I recently had my good friends Andy and Jamiesen over for a night of gaming and pizza-devouring, and needless to say, it ruled. We set up three TVs in the living room, two of which were playing various video games, while the third played the first two seasons of one of our favorite shows of all time: Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!
Initially, we just wanted to have the show playing silently in the background as a visual stimulant, and we put on a playlist consisting of the various Scooby-Doo themes and chase scene songs from over the years on top of everything. But as the night went on, we decided to shut off the music and raise the third TV’s volume, so we could listen to the show while gaming.
Eventually, this whole event turned into just the three of us sitting on the couch and watching endless Scooby-Doo episodes late into the morning hours. It was a great moment in time, as the three of us shared our love for Scooby-Doo, and we bonded over the role the franchise had played in our lives.
My love for all things Scooby-Doo started when I was a kid, watching marathons of the show around Halloween. Each year, I’d tune in to Cartoon Network or Boomerang to watch the day-long marathon, which mostly focused on the original series, while mixing in some episodes of the multiple spin-offs and other shows in the franchise.
I fell in love with Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! because of its wit, charm, and humor. I’ve always appreciated the atmospheric hand-painted backdrops in each episode and the show’s cast of villains (one of the best rogue’s galleries of any cartoon ever). So much of the original series is iconic and close to my heart; it proved an important piece in developing my love for ghost stories and the horror genre in general.
I hadn’t watched an episode of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! in ages, and doing so with two of my closest friends in such a setting was the perfect nostalgia trip. As we reminisced about our favorite episodes and characters, we came around to talking about a more recent re-imagining of the show: Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated.
Andy actually introduced me to the show a year after it concluded airing. Even though the show was short-lived—only lasting two seasons from 2010–2013—it stands tall today as my favorite interpretation of the series (after the original, of course).
What makes it so great? Well, that’s a loaded question. Let me start off by telling you a little bit about the show: Mystery Incorporated technically takes place after the gang has solved all the iconic mysteries of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! They’ve become a nuisance for their hometown of Crystal Cove, which bills itself as “The Most Haunted Place On Earth,” after debunking many of the town’s urban legends.
By proving most of these supernatural happenings to be nothing more than bad guys running around in costumes, the gang becomes disenfranchised with the art of mystery-solving—until they come across an ancient mystery, deeply rooted in the history of Crystal Cove, pertaining to the first-ever gang of mystery-solvers who inexplicably vanished many years ago. This case revives their hunger for solving mysteries and sets them down a dark path of unraveling Crystal Cove’s best-kept secrets.
This is not the Mystery Inc. of the original series: They’ve grown up now, and they’re preparing for college after graduating high school. The writing brilliantly recognizes that a vast majority of Scooby-Doo fans have grown up, as well, and so, the show reflects the coming-of-age themes and topics that would only be appropriate for such a contemporary take on the gang.
Previously-implied budding romances are explored between Shaggy/Velma and Daphne/Fred, too. This Mystery Inc. has feelings and real, adult problems. In this way, the show can at times feel profound and heartfelt. It provides adult viewers with relatable narrative moments while keeping its sharp sense of humor. One of the funnier character re-imaginings is Fred as a trap-junkie obsessed and consumed by the art of trap-making. Beyond the jokes, there’s even more adult content to be discovered.
For example, the entire series continuously acts as a loving homage to the horror genre, with nods to H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and Harlan Ellison (who actually voices himself on the show). Elsewhere, there are tons of references to some of the greatest horror films of all time, including The Silence of the Lambs, Carrie, Saw, House On Haunted Hill, and many more. Most of these easter eggs are planted for those sharp enough to catch them, and it makes the show all the more topical and exciting. It also reminds the viewer where Scooby-Doo comes from—and what sort of stories influenced the characters originally.
The show boasts an insanely impressive list of guest voice actors (I won’t spoil any for those who’ve never seen the show) and never fails to forget its history. That brings me to the coolest and most noteworthy element of Mystery Incorporated: its execution.
The show is, if nothing else, a beautiful tribute to all variations of Scooby-Doo that have come before it. The writers do a fantastic job of recognizing every single version of the show that’s existed throughout the two seasons of Mystery Incorporated. It’s beyond impressive, and if you’re a die-hard fan of the characters, it’ll make you smile every time you catch one of these genius references. In terms of format, the show also uses the best elements of each previous series and works them into its own style.
Though the show is billed as the first Scooby-Doo series to be serialized, it’s only partially true. As my friend Jamiesen so aptly pointed out, The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo was technically the first show in the franchise to pull off this trick. Though divisive in terms of its reception, The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo followed a serialized pattern by featuring one of the thirteen ghosts in each episode and tying them together through a larger overarching plot concept.
In some ways, this was very ahead of its time, and maybe that’s why people had a difficult time wrapping their heads around it, especially when taking into consideration the simple and repetitive formatting of the original series. The people behind Mystery Incorporated recognized the merits of a serialized show and used that formula to its best potential.
This is the genius at work here—that inclination to see innovation in even the less well received franchise entries is truly commendable. Mystery Incorporated also does a stellar job of working in classic memorable characters from across the entire franchise history, including the standalone films. Vincent Van Ghoul, The Hex Girls, and even characters from other classic Hanna-Barbera cartoons all make appearances. The show combines these elements with its more modern stylistic influence from iconic cult classics, like Twin Peaks and The X-Files. It celebrates the visual aesthetic and vibes of filmmakers, like David Lynch and Stuart Gordon.
All-in-all Mystery Incorporated is a love letter to the world of Scooby-Doo and all that can be traced back to it. It rewards longtime fans, and welcomes fresh ones. It is at times compelling, hilarious, eerie, and fun. It balances its moods and tones at an expert level, and if there are any flaws to be found, it’s that the show didn’t receive the third season it deserved.
You can buy both seasons of Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated on DVD through most online retailers, and the show can be purchased digitally by episode or as full seasons via Amazon and other digital video stores. I highly recommend you watch—you won’t regret it!
All images belong to Warner Bros. Animation. No copyright infringement is intended.