Fan productions are usually a mixed bag. There are several factors that come into play mostly revolving around resources (sets, costumes, locations, equipment, etc.) for production. Beyond that is the simple act of generating interest in an independent work with everything else in existence. Unsurprisingly, many indie, fan productions tend to reimagine or recycle established Intellectual Property, particularly ones they have an affinity for, to attempt to draw traction and attention to their work. Of course, these works exist in an odd legal space of by, all applicable definitions and logic, violating copyright but being allowed to be made by the rights holders as long as it doesn’t go too far or become too profitable or noteworthy. These fan productions act as a capricious bubble that can continue as long as it provides some boon to both the original rights holder and cast/crew of the production that does not outweigh the negatives. Though, to be fair, the bigger complaints around these types of series stem from the usually poor quality of, well, most everything and the usual directional choice to make a children’s series into a darker, edgier, more adult version of the original.
Somehow, Mystery Incorporated manages to avoid those pitfalls. Don’t misunderstand. This is very much an independent, internet production that definitely takes a more mature, more noir turn of the original Scooby Doo properties. However, the adjustment actually works and there is obvious interest, care, and, at least some, money behind the production. Which, to begin with, there was a successful crowdfunding campaign to make this just under an hour film/potential pilot episode years ago. As well, it is apparent from the costuming, lighting, locations, sets, music, etc. that most of the money went into the actual production itself and wasn’t just a grift of sorts.
The episode has several references and allusions to the various iterations of past Scooby Doo series and films. The sets, locations, secondary characters (already name dropping the freaking Hex Girls), and dialogue makes it obvious that the writers and producers did their homework. Even so, there is more than enough changes and shifts for this series to stand on its own. It walks the fine line between praising the original and establishing its own identity and narrative. Which is one of the elements that this production does better than official studio productions with much larger budgets: actually has a legitimate mystery. One of the core enjoyments of the original Scooby Doo cartoon was the mystery. They weren’t necessarily complicated enigmas (it was a cartoon for children after all), but there was a puzzle that could be solved with red herrings and leads that went nowhere and actual clues to piece together. This series is laying the foundation for a larger mystery arc involving the core four, the school, the police, a mysterious party planner, drugs, demons, and other forces within and beyond the city of Coolsville.
In many ways, this pilot feels and reads like the CW treatment of Riverdale, a dark, noir take on the classic comic. And like the teen network show, this series has a comparable level of dialogue, acting, and production. Considering the vast difference in available resources between the two, that alone is an impressive feat. Unlike the CW show, this pilot is already incorporating the more fantastical and ridiculous elements of the original works without jumping the shark or weakening the overall concept and narrative which Riverdale certainly has as it progressed with each passing year. The speaking characters are played by actors and performers of all stripes, so even the less known or professional performances are still not limited by nerves or inexperience of performance. The writing and dialogue makes sense for these versions of these characters. Overall, even though it is an independent production on YouTube, it would not be out of place on many streaming or network channels.
I am not saying that this is a perfect pilot episode or series or that there are not improvements or elements that I would like to see moving forward, but what has been made and shown from just this first episode is frankly good and inspiring. If you are a fan of Scooby Doo, independent artists, or just quality production, highly recommend checking out the pilot “Welcome to Coolsville” on YouTube. And, if you are so inclined, also take a look at their current crowdfund campaign to make episode 2 and beyond.