- Following the release of the first two episodes of the new HBO animation series, the Indian American is bearing the brunt of online ire, with many calling her out for the repeated theme of an Indian girl desperate for white attention.
Mindy Kaling is being widely lampooned for her new HBO animation series “Velma,” a spin-off of the Scooby Doo universe in adult animation format, which premiered on Jan. 12. Kaling, who stars as the South Asian incarnation of the famous Scooby-Doo character, also serves as executive producer of the series.
The series primarily focuses on Velma Dinkley as she “tries to solve a mystery regarding the disappearance of her mother, as well as the numerous murders of local teenage girls,” according to an HBO synopsis. It also reimagines the other human members of Mystery Inc. Glenn Howerton voices Fred Jones, Sam Richardson is Norville “Shaggy” Rogers, and Constance Wu is Daphne Blake. However, most conspicuous in its absence is the iconic pup Scooby-Doo.
Following the release of the first two episodes, the mixed reviews and social media posts indicate that the comedy failed to impress the audience and the critics alike. Kaling faced the brunt of the ire online. Many pointed at her constant “self-insertion” into her series, with the repeated theme of an Indian girl desperate for white attention, a recurring theme across her other shows.
“Velma” was ordered by HBO Max in February 2021, and is produced by Warner Bros. Animation. Along with Kaling, executive producers include her frequent collaborator Charlie Grandy Howard Klein and Sam Register, president of Warner Bros. Animation, Cartoon Network Studios and Hanna-Barbera Studios Europe.
As of Jan. 18, the show has an abysmal 7 percent audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes, while the critics’ score sits at 57 percent.
A glance at the user review page shows mostly scathing comments.
On Metacritic, the series has a 0.4/10 in user reviews, and a 59/100 from critics. Similarly, on IMDB, over 2,000 voters have given the series a 1.3/10 rating.
Movie Web noted that while “Velma” had the biggest premiere day for an original animated series on HBO Max, the mixed reviews tell a different story. Kaling confirmed the news in a tweet that also thanked viewers for watching the show.
Some critics also praised the series. Huffington Post critic Candice Frederick said she favored the show’s writing, but listed its flaws as well. “Teen and genre lore is so seeped into each line of dialogue in ‘Velma’ that it’s impossible not to enjoy it in spite of its shortcoming.”
Similarly, Saloni Gajjar wrote in AV Club lauded the show for its “well-structured narrative with jokes, suspense, interconnected plotlines, and evolving relationships instead of a case-of-the-week format and various monster antics.” She said, “at worst, the show doesn’t feel entirely fresh despite approaching beloved characters in a distinctive light.” Noting that “the animation style isn’t distinctive either,” she noted that the series “ feels like a pointed homage to the cartoon that inspired it.”
Meanwhile, Entertainment Weekly’s Darren Franich thought that Velma was a wasted opportunity as it “mostly replaces the old silly sensibility with crass name-droppy pointlessness.” CNN’s Brian Lowry also found the writing lacking, calling the show “sporadically witty but ultimately rather tedious.” QiiBO’s Jorge Rivera Rubio wrote that while “Velma didn’t won him over completely, “it did leave me interested enough to see if it reaches its full potential of a story that feels unique and different, with love and good humor for the characters.”
Analyzing the reasons why the series failed, Sportskeeda noted that the mean reason could be “the sudden change in the racial origins of their favorite characters from the comic books.” Elaborating, the Indian sports and esports news website, said that while most fans found “the change unnecessary,” some fans felt that “the forced diversity spoils the feel of the story.” The jokes were cringe-worthy and pushy,” the site said, citing fans, and adding that “some jokes have social and political insinuations.” Others found “the writing is lazy and uninspired.” The site also mentioned “the ever-so-subtle conservative debate points masked as attempted jokes interspersed throughout” in the series.
Citing similar reasons for the show’s failure, Your Tango notes that “even though Kaling isn’t on the writing team she can’t be blamed for conceptualizing the joke,” but as executive producer of the show, she “likely had to give the OK for the joke to make it to air.”
Kaling revealed the series poster in October 2022, ahead of the official “Velma” panel at New York Comic Con. Speaking on the panel, she said she “identified with Velma” while growing up. “She was so cute but not traditionally hot .. with a questionable haircut. I feel so honored I get to do the voice … she’s a truth teller, cutting through the bullshit of life. When you are smart and under-appreciated. I hope people appreciate that.”
According to a report in Comic Book Resources (CBR), a website dedicated to the coverage of comic book–related news and discussion, “Kaling herself debuted the first official images from Velma at Warner Bros. Discovery’s upfronts event this past May.” At the time the Indian American actor, producer, and author told the audience that she was “beyond excited” to share images from her new animated adult comedy. She added that she doesn’t care “if people freak out” about Velma’s South Asian roots. She continued, as reported by CBR: “No one’s imaginations ever had a problem with a talking dog solving mysteries. So a brown Velma is fine. I think we can all handle it. In any case, you won’t want to miss this.”
However, two months later, she told late-night talk show host Seth Meyers that the criticism of a South Asian Velma shocked her. Responding to criticism she’s received, she wondered why people were unable to imagine “a smart, nerdy girl with terrible eyesight” as an Indian. “Like, there are Indian nerds,” she told Meyers during a July 22 episode. “It shouldn’t be a surprise to people.”
She told Meyers that when HBO announced in February that she was going to do the voice of Velma, “people were very supportive and happy on Twitter. And so I felt great.” But as soon as it was revealed that the Velma character “would be reimagined as South Asian.” Kaling said “people were not happy,” and expressed their displeasure for not portraying a classic Velma. “Those kinds of tweets. ‘Not the classic Velma that I’m always thinking about!’”
Many had taken to social media to say that movie and TV characters, even when fictional, should not have their appearances changed once established with a certain look. Although they were “just a small percentage of people,” who criticized her, she admitted she was surprised that Velma “elicited such strong reactions in either direction.”