Following the Scooby-Doo gang is a patient, often frustrating process of starts and stops and reboots. There are currently two separate but equal Scooby-verses for the fans. The Direct-to-TV films exist within their own Universe and yet do not have much in the way of coninuity or rules. In 2010, Scooby-Doo! Camp Scare was a return to classic Scooby mystery storytelling like the original series. But the next year, Scooby-Doo! Legend of the Phantosaur was like many of the ridiculous later series aimed at a much younger viewer. A year ago I reviewed the release of the first four episodes of the latest TV series incarnation of our gang - Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated.
Warner Bros. choice to release a disc of only four episodes was curious. This relaunch of the series is a throwback to the original series with just a few key differences. There are romantic links between Shaggy and Velma and between Fred and Daphne (not just subtle hints) and the bigger difference, there's a larger mystery that arcs over the series. At the time, the series was in hiatus after airing 13 episodes. Then just as the series started back up again, they released Season One, Volume Two containing four more episodes. And after the run of 26 episodes had finished, Warner Bros released a Season One, Volume Three disc containing four more episodes (Ep. 9 - 12). Now they are releasing the very confusingly titled Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated Season One, Part Two. This disc contains the remaining 14 episodes of the first season and completes the storyline before the new season airs this Spring.
The disc is subtitled Crystal Cove Curse because we are halfway into the mystery as the episodes on the disc begin. There's some disjointedness at the beginning of the episodes on the disc because of the spacing of four per disc on previous releases. So it starts with a straightforward mystery in "When The Cicada Calls" that is possibly the most boring in Part Two and doesn't pack any punch in the overall mystery involving Mr. E and the Curse of Crystal Cove. But once that episode is past, there are some spectacular ones to follow....
"Mystery Solvers Club State Finals" (Episode 14) I'm going to say it - Best Episode Ever!!! At least as good as any Scooby-Doo! episode in the past few decades. Want to rediscover a love for Scooby-Doo!? It's right here. The episode is love letter to the great Hanna-Barbera mystery shows of my youth. This series has a great color palette but this episode looks like it was rescued from 1974 Saturday Morning TV. Here Scooby is forced to team up with other mascots when all of their friends disappear. Scooby partners with Speed Buggy, The Funky Phantom, Captain Caveman and Jabberjaw to battle Lord Infernicus. The episode reminds me of the way the Batman: Brave and the Bold has captured the essence of what I liked about superhero shows as a kid. This nod to the basic formulas of the genre is worth repeated viewings.
"Nightfright" (Episode 19) The title of the episode recalls the classic Fright Night film. It shares a plot involving a horror show host - in this case Vincent Van Ghoul. The rest of the plot is a mismashed recall of some of the best Vincent Price films of the '60s and '70s. The episode doesn't rely on the overarching mystery and stands well on its own. But like the better episodes in a Scooby series, it involves a number of traps and monsters. For me, a huge fan of the Dr Phibes films, the traps and monsters recalled some of the best moments of those films. The series is at a key point by this episode. It relied heavily on the larger mystery in early episodes, but here the best stories are stand-alone. Luckily, there's a run of episodes that reveal key elements of the mystery to come.
"A Haunting In Crystal Cove" (Episode 23) This is a relatively simple "haunted figure scaring people" episode. But it's also an illustration of where the payoff is for investing in the previous 22 episodes. Taken at surface level, there's a few Poltergeist references and a shadowy ghost that is revealed pretty easily. Looking a little deeper there are darker forces at work. There is another puzzle peice revealed that is part of a larger planispheric disk that will eventually help us understand the Crystal Cove Curse. There's also more interaction of Fred's dad. The series works best when it is playing off the duality of the current Mystery Inc. against that of their parents. These are teenagers and giving them deeper motivation makes us care for them more. They are trying to find their own identity in the world and part of that is by solving a mystery that haunts their parents.
"All Fear The Freak" (Episode 26) This is where our Season One comes ot an end. All of the clues from the previous episodes are put together over the final few episodes. The truth is revealed about the original Mystery Incorporated but unlike the average episode, things do not end well for the gang. In a very early episode we saw that only the gang could break up the gang. The monsters and ghouls only serve to bring them closer together. Solving the mystery only raises more questions for each character. As each teenager questions their own reality, they are torn apart. The "truth" was not what the gang thought they knew and they are disillusioned. It is this episode that brings home the characterization that they are real teenagers on the brink of adulthood. But just as they are being separated it is Scooby that will bring them back together.
The Second Season of the show is set to debut in the Spring of 2012 and should follow many of the same themes that have been developed in the first season. I love the attention to character that they've shown through the first 26 episodes. The end of the season left them at a low point personally and the second season should be the slow build back to where the show started. There are many opportunities to build on some of the guest stars from previous shows and allusions to DC characters and other Hanna-Barbera shows (the Jonny Quest cast appears in on episode!).
Great animation, great voice actors (the same that voice the movies - lending to unintended continuity) and scripts that go beyond what the franchise has ever attempted. What more could you want from what is still a show aimed at a younger audience? Ultimately, it's best viewed as a whole story to really get the nuances. So, remember that there is no Part 1 - only Volume One, Two and Three. It's a dark series told in bright colors; you won't be disappointed.
This new release is a two-disc set and doesn't come with any extras - but this series feels like those will be best saved for when the whole story is told.