One of HBO Max’s biggest differentiators in the video-streaming scramble has been its animation family, which includes a glut of established “mature” cartoons from families like Adult Swim and DC Universe. A Wednesday announcement sees WarnerMedia moving aggressively on that front with a whopping seven new series orders on top of existing series in development.
Today, the company’s Hanna-Barbera family announced one of its biggest nudge-nudge, wink-wink series ideas since off-kilter fare like Space Ghost: a series, simply named Velma, about the “origins” of Scooby-Doo mainstay Velma Dinkley.
Suggestive Scooby stuff, from Gunn to Max
WarnerMedia’s press release says the series’ first ordered season will offer “an original and humorous spin that unmasks the complex and colorful past of one of America’s most beloved mystery solvers,” then confirms Mindy Kaling (The Office) as the voice of Velma. Kaling will also serve as an executive producer of the show. The announcement doesn’t include information on other cast members or writers/directors, simply doubling down on a suggestive description: “an adult animated comedy series.”
Fans have long applied adult connotations to the Scooby-Doo universe, and modern live-action films, as written by James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy), giddily mixed the series’ family-friendly mysteries with ’70s-adjacent suggestions about drug use and sexuality. Velma’s attire, style, and socially awkward behavior have also frequently been called out as evidence of an identity outside the heteronormative spectrum. HBO Max is well-equipped to silo such adult-leaning content in a way that children and families wouldn’t accidentally tune into on network TV.
If you want any hint about how far WB Animation might take the concept, look at the animated Harley Quinn series on HBO Max, whose F-bombs, gratuitous gore, and shameless sex jokes are proof that WB’s gutter can reach serious depths.
Send in the clones
In arguably less salacious news, HBO Max’s other high-profile Wednesday pickup has huge name cachet: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, whom you may know as the writers and producers behind Ars-beloved fare like The Lego Movie and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. They have joined HBO Max to produce two new seasons of Clone High, a cult-classic animation favorite that aired for a single season on MTV in 2002-03. The show’s original voice cast included comedians Will Forte, Nicole Sullivan, and Donald Faison, who portrayed teen versions of historical legends (Abe Lincoln, Cleopatra, Joan of Arc, Gandhi) reborn as modern-day teens at the same high school.
So far, we only know of two additional staffers from the original run returning on a writing, producing, and showrunning basis, while the revived series’ voice casting hasn’t been revealed. The original series included white actors portraying historical legends of color, and modern animation series ,particularly Netflix’s Big Mouth, have sharply trended toward recasting in recent years. Still, the deal’s two-season order suggests either confidence in the series’ return or a required investment to get Lord and Miller to sign on now that they’re far more famous than they were in the early ’00s.
Today’s last announcement is Fired on Mars, based on a six-minute animated short (embedded above) from 2016 by animators Nate Sherman and Nick Vokey. The HBO Max version will star SNL‘s Pete Davidson as a hapless grunt worker on a Mars colony, facing the reality of being laid off after crossing the Solar System to work on a new planet.
These three new series join Regular Show spiritual successor Close Enough, which received a new-season order today after debuting on HBO Max in July. The streaming service didn’t stop there, with announcements of four more brand-new animated series in production: an adaptation of Eisner-nominated DC comic series Cover; a robots-versus-masters comedy called Uncanny Valley (executive-produced by comedian Ed Helms of The Office); a full series based on the published-on-Instagram comic strip Obi; and an animated series about a “neurotic millennial cat” called Hello Paul, as helmed by the lead singer of Sub Pop indie band Moaning.
HBO Max’s glut of new animated series lines up with other networks scrambling to create new content during the COVID-induced streaming boom. Comedy Central in particular leaned on corporate-family nostalgia last year by announcing new seasons of Beavis & Butt-head and Ren & Stimpy, along with an animated Daria spinoff; each of these will likely land alongside the streaming-exclusive Star Trek: Lower Decks on what is currently CBS All Access (but will soon be renamed Paramount+).