HBO Max’s new original animated show “Velma” may very well be the most controversial television show of 2023. It may be a bit too soon to make the call as it’s still February, and only 10 episodes are out thus far, but this is something special. Only something so vile, so putrid, so abysmal could bring the whole internet together to collectively bash it to bits, and deservedly so.
Among the many faults of Mindy Kaling’s failing fanfiction, which the internet is pleased to dissect, is the character assassination of the classic five characters — well, four. Scooby isn’t even in the show. All of the character’s rewrites have major problems, but the most egregious example has to be Fred Jones. The creators took the beloved character and made him into a manchild who can’t cut his own food, can’t recognize people if he thinks they’re ugly, and struggles emotionally since he hasn’t hit puberty and has a tiny penis. What a tragedy.
Never mind the fact that they boiled down all of the character’s complexities and trauma and attributed them to a baby penis. What really makes this character obliteration tragic is not what has been delivered but what has been left out. Fred Jones is actually the best character in the “Scooby-Doo” series for one reason only: versatility.
Believe it or not, the “Scooby-Doo” series is heavily formulaic. Apart from a few exceptions that incorporate serialization, all of the plots and characters revolve around somebody dressing up as a monster, usually to make money. It’s a formula that practically makes itself, which is further exemplified through the character dynamics. There’s Scooby and Shaggy as the comedic relief, Daphne as either the skilled one or just the pretty one (depending on the iteration), Velma as the brains and Fred who’s… nothing.
What is Fred’s character type? It can’t just be that he’s the jock or the leader; that’s too vague. There really wasn’t anything that defined him in the original show from the 1960s, so there wasn’t a canonical rationale to make him unique. This is why he has no catchphrase like “Zoinks,” “Jinkies” or “Ruh-roh.” Fred has no character type, making him a blank slate.
Because Fred Jones has no real defining trait, the writers could theoretically do anything with him and no one would bat an eye. Some people would react negatively if Shaggy didn’t act like a stoner — *cough “Velma” *cough* — but no one would bat an eye if Fred’s uncle was Bobby Flay. There is no box for Fred Jones, only wide-open fields.
One of the best examples of this is “Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated,” which widely considered to be the best “Scooby-Doo” show made. What the writers did for him was take his love for traps and take it to the MAX!!! He’s in awe at the traps set by his enemies rather than in fear for his life. He reads a magazine called “Traps Illustrated” — for the articles of course. He claims he only has feelings for traps and for Daphne. What gold!
After the success of the television show, writers began to explore the possibilities of Fred, and they never fell face first. His favorite music group is an acapella act called the Ascot Five? Why not! He has a fascination and bloody history with trapeze? Of course! His love of nets brings him to the brink of tears? Is that even a question?!
Perhaps most intrinsic to the golden age of Fred is his most consistent trait: his himboism.
He may be the leader of the Mystery Gang and have a heart of gold, but he doesn’t have much of a brain. His feelings for traps and Daphne could conceivably be his only thoughts. There may not be a brain cell in him, but there’s also not a single bad bone in his body. He would do anything to solve mysteries and protect his friends — he’s a big dumb idiot you just can’t help but love.
Now, imagine if the writers of “Velma” looked at all of that and said, “Hey! That’s nice, but no.” They preserved Fred’s idiocy, killed his underlying kindness and replaced it with shallow immaturity. Gone is the boyish wonder and whimsy, it has since been replaced by a childish and self-centered attitude with a misogynistic cherry on top. There is nothing likable about this Fred.
What’s more, is that they managed to remove his potential for any creative writing choices. He has no particular hyper-fixations or intense fascinations; he’s just a stuck-up rich dude who harasses women. The only thing Fred really has going for him is his desire to score with chicks, even though he apparently hasn’t gone through puberty yet.
It’s hard to get Fred Jones wrong, either because he’s too bland to care about or because the narrative potential within him is too great. Somehow, the writers of “Velma” managed to make what should have been the most likable human character of the franchise anything but. The “Scooby-Doo” franchise already has a track record of being hit or miss, but it didn’t need this.
For a good portrayal of Fred Jones and an overall excellent television show, just watch “Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated.” It’s funny, the action scenes are creative and thrilling and the overarching plot has twists and turns that its successor lacks. And above all else, they got Fred right.
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