on his bromance with Scooby? Heck, did you ever want to see Daphne and Shaggy kiss? Get ready, ship fans, you’re about to see it all. And even if you’re not big on the shipping, there’s plenty more. For the first time in Scooby’s history, the characters are given families with roles that matter to, and enrich the story. Friendships are formed and strained and broken. And as the mystery develops and the truth comes out, we see the effect it has upon these relationships. A central underlying theme in this series is truth. The kids’ obsession with solving every mystery that comes their way brings them face-to-face with secrets and lies and ugly truth. The gang, their friends, their families, all of Crystal Cove seems to have something to hide, and as they discover the truth the more they see the consequences of all the secrecy and lies.
A few more things to love about this show: its animation is lovely, the music is spot on, and the voice acting is great. MI has a vintage, somewhat nostalgic style, with hyperrealistic character designs that nod back to Scooby’s Hanna-Barbera roots, but ultimately the visuals resemble Disney’s current Mickey Mouse series of shorts, more than anything else I can think of.
The music, if nothing catchy, is weird and spooky and just honestly perfect. As for the voice acting, there’s much to be said for the performances the actors, new and old, bring to the characters. Frank Welker, who’s been voicing Fred for fifty years, really delivers on the comedy and drama alike, giving the character a subtlety I’ve never heard him give before. He does the same for Scooby-Doo, who he’s been voicing for a decade now. Grey Delisle and Mindy Cohn, returning voices for Daphne and Velma, give new life and youth to their roles, while Matthew Lillard, who may take a little getting used to, proves himself more than up to being the new Shaggy. (This was notably the last Scooby-Doo series Casey Kasem, who’d voiced Shaggy up until MI, had a part in, was a part of, as he did have several cameos as Shaggy’s dad. And while I’m glad they honored him this way, I’m especially glad because I really can’t see Kasem’s voice working for Shaggy in this incarnation the way Lillard’s did.) Other voices you might recognize include Patrick Warburton, Gary Cole, Linda Cardellini, and naturally a whole phalanx of additional voices from Delisle and Welker.
I also have to point out that the obligatory Don Knotts caricature has several cameos. Be on the watch for him and a few of Scooby’s other celebrity guests of the past, as well as other well-known and even lesser-known character cameos.
Overall, Mystery Incorporated shows loving respect to Scooby-Doo’s legacy while updating the characters and bringing a compelling story to the plate, preserving the Mystery Inc. gang for a new generation who won’t be nearly as enthralled by Be Cool, Scooby-Doo. It’s an anomaly; very unusual Scooby-Doo fare, something very special that stands all on its own.
I give the series a B+ as a whole. While many of its episodes are A+ material, especially in season one, season two loses a cohesive hold of itself and makes some clumsy mistakes, although the overarching plot is even more exciting.
Will I like it?
If you’re a fan of Gravity Falls? Then yes, definitely, absolutely. See, here’s the thing. This is a series about kids battling supernatural monsters as they nlock the secrets of a mysterious town full of weird happenings, culminating in a face-off against an interdimensional evil that ultimately brings about the apocalypse. Sound familiar? I thought it would. If you’re a fan of Gravity Falls already, watch this show. Watch it now. I have nothing more to say to you.
For the two of you who aren’t GF fans, think Kim Possible meets X-Files. Sound like what you never knew you needed in your life? Well, that’s exactly what it is.
If you’re a fan of Scooby’s classic incarnations, like Where Are You and notably 13 Ghosts, and movies like Zombie Island and Witch’s Ghost, then you’ll be in love with Mystery Incorporated, so just go watch it now. If you’re not? Maybe this will redeem the Mystery Inc. gang for you.
Try it and I promise, there will be something here that you’ll enjoy. It may not be the best show you’ve ever seen, but it will be the best Scooby-Doo series you could’ve imagined.
Where can I watch it?
Netflix. Right now. Your other options are the $20 DVD sets, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, Vudu, and iTunes … but I think you and I both know you already opened Netflix in another window.
I’m Caleb, and you’re the best. Thanks for reading. If you want to read more, you can subscribe with the “Follow” button in the sidebar. Feel free to comment below or drop me a line on Twitter @_CalebPeiffer. I’d love to hear from you!