If you ask most of my friends what their favorite television shows are, you will get a fairly predictable set of responses. Breaking Bad, Dexter, Doctor Who, and The Walking Dead are all quality programs, to be sure, but the one that occupies the most space on my DVR is Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated. The latest incarnation of one of the most familiar franchises in cartoon history is smart, funny and bizarrely subversive. Whether it is the surprisingly nuanced characterizations of the gang, the celebrity cameos, the masterful use of nearly every horror movie trope under the sun or the nods to other great cartoons of the past, Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated hits every animation nerd’s sweet spot with a degree of cultural literacy that I never would have expected.
Since people tend to just smile and nod politely whenever I try to explain why my favorite show now isn’t exactly the same as my favorite show from when I was six, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite moments. I’ve avoided major plot points and serious spoilers because if you’re gonna jump into the world of Mystery Incorporated, you owe it to yourself to start at the beginning and experience the insanity of watching this stuff unfold. In true Scooby-Doo fashion, the gang solves a mystery in each episode, but there are larger mysteries that unfold over the course of each season. These are just ten crazy moments, but there have been forty-one episodes so far and each one is loaded with awesome weirdness…
This episode opens with the Griswold family (from the National Lampoon’s Vacation series), and ends with a brief shot of punk icon (and human cartoon character) Johnny Ramone accepting payment from somebody dressed in a giant gator costume. If you’re not already sold on this show, I don’t know what to tell you.
Famed sci-fi writer, and ummmm…interesting personality, Harlan Ellison voices himself in an episode that pays loving tribute to the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Let me just break that down one more time: the guy who wrote Star Trek’s best episode, “City on the Edge of Forever,” voices himself in a Scooby-Doo cartoon. As if that isn’t weird enough, we get an animated H.P. Lovecraft (Professor Hatecraft), voiced by Jeffrey Combs, who has starred in a number of Lovecraft-inspired horror flicks!
Scooby teams up with Speed Buggy, Jabberjaw, Captain Caveman and the Funky Phantom, implying that the entire Hanna-Barbera universe is somehow “in continuity” with this show…or maybe not. Other episodes feature appearances by the cast of Johnny Quest, Yogi Bear, and Dynomutt: Dog Wonder (which I’ll get to later).
No, wait…come back! Trust me; Scrappy is quickly dealt with in an appropriate fashion. For any of you not versed in Scooby lore, Scrappy-Doo is to the Scooby universe what Jar-Jar Binks is to Star Wars. With one throwaway joke, this episode high-fives anyone who ever hated Scrappy while simultaneously acknowledging that every previous incarnation of Scooby-Doo is probably part of this show’s continuity! Mind = blown.
Alright, it’s not really Doc Savage, it’s Dr. Rick Spartan, biology teacher at Crystal Cove High School and part-time adventurer! I’ve dreamed of an animated version of Doc Savage for years (no, seriously…I totally mean it) and this is about as close as we’re ever gonna get.
Velma’s brief foray into the world of solo mystery-solving involves her donning a familiar disguise. Oh, and just in case referencing Watchmen wasn’t enough, this episode also features Scooby re-enacting one of Steve McQueen’s iconic moments from The Great Escape.
Scooby gets an art-rock makeover courtesy of Randy Warsaw, and becomes the lead singer of Sunday Around Noonish, who perform a song that sounds suspiciously like the Velvet Underground’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties.” I couldn’t make this up if I tried, folks. Oh yeah, and that’s Billy West as the voice of both Warhol-esque Randy Warsaw and Lou Reed clone, Butch Firbanks!
There’s no one standout moment in this episode and it often just feels like a series of surreal gags. Featuring a villain who stalks the lovers’ lanes of Crystal Cove, this episode’s treatment of teen (and adult) sexuality is so hilariously oblique that not even the most internet-hardened ten year old would get the jokes and not even the most puritanical parent could object.
“Heart of Evil” starts off with an origin sequence that includes characters from Johnny Quest, then moves on to a series of nods to The Dark Knight Returns, before finishing with an homage to the 1960s Adam West Batman show. In other words, this episode manages to encompass nearly my entire childhood in the space of thirty minutes.
Udo Kier (and the rest of the cast)
Udo Kier voices the gang’s nemesis, the criminal mastermind (and evil, talking parrot), Professor Pericles. Yes, this is the same Udo Kier with the crazy eyes from about a thousand vampire flicks. Yes, and that includes when he played an exceptionally weird and virgin-obsessed count in the way creepy (and nakey) Andy Warhol’s Dracula. And yes, we DO get to hear him call them “meddling kids.” Did I mention that other recurring cast members include Lewis Black as “Mr. E” and Vivica A. Fox as the Foxy Brown-esque, Angel Dynamite? Or that every single episode has Patrick Warburton as the hapless sheriff of Crystal Cove? I could go on and on…