How That Thing Ended Up on my Porch: Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated

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Since the entirety of October is officially Halloween this year (shut up, you!), we at Psycho Drive-In have decided to attempt to fill the month with thirty-one recommendations for horror-related movies, comics, books, TV shows, toys, games, and everything in-between. It’s gonna be a grab-bag of goodies we feel you should be exposed to, whether you like it or not! But don’t expect your standard suggestions for Halloween fun, we’re digging into some stuff that we love in the hopes that you might make this October a little bit weirder than usual.

Weirder in a good way. Not like what’s going on outside in the hellscape of 2020.

One of the concessions my partner and I made during quarantine was allowing our kids to watch a nightly cartoon. Any child born into my household will probably end up watching a fair amount of television, but it had been an agreed upon priority to limit screens in favor of playing outside, doing art projects, or reading books. However, as our routine switched to one of being mainly at the house versus commuting to respective schools and daycare, we found that we had the time in our routine and a need for something purely fun in days that could often be punctuated by the loss of normalcy. A family cartoon seemed to fit the bill.

We initially let the kids alternate picks, but after sitting through a couple of episodes of Transformers: Rescue Bots and Spirit Riding Free where parents were mainly on their devices,  wedecided it might be better to settle on a show the entire family could enjoy. After flipping through our streaming options, we decided on Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated. The kids were intrigued by the idea of monsters and solving mysteries, and my partner was all in for a little Saturday morning nostalgia. I was initially down for anything that didn’t involve horses or toys teaching me life lessons, but, as the episodes unspooled, I found myself immersed in the surprisingly deep, and dark, universe of the show.

Mystery Incorporated does have a lot of the standard Scooby-Doo monster of the week episodes, but tweaks the format for the segment of the audience that assumes they know what’s coming. The show cheekily calls back to the “meddling kids” of the original series by having its captured villains perform increasingly complex linguistic gymnastics to avoid saying the phrase. The writers also do some smart updates on Fred, morphing him from the alpha male team leader to a trap obsessed weirdo, and Daphne, who is given a back story and agency in the gang that makes her more than a damsel in distress. The rest of the group are closer to their original characterizations, but Velma is pitted against a series of nemeses and a has a mature perspective on the romantic dynamics of the gang that deepens her characterization to something more than chief explainer. Shaggy and Scooby provide the show’s comic relief, but also its heart. Underneath all the monsters and mayhem in Mystery Incorporated, the core of the show is the sometimes irrational love we have for the animals in our lives, and the lengths they will go to return it.

The show’s horror credentials are buoyed by connections to its past. Many of the original, fondly remembered monsters make appearances, and Maurice LaMarche plays Vincent Van Ghoul, an homage to Vincent Price. A little more esoteric is the casting of Jeffrey Combs of Re-Animator fame as H.P. Hatecraft, an expert in occult studies that sheds some light on the connections the monsters in Mystery Incorporated might have to the Old Ones. Yes. You read that correctly. The show also features a showcase role for Udo Kier as a malevolent parrot and Harlan Ellison appearing as himself[1]. The voice cast is rounded out by a variety of famous voice actors, genre stars eating up the scenery, and even some of the original cast. The phones were out again, but mainly to check IMDB credits for Mark Hamill, Clancy Brown, and Casey Kasem.

What really sets this iteration of Scooby-Doo apart, however, is the decision to use serialized story telling. This would have been unthinkable in the era of Saturday morning cartoons, but works perfectly in the streaming era, where the episodes are not subject to the whims of syndication or reruns. The narrative bubbling under the self-contained episodes builds to a satisfying crescendo by the series finale. As improbable as it sounds, the final conflict is more Lord of the Rings than Laff-A-Lympics. The audience at my house was on its feet. Oddly, someone was also cutting onions near my end of the couch. Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated was something pretty unique in 2020: an unexpected pleasure.

[1] The Ellison cameos led me down a mini-rabbit hole of research. The next step was A Boy and His Dog, one of his most familiar adaptations of his work. It was directed by the still living L.Q. Jones (93), who starred in 1971’s The Brotherhood of Satan, one of the, if not the, best geriatric satanist films ever made. In the grip of quarantine restlessness, I painted the poster art and displayed it on my porch. I’m sure the neighbors are pleased.

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