Even Velma and Daphne’s Queer Romance Can’t Save Mindy Kaling’s Scooby-Doo Prequel

Mindy Kaling’s Scooby-Doo prequel, Velma, wants to be Harley Quinn meets Riverdale, which, frankly, sounds awesome. Throw in Jane Lynch and Wanda Sykes as Daphne’s moms, a friends-to-enemies-to-crushes romance between Velma and Daphne, and three-quarters of the main Mystery Inc. players becoming POC? It should have been the easiest slam dunk in history! Candace Parker on a six-foot hoop! The reviews were so bad the first weekend — 6% on Rotten Tomatoes, the lowest rating I’ve ever seen — I simply refused to write about it. I felt hopeful it would get at least a little better. Alas.

We’re now six episodes into HBO’s much-hyped adult cartoon, and instead of uncovering things to like because the show is finding its footing, Velma is somehow getting even less interesting and even less funny. Every episode is a cringy, eye-rolling slog that doesn’t seem to have any idea who its audience is, yet seems to despise them all the same. Where Harley Quinn — and even last year’s Trick or Treat Scooby-Doo!, the animated movie where Velma finally came out as a lesbian — found great success lovingly poking fun at their source material and characters, Velma seems to just want to be mean to everybody. Velma herself is the show’s main punching bag; the series is full of swipes at Indian girls, not-thin girls, nerdy girls, and queer girls. Outside of mocking Velma, the jokes that aren’t straight-up assholery sound like some 13-year-old Redditor’s attempt to parody Cancel Culture, or a couple of veteran TV writers going back and forth about the industry while they’re high and everything stupid sounds hysterical.

Velma and Daphne kiss

Seriously, let me tell you everything gay about this show. Jane Lynch and Wanda Sykes, like I said. Cherry Jones as Fred’s mom. Nicole Byer as Shaggy’s (Norville’s) mom. And Fortune Feimster as Olive. Daphne says she was “baptized on the set of Ellen,” and the way she distracts her moms is to send them on wild goose chases all over town looking for cats that need help. And then there’s Velma and Daphne’s Regina George/Janis Ian dynamic, but actually gay. They were best friends who fell apart when Daphne got hot and popular, and Velma started hallucinating mystery monsters after her mom disappeared. But there’s a sizzle between them that confuses and intrigues them both; every time they touch hands or get their faces near each other, they blush and bumble. They even kiss on the mouth. Right on the mouth! It is, as Lizzie McGuire once declared, what dreams are made of. But it’s impossible to even enjoy it because the show dives right back into making fun of Velma as soon as the lesbian lip smack is complete. (Well, Velma and any viewer who is excited that Velma is canonically gay now.)

In her review of Never Have I Ever, published three years ago, our own Himani expressed dismay about Mindy Kaling’s writing for POC characters, especially Indian characters. It’s become a common refrain online, spilling over into Kaling’s work on The Sex Lives of College Girls and now Velma.

Velma and Daphne in the school locker room

“Many critics found Never Have I Ever’s high school setting relatable,” Hiamni wrote, “but Kaling’s depictions traffic far too heavily in damaging stereotypes for my taste. It seems like every character other than Devi and her two love interests are flat caricatures. What’s more, I can’t believe that in 2020 we’re still making fatphobic jokes on TV… Kaling’s depiction of Indian community isn’t as superficial as her other representations, but it’s equally thoughtless.”

There’s also the fact that Kaling recently liked a JK Rowling tweet in which she answered the question “how do you sleep at night” with the quip “I read my most recent royalty cheques and find that the pain goes away rather quickly.”

It’s more baffling than the ingredients in a Scooby Snack! I really wanted to love Velma, but now I don’t even know if I have the fortitude to finish the first season.

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Heather Hogan

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior editor who lives in New York City with her wife, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Heather has written 1718 articles for us.


    • I have no idea why people keep on mentioning this. Her brother already told people that Mindy does not speak to him and that Mindy told him that he was shaming the family.

      Mindy is not her brother.

      We can critique Mindy without tearing her down for shit she never did.
      And there is a lot to critique, including how she has written other POC/Black folks in her previous works.

      • Hiya @midnightkissed! Just a question — I mean it sincerely and am not trying to do the whole “show the receipts thing.” When I wrote my review for season 1 of NHIE, I also indirectly alluded to how her brother was riding her coattails to promote an anti-Black racist narrative that is literally being litigated at the SCOTUS as we speak. At the time (granted 3 years ago), I looked to see if Mindy had responded to her brother’s publicity stunt and couldn’t find anything. So I’m genuinely curious if there’s an article, tweet, video, etc you link to where she broaches this? I don’t follow Mindy that closely beyond when I write about NHIE so it’s very likely that I missed the fact that she addressed it and I’m just curious to see how exactly she addressed it.

        But beyond that, you’re absolutely right. There’s so many ways in which anti-Blackness, casteism, classism, racism, sexism, etc etc etc play out in Mindy’s own work, that to talk about her brother is focusing on just one part of it. (And again, that’s only assuming that she hasn’t explicitly distanced herself from what he’s done, which is the last I knew about the situation.)

        Beyond that, I think you’re right to call out how it’s pretty problematic to hold a South Asian woman responsible for the actions of her brother bc that uh… pretty much recreates toxic and misogynist South Asian family dynamics so…

        • Thank you so much for responding. You’re essay helped me see the other side to Mindy Kaling’s work. It’s hard to be critical and understand everything when so much is a teardown.

          Mindy never mentions her brother. I used to follow her career when I was in High School and college. To my knowledge she never mentioned the book publicly, but spoke to Vijay (her brother) privately. Vijay has said in multiple articles that Mindy disproves of the book and so does the family. He also said she “plays a slut on TV.” I’ve read a few of his interviews, he doesn’t seem very kind and he seems to dislike her success.
          He has made many allegations against her. Not sure what to believe, but I believe him when he says she is upset and wanted him to not publish the book.

          “‘She actually said, “This book will bring shame on our family”. The rest of my family does not agree with the book. Still, they respect my right to make my own decisions with my career,’ he added.”

          ““She tried to sabotage the book, and that’s not acceptable,” Vijay told me.

          Kaling (née Vera Mindy Chokalingam) is quoted on the cover of the self-published memoir saying, “This book will bring shame on our family.”

          Vijay says he replied to his famous sibling, “You play a slut on national TV, and you think this [book] will bring shame on the family?””




          • Thanks @midnightkissed! So this actually lines up a lot with what I saw when I looked into this a couple of years ago.

            And I guess, I just want to gently point out that even if Mindy is saying behind closed doors that she disapproves of what her brother is doing, even if he is publicly shaming her and including quotes of her expressing her disapproval, I think there is still room here to hold Mindy responsible for not publicly and explicitly repudiating his work on her platforms and in an external facing way. Because the way I see it, Vijay is using Mindy’s fame to promote this deeply racist agenda and by failing to call it out in public settings she is tacitly endorsing it.

            To me, this feels very much in line with the quote you pulled from Izzy Ampil’s Buzzfeed article from your comment below. It’s not the same thing but it’s coming from the same place of “not question[ing] the rigid social hierarchy she’s inherited.”

            There’s a lot to be said about the complicated nature of family and how much do public figures owe us about their private lives, etc etc but I guess I would say that if she has actually already said to Vijay “This will bring shame to our family” then what more does she have to lose by saying that in a public forum to shut down his attempts to use her fame to push an anti-Black agenda? At some point, I think we all have to make hard decisions about how much racism and anti-Blackness we are willing to let slide by in the name of “preserving family,” and I think the burden is and should be higher for public figures with fame, clout, and capital.

            And what’s more, Mindy has repeatedly failed in her representation of Black characters in her shows (speaking of NHIE in particular). I mentioned it in my season 1 review and then I went on a deep dive about it in my season 2 review, as well.

            So it’s really taking all these things together that I personally do hold Mindy responsible for this mess with her brother as the original commenter janet posted here. It’s not that I think she is her brother’s keeper — it’s that she’s failed to demonstrate in her words, her actions, and her own media/platform that she doesn’t actually embrace (essentially) the same politics.

            Sorry for the lengthy reply on this, but I guess I do just have a lot to say about MK and her family…

        • This is literally Vijay’s website and in the FAQs he states that Mindy disproves of the book.

          The summary under the link to his website is, “Vijay Chokal-Ingam answers all the burning questions about his book, his story of posing as black to get into medical school, and his nemesis Mindy Kaling.”

          He names his sister as his nemesis…


          I wish we could edit comments so I could add this in, instead of making a new comment.

          • @himani I will sit down and think about this. “it’s that she’s failed to demonstrate in her words, her actions, and her own media/platform that she doesn’t actually embrace (essentially) the same politics.” That makes a lot of sense.

            And it’s not like her representation of other Black characters (“Mindy Project” as an example, I’ve seen it twice) is great. I’m still analyzing the writing/antics of Tamra 🙃…

            As a light skinned Latin Black person I am always trying to balance who I hold accountable. I’ve seen myself hold POC/Black folks to hight standards than white people. And I think that clouds my perception on Mindy Kaling. But Mindy is also the writer and producer for many shows. She’s not just background actress #2.
            Thanks for the response, I’ll think about this more.

          • Thanks so much for the thoughtful discussion on this @midnightkissed. I really really appreciate where you’re coming from because I do think that there are a lot of times where POC or members of a particular group hold a creator sharing their same identity to a higher standard than cis/white/straight creators. And it can get really messy and really ugly when this comes to creators of one race/heritage/marginalized identity that involves people of other marginalized identities/heritages/races that they don’t hold. So I really, really do appreciate how thoughtfully you’re approaching this, and I really do agree with where you’re coming from.

            In this particular case, I don’t think that Mindy is deserving of the grace you’re giving her.

  1. I have so many thoughts “Velma” and the discourse around the show.

    I think Izzy Ampil’s review is more in-depth and explains the nuance of Mindy’s writing and the issues with “Velma.”
    I also love Himani’s previous Autostraddle review.


    I always have so many mixed feelings about Mindy Kaling. She is a brown skinned, fat Indian woman. We never get to see someone with her skin tone. Mindy Kaling is also held up as THE Indian woman representation. Which isn’t fair. Her writing has become tired and it’s not introspective enough. “Velma” could have changed that, but sadly it’s the same.
    But the discourse around the show has become very clouded.

    Mindy Kaling writes herself as a Michael Scott type character a lot. The issue is that she brings down Indian culture with her.

    In regards to Mindy’s jokes being mean. I think Mindy is trying to make the joke first before it’s made about her. I think it’s time to retire those jokes though. We’ve seen it enough. It worked with “The Mindy Project” because the jokes tied into her being a rom com character. At least in my opinion. I could write more about that, but I’ll refrain.

    “If we had a better forum for this kind of critical discourse, it might be easier to articulate the reasonable — even boring — consensus at the heart of all this controversy: Kaling has written the same caricature of herself too many times.”
    (Izzy Ampil, Buzzfeed)

    My commentary on the discourse is not related to this article specifically, I’m references many of the articles, videos, and comments being written/filmed.

    I hope to see more commentary of Mindy’s work from (south east) Asian folks in the future. The insight is always enlightening.

    I just watched episodes 5 & 6 and le sigh, how stupid. I do find a good amount of the jokes funny though. I enjoy Mindy’s joke delivery style (writing wise). The issue is “When a young brown girl appears onscreen in one of Kaling’s shows, it’s easy enough to guess where her story is going. She will probably be a loud-mouthed nerd with strict parents and insecurities about her body hair, fixated on a white dude who is little more than rude to her. She will probably not question the rigid social hierarchy she’s inherited; in fact, she’s probably going to enact it, cruelly, on herself and others.”
    (Izzy Ampil, Buzzfeed)

    • I agree with almost everything you said above. I really like a lot of Mindy Kaling’s shows but one thing that bothers me is she always seems to make sure her brown and black characters have some affinity for a white person. ALWAYS. And I’m like why? What was the reason? It’s as if whiteness is the standard/pedestal she strives for and I’m not here for it.

      On another note, I know this wasn’t meant to be offensive (and there’s obviously nothing wrong with being fat) but maybe we shouldn’t call Mindy fat? She’s certainly not fat by any means these days. And while many people don’t mind referring to themselves as fat, I’m not sure that’s the case for her (who again is by no means fat).

  2. Thank you for the shout out Heather <3

    I honestly can't even with Mindy any more... Back in 2020 when NHIE dropped she did an NYT interview where she said something about wanting to show queer South Asian girls in her shows, and it didn't make it into my review of season 1 bc I just had too much to say but at the time I was like "I do not trust Mindy with that story. At all."

    And lo and behold, first Aneesa and now this. I haven’t gotten around to watching Velma yet but everything I’ve heard about it sounds awful.

  3. Watching it in a vacuum for what it is helps, I know a lot of people are upset it’s not aimed for their demographic and that’s fine, personally, having seen all generations of scooby in my life I’m kinda neutral right now and think I need to see how things play out, initial impressions, it’s not bad, and it’s not great

  4. The Izzy Ampil interview referenced by Kayla above is a solid read on Mindy.
    The transparent and mean caricature of self is Mindy Kaling’s brand and its (relative!) palatability is why show biz white dudes give her money and access to produce shows.
    Realistically, there was no reason to expect MK to be the right person to do justice to nerdy lesbian Velma, even if she’s awesomely South-Asian now.
    IMHO, Mindy Kaling’s adaptation of “Four Weddings and a Funeral”
    is her most enjoyable work to date bc of NO Indian women in main cast and NOT centering “bagging a white guy” in the ever-present interracial romances.
    If looking for Kaling’s works centering Indian women, AS’s review series of “Never Have I Ever” by Himani offered all the thorough commentary and criticism through a South Asian lens.
    HOWEVER for a casual watch “Never Have I Ever” is the kindest, least body-negative, least insecure, superficial yet somewhat culturally rooted portrayal of (Hindu) Indian women.
    All I can say is how badly I wanted Fawzia Mirza or Sabrina Jalees to write NHIE’s character of Aneesa, the queer Muslim Indian character with so much potential.
    Overall, MK’s shows don’t stand out for their representation of non-South Asian race or queerness, defaulting to 1 grade better than the obvious industry standard of featurist, colorist casting of model-gorgeous actors whose “diversity” is treated as tokenistic window dressing.
    AS, can we check in on what Fawzia Mirza, Sabrina Jalees and Aparna Nancherla are up to?

  5. “three-quarters of the main Mystery Inc. players becoming POC? It should have been the easiest slam dunk in history!”

    It’s nice to know just getting rid of white characters makes a show great.

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