Published: Aug 3, 2011 12:00:00 PM

"If Fred has a tragic death soliloquy at the end of the season, nobody will give half a shit and we would send a box of chocolate iPads to the [Scooby-Doo] writers for doing what we wish the U.N. had done long ago."

scooby-resized-600.jpgOkay, this episode was significantly better than last week's. Witches and zombies are way scarier than a fucking mummy, and don't get me started on the twist that the guy managed to create a concrete mold of himself that quickly. "Which Witch is Which" is a much more down to earth story featuring better narrative structure and actual character motivations for the villains. It also introduces us to Zeb: Frog Hunter and his hetero-life-mate Zeke: Bean Seller.

At last, we get more Shaggy. Even this early in the season, this show can be guilty of having too many characters to keep track, of so when the emphasis is placed squarely on Shaggy, it becomes a controlled comedic-demolition. The character is a total revelation. Whenever Shaggy talks, it's comedy gold -- his voice, it sounds like velvety, just-melting chocolate ice cream, man. When paired with Scooby, it's no wonder the man and his dog don't like to listen to Fred's bullshit. Shag is smarter than any of the others realize and at some point, he's going to pay Velma back for the bullshit she put him through when Scooby was kidnapped by that Navajo tribe back in Nevada.

The bayou that our crew comes across this week is the dankest location thus far and is a testament to the show's art direction. No detail is too small, most notable is the creature design on the zombie they almost run over entering town, who looks like an anthropomorphized root vegetable that's been feeding on the raw sewage runoff behind David Lynch's house. What's scarier than a swamp-town infested with weirdos? A town where the only two people left seem entirely same and kind. Zeke and Zeb are the only ones left in the town, passing time hunting frogs with spears, spying on witches, avoiding voodoo, and clinging to their sanity.

Natch, Fred sends off Shaggy and Scooby to check out Zeb's house, and the entire world is overjoyed because it gets Fred off-camera. If Fred has a tragic death soliloquy at the end of the season, nobody will give half a shit and we would send a box of chocolate iPads to the writers for doing what we wish the U.N. had done long ago. Zeb's disappearance still wreaks of lies. The Zeb-shaped voodoo doll Scoob and Shag find in the house was icky-creepy, saved gracefully by their hysterical coin-flip to decide who checks on the shadowy figure lurking around outside. "Heads, I win, tails, you lose," and Shaggy tricks Scooby so badly that the dog breaks into tears. It was just a chipmunk outside and Scooby's overjoyed face capped the scene flawlessly.

Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? isn't really ever scary -- it can be creepy. It can be weird. It's first and foremost a dramedy though and it's run by the stupid characters' attempts to make non-lethal decisions. They're frequently in danger, I just doubt the writers will ever dare to kill one of them off.

Speaking of which, meeting back up with Fred throws Shaggy and Scooby right back into danger. No, do not go into the swamp, you paint chip-munching ass-hat. Ignoring warning signs, the journey into the swamp to find the witch was more frightening than expected. The gang follows the witch and the zombie-slave to shore. They enter the hut.

The reason Shaggy and Scooby's chemistry is so good is that they know that they're both total cowards and and yet they have no reservations about scaring each other should the opportunity arise. The moment when Scooby fake-voodooed Shaggy with the doll they find was priceless and a testament to their friendship. Yes, they will run from assholes disguised as ghost-spacemen. Yes, they will dress in drag to fool a zombie (as seen later in this very episode). Yes, they will occasionally give a full barber-shop shave to a werewolf, but this is only because they trust each other and know that they're capable of getting out of most any jam.

The witch inevitably shows up (is the voice-actor for the witch a dude?) and this time it isn't Velma, but Daphne that runs her mouth. Disrespecting the witch gets Daphne vanished out of existence (let her be dead) and the witch lurches off. Damn, it was just a trap-door, obvi, but still. Wouldn't it be wonderful if she was just gone, and the gang was just: "Oh well, let's go watch The Wire or something."

Down under the trap door though, we have to ask the question: where the fuck did she wander off to? Didn't think of yelling, Daph?

Goddamn. Plus, the sexual tension between her and Fred suggests some stuff is going on off-camera, and judging by her joke about going to a gynecologist in the previous episode tells me that she might be pregnant (and is it Fred, or is it Shaggy's?).

The river-boat that they ended up at on the other end of the tunnel was neat and the chase with the zombie and Shag/Scoob was primo shit but the metal-tipped pole was a weak bit of evidence for the case (how do you jump to that conclusion, Velma?). Some of this stuff is like Lost when the biggest mysteries are left dangling on purpose and then they mention the solution to them years later in passing. That isn't effective storytelling. Also, why was the zombie hiding in that box in the stern of the ship? It's shit like this Scooby-Doo! Then again, Velma saved some face with her remark that pulling on something hanging on the wall to make secret doors open "always works in the movies," which is the weird-meta joke that makes us love this show to death. Following it with a "soap opera" pun after the slippery soap caused them to find the real lever to open the door was icing on the cake.

"Oh boy, am I glad to see you!" Daphne tells Fred when rescued from one of the riverboat's locked rooms. She's way too overly-emphatic and emotional, clearly indicating that she doesn't want Fred to know something.

They eventually found the crashed armored car (could've used hints about its existence much earlier so we can have a reason for being in the fucking swamp!) and instantly the gang concludes the witch and the zombie are after it. We love a truck full of sacks with dollar signs as much as the next nerd (special shout-out to the name emblazoned on the side of the armored car that simply reads "Bank Co." Priceless.) but shouldn't this have been in the very first act of the episode. Why is the money there? Why not let the myth of the witch build a bit more before jumping to conclusions?

We do want to make mention to the surprisingly-weak trap Fred sets up to catch the witch. This is a guy that designed a Rube-Goldberg machine with cannon balls, springs, a morningstar, and a suit of armor to catch a magician. Shit, he once used an ironing board, a room-fan, a washing machine, and a few gallons of dish soap to corral a pair of Confederate Shadow-Ghosts. His ability to come up with these things is really his only quality, so for this episode -- seriously, Fred? A tree branch snapping somebody in the face? He's getting unfocused, furthering our theory that something bad happened at the haunted amusement park between him, Daphne, and that robot.

The sheriff shows up to throw Zeke and Zeb (it was Zeke and Zeb all along!) in lockup. Judging by the previews for next week, which we swore we'd stop watching, the gang will be dealing with smugglers and pirates. Those aren't really monsters, they're more just criminals, so the danger continues to ratchet up. If your friends aren't watching this show, fucking tell them to!

-- Alex Crumb (originally published 8/31/11)
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