Review Date: 8/16/22
Cast: Frank Welker, Mindy Cohn, Grey Delisle (Grey Griffin), Matthew Lillard
Contains 52 episodes
"Mystery Incorporated" is both a sequel to the original series and a reimagining of it. It's also a continuous sequential story that spans the overarching mystery and curse of their home town of Crystal Cove, known as "the most hauntedest place on earth." While every episode is a "monster of the week" outing, there's always a connection to something deeper and more sinister. Much like Buffy's Hellmouth, Crystal Cove is a magnet for evil weirdos and strange phenomena. This is by far my favorite interpretation of the gang, and everyone gets equal and well-rounded representation. Fred (Frank Welker) has an unhealthy obsession with traps, an innocent and naïve bluntness, and is completely socially clueless. His brilliance and disregard for safety are borderline crazy at times. Daphne (Grey Delisle) is finally given a chance to shine as an independent and bright-minded daughter of a wealthy family, who is also a keen mystery solver. The show fully acknowledges and embraces her sex appeal, which other entries in the series purposely avoid. Velma (Mindy Cohn) is given a significant geek chic makeover which boosts her sex appeal as well, although other characters in the show routinely put her in the "not hot" category. She remains the smartest, most logical, most practical, and most cynical member of the team, but her ego doesn't compel her to seek validation or compete for alpha nerd status. And then there's Shaggy (Matthew Lillard) and Scooby-Doo (Frank Welker): constantly hungry and constantly scared, they remain forever unchanged as the unwavering backbone of the series.
While most of the monsters and villains in the show end up being the "man in a rubber mask" variety, the show does include some supernatural elements as well as real ghosts and monsters (especially towards the end of the second season). The show also acknowledges the characters and events in "The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo!" (1985), which included real ghosts and monsters, but reintroduces Vincent Van Ghoul as a B-movie horror actor rather than a sorcerer. Not surprisingly, nearly all of the adults in the show are dim-witted and misguided idiots who are primarily motivated by greed. Fred's father, who happens to be the mayor of Crystal Cove, views all of the strange occurrences in town as tourist revenue opportunities rather than dangerous criminal activity, while the brash and incompetent Sheriff Bronson Stone is given some of the funniest dialog in the series.
Given the continuous narrative of the show, the gang's interpersonal relationships are explored more fully and given a satisfying amount of depth. The romantic tension between Fred and Daphne is wonderful, and Fred's utter cluelessness effectively deflects and dispels Daphne's sexual allure so that they make a fun and dynamic couple that's totally non-threatening to younger and more sensitive audiences. Velma arguably gets the most dramatic character arc as the series begins with her and Shaggy in a romantic relationship that goes sour. The introduction of a rival nerd named Marcy hints at a deeper, although one-sided, romantic twist. Velma also repeatedly suffers attacks on her femininity and self-esteem, even though she's a strong, assertive, rational, and well-adjusted woman. Fred and Shaggy have their own emotional minefields to navigate, and struggle with the expectations that society places on masculinity.
The art direction is superb and the show looks fantastic, but where it really shines is in the writing. The dialog is very smart, funny, and mature, and nearly always in character. The show tackles some pretty heavy themes and doesn't shy away from violence and death. Yes, people actually die in the show, and often times horribly. The pop culture references are deep and wide, which add multiple layers to the humor and intellect found throughout the show. Not only does the show reference other "Scooby-Doo!" shows, but it also includes nods to the Griswalds from "Family Vacation", "The Terminator", "Watchmen", "Johnny Quest", "Captain Caveman", "Funky Phantom", "Jabberjaw", "Speed Buggy", H.P. Lovecraft, "Twilight", Taylor Lautner, Harlan Ellison, Don Knotts and Mama Cass from "The New Scooby-Doo Movies", Andy Warhol, "Dungeons And Dragons", "The Shining", "Hart To Hart", "Blue Falcon And Dyno-Mutt", Chris Farley's Matt Foley, "E.T.", "Close Encounters", "Aliens", Martha Quinn, "First Blood", and even David Lynch's "Dune." I'm sure there's tons of stuff that I didn't pick up on, and the writing is consistently engaging throughout. Only a handful of episodes falter, and one in particular is uncharacteristically misogynistic, but on the whole it's excellent across the board.
The voice acting is also consistently superb, and the primary cast is arguably the best group since the original show aired in the 60's. Frank Welker as Fred is a no-brainer, while Grey Delisle, Mindy Cohn, and Matthew Lillard give pitch perfect performances as Daphne, Velma, and Shaggy. The supporting cast is excellent and includes celebrities like Vivica A. Fox, Clancy Brown, Udo Kier, Martha Quinn, Harlan Ellison, Tim Matheson, Tia Carrere, Linda Cardellini, Jennifer Hale, Jane Wiedlin, Dee Bradley Baker, Troy Baker, Matt Lanter, Nolan North, Jeffrey Combs, Mark Hamill, James Hong, Jim Cummings, Florence Henderson, Laraine Newman, Rob Paulsen, George Takei, and even Casey Kasem as Shaggy's dad. The music is appropriately dramatic and spooky, which nicely complements the creepy art design.
Admittedly, the show begins to go off the rails towards the end as the curse of Crystal Cove manifests itself in a violent and gruesome science fiction setting of apocalyptic alternate dimensions. The ending is unsatisfying, but probably the cleanest way to wrap up the interdimensional "end of the world" crisis. The series closes the chapter on classic Scooby-Doo with an obscure H.P. Lovecraft reference, as the gang prepares for their next big adventure: college.