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"Keith, Gwen, Scrags, Esther! Good, better, best, bester! Who are we? THE SOLVE-IT SQUAD!"

And I'd have gotten away with it too, if it weren't for you meddlesome hooligans!
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The Solve-It Squad Returns! is the second full-length narrative stage production by sketch comedy troupe The Tin Can Brothers (Joey Richter, Corey Lubowich and Brian Rosenthal), following their initial success with Spies Are Forever in 2016. Unlike its predecessor (and the Team Starkid shows where the members of Tin Can Brothers got their start), it's a somewhat stripped-down production, a one-act straight play with an Opening Chorus Theme Tune and a Sudden Musical Ending, rather than a true musical, with a Minimalist Cast of only five actors: Joey Richter as Scrags, Ashley Clements (star of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries) as Gwen, Gabe Greenspan (the creator of Pokémon: The Mew-sical, who played Gary Oak) as Keith, Lauren Lopez as Esther, and Brian Rosenthal as "Everyone Else".

The show is about a suspiciously familiar gang of four young teens with a talking dog whose crime-fighting career is derailed by the unexpected violent murder of their Team Pet Cluebert, sending the four of them into a downward spiral over the course of the next twenty years. Now, in the present day, one of them finds a lead on Cluebert's killer and sets out to put the band back together to finally bring him to justice. Can the Solve-It Squad overcome their long-buried resentments and dysfunctions and come back together as a team to put their demons to rest?

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The Solve-It Squad Returns! originally ran from June 15-25 at the Secret Rose Theatre in North Hollywood, CA, and reunited for an off-Broadway run a year later from April 26-May 12, 2018 at the TBG Theatre in New York. You can watch it on YouTube here.

In spring of 2021, the Tin Can Bros. announced The Solve-It Squad: Back in Biz, a sequel in the form of Zoom script readings of four episodes of an imaginary animated series, with digital tickets available exclusively for livestreamed showings on Saturday, March 13 and Saturday, March 20, with digital replay tickets available for a limited time afterwards (and no plans to ever make the episodes available on YouTube for free).

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The Solve-It Squad Returns! contains examples of:

  • Accidental Murder: Keith, of all people, took bloody vengeance on the Demonic Apostle for Cluebert's death all on his own, depriving Scrags of the chance of ever properly bringing the killer to justice, and he did it by accident because he's just a shitty driver.
  • Actor Allusion: Keith getting pissed off at the beach bum who thinks his van is a "poké truck" is a reference to the fact that his actor Gabe Greenspan is the creator of Pokémon: The Mew-sical.
    • Gwen's "Yes, a thousand times, yes!" when she agrees to rejoin the Solve-It Squad is a reference to The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, as is her Southern accent ("I still have a little Georgia peach left in me") at the dinner table scene (lifted from Lizzie's "costume theatre" segments doing an impression of her Southern mom). Esther describing her husband Nicholas as a "very wealthy venture capitalist" may be a reference to LBD's version of Darcy.
    • Keith insisting that Scrags is a "spy" and calling him "James Boned" because he's in the FBI — which Scrags seems to take strong exception to — may be a Call-Back to the Tin Can Brothers' previous show, Spies Are Forever, where Joey Richter indeed did play a spy. (And, after all, "once a spy, always a spy, forever".)
    • The photo of Gwen on the cover of her book is just Ashley Clements' actual headshot; similarly, the Freeze-Frame Bonus of Scrags' (uncharacteristically artistic) photo on his FBI badge is Joey Richter's real headshot.
  • Affectionate Parody: Of the Scooby-Doo franchise, especially A Pup Named Scooby-Doo (where the characters were explicitly children), and of the Kid Detective genre in general.
  • Alliterative Name: The Solve-It Squad. All of the proposed new names in the ending also follow the pattern ("The Bust-It Band", "Cluebert's Conundrum Crew", "The Puzzle Posse").
  • And the Adventure Continues: The story ends with the Solve-It Squad back together and ready to take on a new set of mysteries as adults.
  • Art Shift: The end credits, as well as the promo materials for the show — like the album cover for the soundtrack — have hand-drawn pictures of the Solve-It Squad that make it much more blatant that they're just Expies of the Scooby-Doo gang (including restoring Keith/Fred's signature ascot.)
  • Artistic License - Government: Esther's observation that Scrags' FBI jacket was made at a sweatshop in Bangladesh makes for pretty great Black Comedy about an everyday atrocity we take for granted — but in Real Life that's why federal agencies source their branded apparel exclusively through a supplier that makes all their clothes in the US with military veterans as labor, precisely to avoid the Made in Country X trope and the awkward implications thereof when it's a uniform meant to represent the United States.
  • Artistic License – Law: Murder, in and of itself, is not a federal crime (unless state lines were crossed in the process or it took place on a body of water), and therefore not under the FBI's jurisdiction. A state or local police force can ask for the FBI's assistance in a murder investigation, but the FBI agents would be working with the local cops rather than taking ownership of the case the way Scrags does. And that's before we get into the fact that killing Cluebert is, technically, not murder, since he's a dog.
    • One of the circumstances in which murder does automatically become a federal crime is if the murder is of a law enforcement officer, which leads into hilarious Wild Mass Guessing that in this universe the Solve-It Squad were somehow deputized as police officers (despite being minors), having the same vague jurisdiction to investigate supernatural-seeming crimes that Mystery, Inc. did.
  • Artistic License – Medicine: Obviously everything about Esther's drug consumption is Don't Try This at Home, but the stated amount of diazepam (Valium) she takes goes beyond her being an addict with a hardened tolerance to her being some kind of superhuman. (Valium is one of the drugs it's difficult to actually kill yourself with, but the normal dose is 20 mg per day and she takes 15,000.)
    • Replacing a drug addict's stash with placebos is incredibly dangerous for their health under the best of circumstances, never mind the massive amounts of different substances Esther is supposedly dependent on. The fact that she seems perfectly healthy after being forced to go cold turkey for a whole day without warning is a sign she's not just got superhuman tolerance but superhuman recovery.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Given that the source material is a whodunit and the Trope Namer for the "Scooby-Doo" Hoax, a number of these happen through the show:
    • The first one is just that we're set up for a cutesy Scooby-Doo parody in the Opening Chorus only to have it suddenly go wildly Off the Rails with Cluebert's death at the hands of the Demonic Apostle, followed by a Time Skip.
    • For people who paid enough attention to the marketing to know about the death and Time Skip premise, we get the Plot Twist that contrary to expectation, the Shaggy character has become a straitlaced By-the-Book Cop and it's Velma who turned into an Addled Addict.
    • The Creepy Gas-Station Attendant looks set up to give us some exposition about the Demonic Apostle haunting the Mayberry Gardens Motel and Spa, only to sidetrack us into a hilariously squicky conversation about the motel's problems with unwashed sheets.
    Gas Station Attendant: JIIIIIIIIIIZZ!
    • We get a whole whodunit setup with a colorful cast of suspects among the hotel staff. All of it was a Red Herring, and the true identity of the Demonic Apostle has been Keith the whole time.
    • We get one last one when we get some truly gut-wrenching Fridge Horror at the idea that Keith was the original Demonic Apostle and killed Cluebert, only for him to cheerfully correct Scrags that no, he killed Cluebert's killer, and the whole thing has been a ridiculously convoluted "Shaggy Dog" Story.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Gwen spends a lot of time "coaching" Scrags and pressuring him with various corny acting exercises to open up emotionally and let out his inner rage — so that he'll be less stiff and professional and give her better material for the sizzle reel she's secretly shooting for a reality show pitch. Hours of this finally leads to Scrags exploding and turning a blistering "The Reason You Suck" Speech on Gwen herself.
  • Bestiality Is Depraved: Keith gets very upset in the Opening Chorus when Cluebert starts licking Gwen's face — "Okay, let's stop that, please!" He's a Crazy Jealous Guy when it comes to Gwen and The Resenter when it comes to Cluebert, but there's also some obvious Furry Confusion involved in the fact that Cluebert is a talking, sapient, anthropomorphic dog so there's an open question of how "innocent" him licking her face is.
  • Big Bad Friend: Keith is the true identity of the "returned" Demonic Apostle. Although since he didn't really assault or kill anyone, and his goal was to help the Solve-It Squad work through their issues and get back together, he's not a Big Bad. It is still a pretty dick move, though.
  • Bland-Name Product: As a Freeze-Frame Bonus if you look at the bottles of beer Esther is collecting in the dinner table scene they all have custom labels that say "Tin Can Pale Ale."
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: The major female characters in the story run this gamut, with Gwen as the Fiery Redhead, Esther as the Brainy Brunette and Camille as the Dumb Blonde. (Keeping in mind that Camille is a Cross-Cast Role and one of Brian Rosenthal's Loads and Loads of Roles.)
  • Bookcase Passage: There's one in the honeymoon suite of the hotel, which Keith and Gwen accidentally trigger just before they kiss, and which Gwen immediately assumes must have been created for the sake of voyeurism. Since the story about a satanic cult turns out to be made-up nonsense, she's probably right.
  • Breaking the Fellowship: Cluebert's death when the Solve-It Squad were in high school marked the end of not just their crimefighting careers but their friendship; after the Time Skip Scrags reveals they haven't even spoken to each other in twenty years. The rest of the show is about Scrags Putting the Band Back Together.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Scrags and Esther both make reference to the "Three Writers" of the show as a stand-in for God.
    • Also, in the ending reprise of the Theme Tune, Keith starts singing the Scatting from the Opening Chorus only for everyone to correct him that that's wrong and that part is only in "the beginning".
    • When Ricky the concierge accidentally hits Scrags' Trauma Button by mentioning the hotel has a "No pets" policy, Scrags momentarily holds up his hand as though he's wearing the Cluebert Hand Puppet on it.
  • Breakout Character: Lauren Lopez as Esther, unquestionably. Director Corey Lubowich even ran a tongue-in-cheek tournament bracket of fans' favorite Solve-It Squad characters on social media, with Esther overwhelmingly winning each head-to-head matchup she was placed in. Hilariously, the creators seem to have anticipated this; the line from "Back in Biz", "Keith, Gwen, Scrags, Esther!/Good, better, best, bester!" accurately reflects most fans' rankings of the four characters.
  • Bridal Carry: This show brings back Scooby-Doo's classic Running Gag of someone unexpectedly ending up in one of these (although since Joey Richter is 6'2" they don't use the common gag of Shaggy/Scrags leaping into someone's arms). Brian Rosenthal as Camille leaps into Keith's arms in terror at one point, and then during the Scooby-Dooby Doors Chase Scene we see that Gwen has somehow ended up being carried this way by the monster they were trying to capture. Who turns out to actually be Keith.
  • The Case Of: The Solve-It Squad's past cases apparently all had cheesy titles like this; the ones we hear of are "The Case of the Hairless Werewolf", "The Case of the Witch in the Wings", "The Case of the People-Eating Pickle", "The Case of the Fast-Food Ghoul", "The Case of the Swim-Meet Swamp Thing", and "The Case of the Demonic Apostle". (We see them solving the first two of these — and their total failure to solve the last one — in the Opening Chorus.)
  • Cast of Expies: All of the main characters are, of course, an Expy of a member of Mystery, Inc. Keith is Fred, Gwen is Daphne, Esther is Velma, Scrags is Shaggy, and Cluebert is Scooby-Doo. Unlike Mystery, Inc.'s Mystery Machine, the Solve-It Squad's Signature Team Transport is just called "the van", although Keith proposes renaming the team "The Puzzle Posse" so he can call the van "the Posse Wagon".
  • Catchphrase: Back in the day the Solve-It Squad seemed to regularly say "Cluebert!" in an adoring manner and mutter "Jesus Christ, Keith" in an exasperated manner regularly. There's also references made to classic Scooby-Doo catchphrases "Jinkies!" (for Esther/Velma) and "Zoinks!" (for Scrags/Shaggy), as well as letting Keith let out a classic Let's Split Up, Gang!.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: In-universe, the death of Cluebert radically changes the setting, marking the end of the Squad's childhoods and the beginning of their having to face adult problems involving mental and physical health, finances, and their dysfunctional relationships.
  • Character Development: The whole theme of the show. All of the Solve-It Squad members have been wildly altered since their idyllic childhoods; everyone Took a Level in Jerkass over the past twenty years, with lovable goofball Scrags becoming an uptight, embittered FBI agent, bundle of sunshine Child Prodigy Esther becoming a Genius Burnout Addled Addict, adorable Ingenue Gwen becoming an openly materialistic and selfish White-Dwarf Starlet, and lovable Butt-Monkey Keith being... exactly the same guy he was when he was a teenager, which is somehow saddest of all. The show is about unpacking how and why this happened and how they can start to forgive each other for it.
    • It turns out Manchild Keith actually had the most Character Development of all, as the one who masterminded this whole plot behind a mask of Obfuscating Stupidity — and, most surprisingly, his ultimate reason for doing so was an altruistic one. Even though he and Scrags never got along and Scrags and Cluebert obviously held him in contempt, he felt the duty to help Scrags make peace with Cluebert's death.
  • Clue, Evidence, and a Smoking Gun: After all the pieces Esther puts together to figure out that Keith was the primary Demonic Apostle, she turns around and points out that Ricky must be his accomplice. When Ricky asks how she knows, she points to the cultist hood sticking out of his pants pocket.
  • Coconut Superpowers: Esther "solves" a Rubik's cube in seconds by just rapidly twisting it and tossing it offstage before we can see if it's actually solved. (Sadly, speedcubing is not one of Lauren Lopez's many Real Life talents.)
    • Hilariously, Gabe Greenspan actually learned to solve a Rubik's cube during rehearsals, in hopes that he could pre-solve one and then mix it up with a few memorized moves that Lauren could then undo, only for everyone to decide that Lauren frantically twisting the cube around randomly and tossing it offstage was funnier, making his effort All for Nothing.
  • Collective Identity: The solution to the mystery turns out to be that there's more than one Demonic Apostle. In fact, there's three — the original Demonic Apostle from the '90s who died a while ago, Keith, who decided to adopt the Apostle's identity as a hoax to get the Solve-It Squad back together, and Ricky, whom Keith paid off to dress up as the Apostle to maintain the deception while Keith was with the rest of the Squad.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The whole plot happens because Keith just happened to accidentally hit the original Demonic Apostle with his van on his last visit to Mayberry for the holidays; the Apostle mistook this for long-delayed vengeance, and blurted out the whole story of why he killed Cluebert as a Deathbed Confession.
  • Cool Mask: The Demonic Apostle's green devil mask, which, unlike the floppy and ill-fitting masks worn by the previous villains, is quite genuinely scary.
  • Crack Fic: Pretty much an archetypal Crack Fic for Scooby-Doo fans — starting with the brutal death of Scooby himself, then the Plot Twist of Shaggy of all people ending up Mystery, Inc.'s straitlaced Friend on the Force, then seeing how far off the rails they could take all of the other characters too.
  • Creator In-Joke: The "sandwich trick" is a reference to Scooby and Shaggy's Dagwood Sandwiches that they assembled out of Hammerspace, of course, but it has its roots in an experience Joey Richter had in clown college where he tried to do a comedy "magic trick" by putting a bunch of sandwich ingredients in his pants and assembling them with his butt and then reveal a perfectly-made sandwich at the end. His teacher admonished him that his character attempting this magic trick and then showing the actual results of trying to do this — a horrifyingly misshapen wad of bread, cheese and bologna — was a much funnier punchline. Joey used this experience to give us the Bait-and-Switch of the shockingly disappointing result of Scrags' "sandwich trick" (which, ironically, in this context is very much Played for Drama).
  • Crowd Chant: There's a whole chant the Squad does together every time Scrags does "the sandwich trick".
  • Cruel to Be Kind: The reason for the new "Demonic Apostle" attacks was nothing more and nothing less than to bring the Solve-It Squad back together.
  • Darker and Edgier: Starting with Cluebert's horrifying death and then going onto stuff like Gwen's infidelity, Scrags' type-2 diabetes and anxiety disorder, Esther's drug addiction and terror of criminal prosecution, and Keith's offensive Manchild status and financial problems. And the fact that Keith turns out to be the "villain".
  • Decon-Recon Switch: The show starts with portraying the Solve-It Squad as a bunch of Failure Heroes and a Dysfunction Junction whose lives have been ruined by their petty personal issues — and then shows them remembering how much they actually do care about each other underneath it all, finding out they're the ones who know how to take care of each other best in their own messed-up way, and coming back together as a team.
  • Diegetic Soundtrack Usage: Apparently the "Solve-It Squad theme song" exists in-universe, and Keith has a cover of it playing on his stereo when they get in the van (a hard-rock actionized version) that Scrags finds very annoying.
  • Disaster Dominoes: Described but, obviously, not seen. Keith apparently tripped and fell into a series of suits of armor while chasing the Mummy in the opening, and finds the damage this caused to an exhibit of priceless artifacts to be highly amusing.
    Keith: They did the domino thing! The DOMINO THING! I mean, that is, like, classic us, right?
  • Dramatic Thunder: The Running Gag where in the first hotel scene, each of the characters trails off ominously while a thunderclap plays after everything they say, potentially relevant to the case or not. There's some Howling to the Night thrown in there too.
  • Dramatic Unmask: The Opening Chorus is a Montage of these moments from past Solve-It Squad "episodes". The climax of the show is a long-delayed one for the Demonic Apostle.
  • Drone of Dread: The Demonic Apostle is accompanied by one when he first appears and interrupts the Theme Tune. This is noticeably absent when he comes back in the main storyline, as a hint that it's not really him.
  • Drugs Are Bad: The eventual Aesop, although not nearly as Anvilicious of one as usual given that Esther's "drug problem" is exaggerated way, way beyond any realistic scenario, her reasons for being on drugs are expressed much more sympathetically than usual, and even after her epiphany at the end it's implied she's not going to give them up cold turkey overnight.
  • Dysfunction Junction: Oh yeah. Keith is a Manchild who Lives in a Van, Gwen is a White-Dwarf Starlet who openly despises her husband and neglects her kids, Esther is a Genius Burnout Addled Addict living Off the Grid, and Scrags, for all he claims to be the only functional and successful one, is clearly a deeply troubled Defective Detective who's so Married to the Job his boss chews him out for "bumming out the whole rest of the FBI". Scrags brings them all together clearly not just for the abstract cause of getting justice for Cluebert's murder but in hopes that getting some closure on that trauma might be the beginning of fixing their fucked-up lives.
  • Establishing Team Shot: The show begins and ends with one of these as Book Ends.
  • Everytown, America: The Solve-It Squad's childhood hometown of Mayberry, which the Title Card only tells us is in "Middle America".
  • Evil Laughter: The Demonic Apostle has a signature distorted, gleeful chortle.
  • Exact Words: The hotel sauna has a rule you "must have a towel on" to go inside, and Stefani the maid apparently interprets this literally (as opposed to needing to at least have a towel on rather than going in nude). Cue Gilligan Cut to Gwen fully changing into a bathrobe and towel over her hair, while Scrags just huffily puts a towel around his waist over his work clothes.
  • Faked Kidnapping: Keith arranges for his accomplice Ricky to dress up as the Demonic Apostle and kidnap him in front of Gwen to trigger the final Scooby-Dooby Doors Chase Scene to wrap up the mystery.
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: The horror of Cluebert's murder isn't just that he's dead, but that the killer thoroughly desecrated his corpse, chopping him up into pieces, scattering the pieces around a ritual pentagram drawn with his blood and viscera, and then showing the whole gory mess to the Solve-It Squad to scare them off the case. No wonder these kids grew up to have issues.
  • First-Episode Twist: Cluebert's death is the whole foundation of the story, and is included in the official synopsis on the website and in the printed program for the show... and yet tons of viewers were still blindsided by it, just because they never anticipated a goofy Scooby-Doo parody would actually go so far as to brutally murder Scooby.
  • Five-Man Band: Like the original Mystery, Inc., although this time the roles are a bit mixed up:
    • Keith thinks he's The Leader, but this role probably actually goes to Cluebert (in much the same way that Fred has been flanderized into a Cloudcuckoolander and The Millstone in more recent versions of Scooby-Doo).
    • Scrags is The Lancer to Cluebert, trying — and mostly failing — to gain the team's loyalty and respect as The Leader in Cluebert's absence.
    • Gwen is still the Chick.
    • Esther is still The Smart Girl, now taken up to eleven where she could basically do the Solve-It Squad's job by herself (if not for her one crippling weakness, now increased to two crippling weaknesses with the drug addiction).
    • Keith's actual role on the team is The Big Guy, although much like Scooby-Doo, the degree to which he Took a Level in Dumbass means he's not actually very good at this role. (Ironically, in the way they interact, Keith and Cluebert are almost like Fred and Scooby switched, with Cluebert being more of a confident leader bordering on The Bully and Keith being a seemingly useless goofball who surprisingly turns out to be The Heart of the team.)
  • Flipping the Bird: Esther casually does this to Scrags when he includes her in his "The Reason You Suck" Speech.
  • Foreshadowing: There's a lot of hints as to the Demonic Apostle's identity before The Reveal at the end of the show, which Esther runs through at warp speed in The Summation at the end (while adding some extra details that we weren't privy to):
    • The first clue being a Solve-It Squad tank top the Apostle left in the gym. Keith isn't even able to resist a …But He Sounds Handsome when describing the killer as a Solve-It Squad fan who is also a gym rat. Esther adds that the tank top was beneath the bicep curl machine and its owner must've been someone trying to max out his bicep bulge without actually being that strong.
    • The second clue being a bloody prop knife. Keith doesn't even flinch when Gwen stabs it into his chest. Esther adds that the knife is a particularly cheap "MADE IN CHINA" model someone probably got from an online wholesaler.
    • Esther tasting the blood and telling us it came from a bird. The only reference to birds in the show at all thus far was the sound of seagulls establishing the location of Venice Beach in the scene where we met Keith. Esther confirms that the blood was, specifically, seagull blood.
    • The ritual design drawn with the blood is a six-pointed star, not a five-pointed one. When discussing what this means, Gwen brings up the idea that maybe the killer is just stupid or can't count.
    • Esther even literally says that someone leaving a prop knife and a Solve-It Squad tank top around must be a copycat killer "or Keith" — a Cassandra Truth which even she only says sarcastically because she never expected Keith to actually take the initiative on an Evil Plan.
    • Keith called ahead and changed Scrags' room reservation to put Scrags and Esther in a tiny single and give himself and Gwen the honeymoon suite... which means he already had the hotel's information when they started the trip, despite acting like he knew absolutely nothing about the case or where they were going.
    • Of all the Solve-It Squad members, Keith is the only one who immediately willingly agreed to jump into the investigation without needing to be persuaded — including Scrags, who had to be talked into it by Chief O'Brien. The more obvious it is that the killer didn't actually kill anybody and has been leaving obvious clues behind with the intention of getting caught, the more obvious it is Keith is the only person whose motive fits the crime.
  • Former Child Star: Gwen is the only one who went into acting as a profession, but the whole Solve-It Squad have this as part of their background — apparently in their heyday the Solve-It Squad were nationally famous celebrities, and all four of them have had their adult lives greatly shaped by the expectations people put on them because of it.
  • Four-Man Band: After Cluebert's death, the Solve-It Squad upon their reunion are less of a crimefighting team and more of a bickering comedy troupe, matching this trope:
    • Scrags is the Only Sane Man.
    • Esther is The Smart Girl.
    • Both Gwen and Keith are the Casanova Wannabe, but Gwen is the one who's more defined by it — specifically a genderbent version of this trope where she's objectively the hot Alpha Bitch but is pathetic because she's in constant need of more attention and validation.
    • Keith is also a Casanova Wannabe but fails at it so consistently — and is so obviously only doing it because of his hopeless devotion to Gwen — that he's clearly the Butt-Monkey.
  • Four-Philosophy Ensemble: The four members of the Solve-It Squad are totally at cross-purposes with each other in their attitude toward the Demonic Apostle case:
    • Scrags is the Realist, determined to find the murderer but with his expectations tempered by a long career as a hardnosed By-the-Book Cop at the FBI.
    • Esther is the Cynic, who only came along out of a sense of personal duty to Scrags and an interest in solving mysteries she hasn't fully suppressed, but she doesn't really believe the Apostle can be found or stopped or think it matters if it does, since as she shouts at Scrags in her "The Reason You Suck" Speech she believes the universe is "nothing but chaos".
    • Gwen is the the Apathetic. She doesn't actually care about the case itself at all, and is only there out of the selfish desire to gather footage of the other Squad members to try to pitch a TV show about them, and because she finds being around the others fun (especially Keith, whom she still has a crush on). Scrags trying and failing to keep her on task eventually leads to him blowing up at her.
    • Finally, Keith is the Optimist — he's extremely pumped to find the Apostle from the beginning and seems to have totally unshakable confidence they'll succeed in doing it, despite all their setbacks and despite the fact that he also seems to be barely paying attention half the time. This is, of course, because he set the whole thing up in the first place.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble:
    • Scrags: Choleric (though he tries to keep a lid on it and pose as Phlegmatic)
    • Gwen: Phlegmatic (though she is also trying to cover her Phlegmatic apathy with a bubbly Sanguine veneer)
    • Keith: Sanguine and not smart enough to cover it up with anything
    • Esther: Melancholy and doesn't care enough to try to hide it either
    • When Cluebert was alive, he probably took up the Phlegmatic slot, pushing eager attention- and validation-seeker Gwen into the Supine/Leukine slot.
  • Freaky Electronic Music: For the track "Motel Mayhem", Nick Gage adds the signature badass synths fans remember from his score for Holy Musical B@man! to the traditional upbeat rock song that underscores a Scooby-Dooby Doors scene.
  • Fun with Subtitles: The subtitles for this show were created by fans and have a lot of fun with throwing in humorous comments and editorializing, especially taking advantage of long Beats to give colorful descriptions of the Visible Silence ("Very long pause as Scrags considers why he ever hung out with this guy"), as well as describing Keith "making a noise like a drowning raccoon", or rendering Keith's drawn-out "Well..." by extending the ellipses all the way across the screen. The subtitles also compliment the stage manager by at one point describing the sound effects as "impeccably timed", and the show as a whole by captioning the Curtain Call with "rapturous applause".
  • Funny Animal: Cluebert, of course. (Although Keith fumes that his constant quips were "forced".) His horrifying death transforms the setting into a Darker and Edgier place.
  • Girly Run: Scrags, Gwen and Esther — along with the Demonic Apostle himself ( or rather Apostles, one of whom is Keith) all engage in this during the obligatory cartoony Chase Scene.
  • Grail in the Garbage: "The Case of the Witch in the Wings" turned out to be a scheme by local community theatre actor Harold Pendergast to steal the donated costumes for the spring production of Tartuffe, which unbeknownst to the theatre company had real diamonds sewn into them.
  • Gratuitous Disco Sequence: The "Solve-It Squad" dance comes off as one of these, with a general mishmash of cheesy dance moves from decades past, like the "Staying Alive" Dance Pose, Walk Like an Egyptian and The Batusi.
  • Growing Up Sucks: A major theme of the show, hence why Keith defiantly Never Grew Up.
  • Hell Hotel: The Mayberry Gardens Motel and Spa is one, thanks to the nasty reputation it got due to the Demonic Apostle attacks that broke up the Solve-It Squad twenty years ago and have recently started up again. It seems like it's been reduced from its former glory to a seedy No-Tell Motel as a result, leading Esther to speculate its current owner/manager might be behind the new Demonic Apostle attacks to try to commit insurance fraud and free herself from her financial obligations.
  • He's Back!: The big moment of this is Esther's massive "brain-gasm" where she solves the mystery in seconds, but by the ending of the show this applies to the whole Solve-It Squad.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Keith tries to intentionally invoke this trope, screaming at Gwen as the Demonic Apostle drags him away "I'm sacrificing myself for you, okay? I'm sacrificing myself because I love you! Tell them what happened!"
  • Hollywood Satanism: The Demonic Apostle was a serial killer and satanic cultist who went around in a horrifying devil mask and practiced ritual animal sacrifice in order to cast Black Magic. Subverted. As with all the other villains, the Demonic Apostle was just a scammer using this trope to try to intimidate people and scare them away from a business he wanted to acquire; he was just the only one who went too far and actually killed a person — well, a dog.
  • Hypocritical Humor: When Keith thinks Scrags is a travel agent he pokes fun at him for being paid for a job that a website is able to do automatically. Scrags then points out that running a storefront on Etsy is pretty much exactly that.
  • Iconic Item: In-universe, the Solve-It Squad logo is a magnifying glass, although Keith doesn't think to actually sell Solve-It Squad-branded magnifying glasses in his shop until Scrags points out the idea. They don't actually use magnifying glasses at any point in the show itself, though, and their actual iconic item (as in the original franchise) seems to be flashlights for dramatic chase scenes in the dark.
  • Iconic Outfit: All of them had one when they were kids, and they all dress very differently now that they're adults. (Scrags and Esther being the most dramatic shifts, with Scrags now wearing the business attire expected of an FBI agent and Esther dressed in baggy androgynous clothes befitting her slob persona.) When the Squad first gets back together, we find out the extremely disturbing fact that Keith retrieved and kept everyone's outfits from their teen years and proposes that they put them back on, revealing he's now wearing the "same shirt" he was in the opening (actually a much smaller version of the shirt that bares his midriff).
  • Idiosyncratic Wipes: In the YouTube recording of the show, the Demonic Apostle's first appearance is signaled by his mask being superimposed in Extreme Close-Up over the whole screen.
  • Insane Troll Logic: Keith is extremely prone to this when he tries to give The Summation. His Evil Plan is basically based on this, like the idea that running over the Demonic Apostle while he was jaywalking is no big deal because All Crimes Are Equal, or the idea that posing as the Apostle himself was somehow transferring the chance to take revenge on Cluebert's killer to Scrags, who really deserved it.
  • Instantly Proven Wrong: Scrags twisting the knife on Gwen by screaming at her that no one's going to fix her problems for her because "NO ONE CARES!" is instantly followed by a major Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other moment, with Keith turning on him and yelling "Don't you EVER talk to my girl like that again!"
  • Inside Job: The most obvious possibility for the identity of the Demonic Apostle is that it's one of the staff (or the owner) of the Mayberry Gardens Motel and Spa trying to sabotage the business for some reason. It turns out this was the motive of the original Demonic Apostle 20 years ago — the original owner's brother trying to drive him out of business — and that one of the two people playing the current Demonic Apostle is the concierge, Ricky, but the true mastermind of the copycat Demonic Apostle is Keith. It's an Inside Job on the Solve-It Squad itself!
  • Interface Spoiler: The fact that this is a live stage show means that when the monster pulls a Wrap Around from one side of the stage to the other, this is a dead giveaway that there must be two Demonic Apostles — and given that there's only five actors in the cast of the show, that the Demonic Apostle not played by Brian Rosenthal must be Keith. And that's if you didn't just look at the Apostle's shoes and see that they were different, and one of them is wearing Keith's signature sky-blue Chucks.
  • It's Personal: The whole reason Scrags initially balks at the case and then becomes obsessed with it — it's a chance to finally catch the Demonic Apostle, the monster who murdered his best friend, broke up the Solve-It Squad and by extension destroyed all four of their lives.
  • Jack the Ripoff: Esther quickly brings up the possibility that the Demonic Apostle's reappearance is just a copycat criminal trying to piggyback on his notoriety. There's a ton of hints that she's right, including the obvious fact that the current Apostle hasn't actually killed anyone. This is, of course, a Cassandra Truth from her.
  • Kid Detective: What the Solve-It Squad originally were. Scrags spent the 20 years since then becoming a real detective at the FBI, and is somewhat miffed to discover the other three's idea of what being a detective means hasn't changed much by contrast.
  • Kid Hero All Grown-Up: The "cynical deconstruction" version of this trope.
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: Even after the show was released on YouTube, the Tin Can Brothers have treated the fact that Keith is the true identity of the Demonic Apostle as a spoiler and asked fans to do the same, hence all the white text on this page. Especially notable because they enforced this in their talkback with Gabe Greenspan about the role, and The Ending Changes Everything when it comes to Keith's character.
  • Let's Split Up, Gang!: Scrags casually suggests splitting up between the gym and the sauna to look for clues only for Keith to interrupt so he can properly deliver the Catchphrase of the character he's based on.
  • Line-of-Sight Name: Keith guessing Esther's last name was improvised every night, by Gabe Greenspan just naming random objects he saw in the front row of the audience, followed by the punchline of Esther muttering "Lucky guess". The "canon" last name from the YouTube performance, "Esther Backpack-Blueglasses", is fortunately something we can headcanon as him remembering objects she was associated with as a kid in-universe. (Esther is never seen carrying a backpack but her glasses do have blue plastic rims.)
  • Literal Metaphor: Camille thanks the Solve-It Squad for "helping her father out of a pickle 20 years ago". There's a beat, and then Scrags remembers "The Case of the People-Eating Pickle". (I.e. whatever this Noodle Incident consisted of, it involved Camille's dad somehow literally being inside a pickle.)
  • Loads and Loads of Roles: Brian Rosenthal has the same "Everyone Else" role that Joey Richter did in The Trail to Oregon!, playing all of the NPCs in the cast with nothing more than a Wig, Dress, Accent quick-change. (With one exception: Lauren Lopez plays the role of Chief O'Brien's secretary in the FBI headquarters scene.) This gets taken up to eleven when the staff of the hotel have a climactic dramatic confrontation with each other without the Solve-It Squad present, just Brian rapid-fire switching costume pieces and accents in order to carry on a one-man scene.
  • Love Triangle: Played for Laughs. Gwen has one between her husband Nicholas and Keith, Keith has one between Gwen and Camille, and Ricky the concierge allegedly has one between his girlfriend Beth and Stefani the maid. (The last three of these are all played by the same actor.) Scrags and Esther find all of these to be an irritating distraction.
  • Meaningful Rename: A meaningful un-rename. Keith proposes that with the team reforming as adults they should rebrand, especially since he lost control of their Twitter handle, but Scrags shuts that down right away.
    Scrags: We are, and have always been, the Solve-It Squad.
  • Minimalism: The set is almost completely bare, with the entire set consisting of a bench, two chairs, a table and a set of painted wooden panels. It gives the opportunity for a lot of pantomime work by the actors.
  • Minimalist Cast: Only five actors, one of whom plays a dozen different characters.
  • Mood Whiplash: Oh hell yeah. The main draw of this show is the deceptively goofy premise suddenly giving way to moments that are emotionally raw and real as hell between the Squadmates.
    • The best such moment is arguably after the extremely painful and shocking confrontation Scrags has with the rest of the Squad at the dinner table, leading to Gwen bursting out of the room in tears and Keith furiously threatening Scrags if he ever hurts her like that again... followed by the hotel staff having their own parallel scene where their own personal issues come to a head and Beth storms off after finding out Ricky has been cheating on her, with all of the staff members being played by a single actor rapidly switching between accents and silly wigs and hats.
  • Motive Rant: Harold Pendergast and Melanie Butler manage a brief one each during the Opening Chorus Theme Tune sequence. Keith gets a lengthy one explaining the contrived backstory of the copycat caper, followed by a brief postscript revealing Ricky is his accomplice, segueing into announcing he did it for love followed by a Wacky Marriage Proposal to Beth.
  • Musicalis Interruptus: The Opening Chorus cuts off just before the end, interrupting the cast singing "Cluuuueebeeert, weeee loooove y—" with the Demonic Apostle's Evil Laugh and Cluebert's Family-Unfriendly Death.
  • My Greatest Second Chance: The opportunity to finally take down Cluebert's killer is this for the entire Solve-It Squad, but especially Scrags. When Keith accidentally killed the original Demonic Apostle, he realized he'd accidentally robbed this chance from Scrags forever, moving him to try to make it up to him by posing as the Apostle in a copycat crime.
  • Nailed to the Wagon: Scrags steals Esther's drugs and replaces them with placebos, to force her to regain her sobriety and remember how much better of a high solving mysteries is than narcotics. Subverted, in that rather than accept this lesson she violently attacks him until he promises to give them back.
  • No Name Given: We hear Keith referred to as "Keith Swanson" fairly early, and Esther's full name is a subject of a joke, but Scrags' and Gwen's full names are never spoken in the script. A Freeze-Frame Bonus lets us see that Gwen's name is "Gwen Barrywood" from the cover of her book, and Scrags' FBI badge says his full name is "Benji Scragtowski". Word of God during a Q&A says that Gwen's name is short for "Gwendolyn", in response to Ashley Clements opining that it should be "Gwyneth" because she reminds her of Gwyneth Paltrow.
  • Noodle Incident: As with other shows that pretend to be a Reunion Show for a Retroactive Legacy, half the fun is dropping random hints about all the other cases the Solve-It Squad solved in their history.
  • Officially Shortened Title: The off-Broadway run just used the title The Solve-It Squad, dropping the "Returns", as do most fans when referencing the show, partly because of confusion over the fact that the show isn't actually a sequel to anything.
  • Only in It for the Money: It's a recurring theme of Scooby-Doo that this motive is more common than any other, and that was certainly true of the Solve-It Squad's cases until the horrifying For the Evulz Serial Killer who derailed their career. In the end it turns out to be true of him too — and both of the copycat Demonic Apostles were in it for financial gain too, Ricky so he could buy an engagement ring for his girlfriend, and Keith so he could have gainful employment again by restarting the Solve-It Squad.
  • Opening Chorus: The Solve-It Squad's Theme Tune is performed as a choreographed musical number at the top of the show. Notable in that this is the only musical number — and indeed the only music — for most of the show, until the Sudden Musical Ending reprise at the end.
  • Outdated Outfit: Averted. The Solve-It Squad's original clothes are meant to evoke the same personality archetypes as Mystery, Inc.'s, but updated from The '60s to The '90s (20 years before the "present day" of when the show came out in 2017, and the same time period as the show A Pup Named Scooby-Doo the creators imprinted on). Their present-day outfits are meant to be realistic outfits that vaguely resemble the Scooby-Doo characters' but show the different paths they've taken in life. (Most notable is Esther's modern outfit looking kind of like Velma's but with totally different cultural connotations, with Velma's pleated skirt replaced by Esther sloppily tying her shirt around her waist.)
  • Oxymoronic Being: "The Case of the Hairless Werewolf", since werewolves are generally known for having more hair than humans. It's because, of course, it's a guy wearing a werewolf mask who turns out to be bald underneath.
  • Pet the Dog: Despite the Headbutting Heroes nature of the Squad, we still see a few sweet moments between them:
    • Even though Scrags clearly doesn't think highly of Keith's attempts to cling to the Glory Days, he does go out of his way to make a suggestion to help him sell Solve-It Squad merch (branded magnifying glasses).
    • Similarly, Scrags hasn't spoken to Gwen in twenty years but he did contribute $15 to her first Kickstarter.
    • Scrags is instantly ready to catch Esther when she's passing out and falling over from her drug-induced haze — twice. (This moment is especially touching for people engaging in "Richpez" Actor Shipping since Lauren trusts Joey enough to fall backward with little warning and wild abandon when he's not even standing particularly near her.)
    • Keith instantly scrambles to grab Esther's glasses and give them back to her when she loses them in the opening, and tries to do the same when her contact pops out in the present day — he seems to treat this like one of his duties on the Squad.
    • When Esther blurts out the possibility that the Demonic Apostle was Camille and that she may have seduced Keith, Gwen shouts "You BITCH!" and slugs the Apostle ( who is actually Keith himself) in the stomach. Apparently she really does care.
    • Even in the middle of his "The Reason You Suck" Speech meltdown at the whole Squad, Scrags admits that when he first tried to assemble them again he was thinking "at least Esther will be there."
    • Even with the tragic ending to the scene, the sheer sincere enthusiasm with which Esther, Keith and Gwen all greet the idea of Scrags performing "the sandwich trick" is heartwarming to see.
  • The Plague: Part of the ominous events going on at the Mayberry Garden Motel and Spa is the mystery illness that's spreading like wildfire among the staff... which, fortunately, turn out to just be a mundane mononucleosis outbreak, which only coincidentally happened at the same time as Keith's plan.
  • The Power of Friendship: The show is about the Squad realizing how badly things have gone in their lives since they let Cluebert's death drive them apart and how much stronger they are when they're compensating for each other's weaknesses as a team.
  • Power Trio: Surprisingly, we find out from Esther and Scrags' conversation that the Solve-It Squad existed before Esther invited him and Cluebert to join it, and originally was a Beauty, Brains, and Brawn trio (with Gwen as Beauty, Esther as Brains and Keith as Brawn, obviously). Keith considered himself The Leader of this team and was pretty unhappy with being rapidly upstaged by a talking dog. (This is, obviously, a meta commentary on how the original version of the Scooby-Doo gang prominently displayed Shaggy and Scooby as the two team members who brought no useful skills to the table.)
  • Puppy-Dog Eyes: Hilariously, both Esther and Keith do this while resting their heads on Scrags' shoulders to try to get him to do the "sandwich trick".
  • Putting the Band Back Together: The first half of the show is a classic version of this, with Scrags visiting each of the other Solve-It Squad members in turn, who've scattered across the country and now have wildly different jobs and stations in life since he saw them last.
  • Quirky Household: The staff of the Mayberry Gardens Motel and Spa is, indeed, very quirky, each of them having a quirky accent and quirky accessory that makes them instantly identifiable, and all of them are involved in a somewhat complex set of grievances and intrigues against each other that no one but Esther can really keep track of. And they're all played by the same person.
  • Rage Against the Author: In a Call-Back to Scrags' Breaking the Fourth Wall This Is Reality moment with Gwen, Esther's Straw Nihilist speech about giving up on life because "it's all chaos" refers to the cruel and capricious God of their universe as "those THREE WRITERS IN THE SKY".
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Like the original Mystery, Inc., but with each of their character flaws wildly increased after twenty years of trying and failing to adapt to adult life, they're this to the point of Dysfunction Junction. The show ends with a surprisingly heartwarming and sincere Aesop about this trope:
    Scrags: It's funny, I — I always thought I was kinda the outsider.
    Esther: Me too, actually.
    Gwen: Aw, guys, I'm gonna cry! Me too! (disbelieving stares) Seriously!
    Scrags: Oh, come on, Gwen, you were so popular!
    Scrags: And even weirder, we didn't even realize it until we were apart!

  • Reality Has No Soundtrack: There's no music in the show after the Opening Chorus Theme Tune; after the Musicalis Interruptus of Cluebert's death, the rest of the show goes on in silence (with the exception of the hard rock version of the Solve-It Squad theme on Keith's stereo, and the brief In-Universe Soundtrack of Esther vibing to the Dave Matthews Band) until the wacky background music of the Scooby-Dooby Doors scene, followed shortly by the Sudden Musical Ending — symbolizing that we've left the depressing world of ordinary adult life and the Solve-It Squad has its groove back. (This is really Real Life Writes the Plot, of course, with the limited budget and time the Tin Can Bros had to commission music, but fits the theme of the show very well.)
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: The penultimate major event of the play is Scrags finally exploding at Gwen and hurling this speech at her, after he'd chewed out Keith for being a Manchild and Esther for being an Addled Addict.
    Scrags: You — you are the worst of all, Gwen! Because you lie and you manipulate people, because you're so damn afraid of becoming irrelevant! But guess what — you already are! You hit rock bottom a long time ago, and I know, okay? 'Cause I've been there too! But unlike me, you're never gonna pull yourself out of it. Because you don't have the strength to. You'll just keep waiting for someone else to do it, but you can't accept that no one will, because NO ONE CARES.
    (beat, Gwen runs off in tears)
    Scrags: Welcome to the club! No one cares!
  • Reckless Gun Usage: To celebrate the Squad getting back together Gwen grabs Scrags' gun out of its holster and fires it in the air, only to flinch when it actually goes off — "No joke, I thought the safety was on!" (A bit of a Genius Bonus — the FBI's standard sidearm is a Glock, which doesn't have a safety catch.)
  • Relationship Revolving Door: Apparently this was Keith and Gwen all through their ongoing flirtation in their teens. They instantly pick this back up when they reunite as adults, much to Scrags' irritation.
  • Retroactive Legacy: The title of the show implies that this is a Reunion Show for an old-school series that, obviously, doesn't actually exist. On a meta level, of course, we're meant to imagine this show as a Distant Sequel and Deconstruction of the Scooby-Doo franchise.
  • The Reveal: As is traditional for a Kid Detective whodunit; there are, as Esther points out, tons of clues along the way, but plenty of fans were still surprised when it turned out the Demonic Apostle was Keith.
    • There's a less important reveal before it — that's a bit of a Captain Obvious Reveal — that Gwen has been planning to reunite the Solve-It Squad as a reality show to boost her career, and that she's been filming everything on her phone as footage for the "sizzle reel".
  • Retronym: The first livestream of The Solve-It Squad: Back in Biz had a "While You Wait" stream of The Solve-It Squad Returns! while trying to resolve technical issues that referred to the show by the retronym The Solve-It Squad: The Play in reference to the hopefully upcoming series Back in Biz is a pilot for, The Solve-It Squad: The Animated Series.
  • Revisiting the Cold Case: Hilariously, this trope is applied to a Kid Detective series with all of the kids now grown up (but, apparently, their last case actually being an open case in the FBI's files because unlike the others it involved a satanic ritual serial killer).
  • Running Gag: The other three Solve-It Squad members seem really slow on the uptake about the fact that Scrags is in the FBI, even though he keeps putting on more clothing with "FBI" on it in hopes they'll catch on. Keith at first thinks he's an ordinary cop who's about to give him a ticket for illegally parking, then Keith and Gwen alike think he's the wrong kind of "agent" (a travel agent, a talent agent), then Esther combines the two jokes by mistaking Scrags for a DEA agent about to bust her for possession and frantically pulling a gun on him.
  • Rule of Three: The Running Gag where Scrags keeps adding more and more FBI-branded paraphernalia to his outfit with each former Squadmate he visits so they'll pick up on the fact that he's an FBI agent without him having to say it, culminating in Esther pulling a gun on him because she thinks he's the DEA agent assigned to her case.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Cluebert was literally killed as an animal sacrifice, and his death signals that the setting has suddenly been hit with a massive dose of Cerebus Syndrome.
  • "Scooby-Doo" Hoax: As a parody of the Trope Namer, of course this is the Solve-It Squad's wheelhouse, and we see four examples of it in the Theme Tune Opening Chorus. Their Breaking the Fellowship moment is when they realize they're in over their heads and their friend Cluebert is killed by a real serial killer and demonic cultist. Which is subverted in the end; the first Demonic Apostle was originally just another grifter who took his scheme too far, and the new one is a poseur through and through.
  • Scooby-Dooby Doors: An epic homage to the classic Chase Scene at the climax of a Scooby-Doo episode, set to some Awesome Music by Nick Gage. Includes a pitch-perfect recreation of the Funny Moment when Shaggy finds himself playing Air Guitar back-to-back with the monster.
  • Self-Deprecation: Gwen and Keith are the chance for the Tin Can Brothers to get in some digs on themselves as LA-based actors and writers who make their living off of an Internet fandom, especially the fact that the TCBs originally got famous from going viral all the way back in 2009. Gwen and Keith are both portrayed as insufferably addicted to online self-promotion, which takes the place of doing anything actually useful to solve the case. Keith especially gets kicked around a lot for dwelling on the Glory Days and never having gotten a real job with a steady wage for his entire adult life, and for shamelessly supplementing his income with branded merch sales (every Solve-It Squad video comes with a link to the TCB online merch store, including the actual Solve-It Squad tank top featured as evidence in the show). Gwen likewise, despite having far more mainstream success as an actress than any of the TCBs, gets a huge rant from Scrags about how her celebrity is meaningless and her career is a fake job that doesn't actually help anybody, and we get some self-deprecating humor about how ridiculous the acting exercises she makes Scrags do look to an outsider.
  • Serial Killer: The joke of the Solve-It Squad's breakup is the Scooby gang being totally unprepared to encounter an actual serial killer, who's willing to murder their beloved dog just For the Evulz. Subverted by the ending; the original Demonic Apostle was, in fact, just another petty criminal Only in It for the Money trying to pull a "Scooby-Doo" Hoax, who was trying to scare the Solve-It Squad off the case and accidentally took it way too far, and was apparently broken up enough about it that he called off the hoax then and there and confessed everything to Keith years later.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: No Pun Intended. Keith already got revenge on the real Demonic Apostle, by accident, months ago — and it turns out there was no grand scheme behind the Apostle's murder of Cluebert, just another petty grifting scheme gone too far. The whole caper was set up by Keith for the purpose of giving Scrags the chance at closure that Real Life doesn't give you on its own.
  • Shared Universe: Possibly with Wayward Guide for the Untrained Eye and Spies Are Forever, since the Gas Station Attendant's unseen boyfriend Andrew in this show makes a cameo in the audio-only podcast half of Wayward Guide, which also references an organization from Spies Are Forever. Note that if the Gas Station Attendant and his boyfriend Andrew really are the same people as in this show and they haven't moved across the country, this is a Retcon that Mayberry, like Connor Creek, is in central California rather than the Midwest — which may actually make more sense with Keith having driven his van there all the way from Venice Beach.
  • Shout-Out: Obviously the whole thing is one big love letter to the Scooby-Doo franchise, but there's also some other pop culture references in the script:
  • Signature Team Transport: Keith's van, which is an Expy of the Mystery Machine. Obviously Take Our Word for It, given that this is a stage show — which does set up a hilarious Bait-and-Switch where we see the team sitting in the van with Keith's hands on the wheel listening to music, only to find out that the van isn't moving and they're just sitting around at the gas station wasting time bickering.
  • Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!: All of the characters yell some variant of this at each other over the course of the play, with the exception of Keith. And in the end his plan to inject some childish idealism back in the other three Squadmates' lives pays off.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: This happens twice in the ending, when Keith is revealed as the Demonic Apostle, leading to first Gwen, then Camille smacking and immediately kissing him for being such a Magnificent Bastard. Note that Camille is just played by Brian Rosenthal in a wig.
  • Slobs vs. Snobs: An intra-group version of this. Back when they were kids, Keith and Gwen were the attractive, popular snobs while Scrags and Esther were the quirky, counterculture slobs (much like the Fred/Daphne and Shaggy/Velma dynamic in the original). Now, as adults, Gwen and Scrags are now the snobs (with Gwen becoming a TV celebrity and Scrags an FBI agent) while Keith and Esther are the slobs (a beach bum and a burned-out drug addict) — and yet ironically the pairings are still the same, with Scrags seeing himself and Esther as allies (despite him being a cop and her being a career criminal) against Gwen and Keith, both of whom he still can't stand.
  • Spotlight-Stealing Squad: Cluebert was this for the Solve-It Squad, much like Scooby-Doo was in his titular franchise. Part of the Deconstruction is revealing that this actually did make the rest of the squad feel bad, especially Keith, who was unceremoniously displaced as The Leader by a talking dog, and part of their coming back together after Cluebert's death was learning that all of them matter as part of the team.
  • Stock Sound Effects: A lot of fun is had throughout the show with these, including ominous wolf howls, thunderclaps, veeeery sloooowly creaking doors, and of course the original Scooby-Doo's signature laugh.
  • Stoners Are Funny: In a twist on how Shaggy from Scooby-Doo became an icon of this trope in fandom, Scrags is the Straight Edge one in the group — and an actual cop to boot — while the funny drug addict is Esther. (Whose drug habits start but certainly don't stop at weed.) And while she is pretty funny, she's much more of an Erudite Stoner, of the Black Comedy cynicism kind, than a lovable party animal.
  • The Summation: Esther gives a monster of one at the end of the show, solving the entire mystery within a couple minutes, Motor Mouthing her way through the whole thing so fast she's barely comprehensible.
    • The Opening Chorus gives each of the Solve-It Squad a chance to give one of these, all of which highlight their own unique skill in solving mysteries... except Keith's, where his summation was completely wrong and the culprit turned out to be the other suspect everyone else had already guessed.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: As is common for a Kid Hero All Grown-Up Deconstruction, looking at what the realistic consequences of putting minors in confrontations with dangerous criminals on a regular basis would actually be. The group falls apart the first time they run into a Not-So-Harmless Villain who's actually willing to resort to violence, and the trauma of having their dog killed has left them all badly traumatized, as does the experience of having their childhoods badly disrupted by celebrity.
    • Scrags gets hit by this, where his ability to be a Big Eater who Never Gets Fat is due to his youthful metabolism — the Big Eater tendencies being driven by an unaddressed anxiety problem — ends up screwing him over badly later in life, where he ends up gaining a whole lot of weight and contracting diabetes, and having to work really hard to lose weight and get his health under control.
    • Esther's fate as an adult is a dark take on what it means to be a Child Prodigy with Sherlock Scan powers, showing that like all too many gifted kids she ends up a Genius Burnout as an adult, whose special abilities were linked to some form of neurodivergence that's caused her great suffering and seriously harmed her ability to function.
    • The ending of the show is this in the opposite direction — it was always tremendously unlikely that the "Demonic Apostle" actually had some kind of vendetta against the Solve-It Squad that lasted twenty whole years, as opposed to the Apostle's reappearance being a copycat criminal trying to resurrect the Solve-It Squad's legacy for selfish reasons.
    • The "sandwich trick" scene is a metaphor for the show in general — obviously in a live stage show it's impossible for Joey Richter to actually "shuffle the ingredients like a deck of cards" and instantly create a fully-assembled Dagwood Sandwich. We wait to see what kind of parlor trick he'll use to pull it off... and then he just doesn't, and fails, letting us know that we're in the real world now.
  • Surf Rock: The limited soundtrack Nick Gage composed for this show is in this style, a deliberately Retraux homage to the source material's origin in The '60s (despite the show taking place in The '90s and The New '10s). Keith's obnoxious modernized version of the theme song on his stereo may be a Take That! at badly done attempts to "update" the franchise.
  • Take Our Word for It: The whole setting of the play, but most notably Esther's apartment, with Lauren Lopez doing some amazing space work to give us the impression of a total cluttered shithole and let us see her painstakingly set up the ritual drug and alcohol consumption she needs to start her day.
    • Obviously we never actually see Keith's van, but the show does a good enough job evoking the feel of Scooby-Doo and Keith's nature as a shameless beach bum that we can easily imagine what it must look like.
  • Take That!: The whole "JIIIIIIZZ!" warning about the Mayberry Gardens' sheets from the Gas Station Attendant — and Esther's blunt followup confirming that 88% of all hotel rooms have this problem — is a bit of a Ripped from the Headlines Take That! at the hotel industry over headlines like this. (Although Esther's estimate of the probabilities involved is, thankfully, exaggerated.)
    • Joey Richter has admitted the references to Gwen's acting career and ICU are a bit of a swipe at formulaic shows in the Police Procedural genre and the like, and his general frustration at big-budget productions often having sloppier and lazier standards than scrappy indie creators.
    • Gwen's failed career as an author is obviously one at the whole celebrity self-help genre and people taking life advice from famous people simply because they're famous, who clearly do not have their own shit together at all.
    • Given that the Tin Can Brothers live in LA, Keith's characterization as someone who specifically Lives in a Van in Venice Beach feels like a very pointed Take That! at SoCal life, and there's a lot of Self-Deprecation in describing him as an e-celeb hawking merch for a living that's all just cheap crap that the Solve-It Squad's fans could easily just make for themselves by clicking on the same order forms and uploading the same JPG to online wholesalers.
    • The AM/FM Characterization of Esther vibing to "Ants Marching" by the Dave Matthews Band in her apartment is a mild Take That! to the band's reputation as having incomprehensible lyrics and being beloved by dirtbags and stoners.
  • Theme Tune Roll Call: In contrast to the Scooby-Doo theme song, which is all about the title character, the Solve-It Squad theme song gives each of the human members a verse to introduce themselves, with Cluebert's verse saved for the climax (which the show interrupts with his death).
  • This Is Reality: When Gwen compares their current situation to an episode of ICU, Scrags goes off on her with an almost word-for-word version of this trope:
    Scrags: Okay, well, here's the thing, Gwen. Three guys didn't just make this whole thing up in a room a month ago from their imaginations. This is REAL LIFE.
  • Time Skip: After the Theme Tune Opening Chorus, which takes place in the "mid-90s", we immediately jump forward "almost 20 years" to the present day.
  • Trip Trap: Esther and Gwen set up a classic one of these to end the Scooby-Dooby Doors Chase Scene. They don't manage to actually trip the Demonic Apostle, but they end up just clotheslining him with the rope and wrapping himself up in it.
  • True Companions: The story is about the Solve-It Squad rediscovering the fact that they're this to each other, despite all the ways they seem mismatched as a crew. In the ending this is taken to absurd lengths, with it being portrayed as a good thing that Gwen is leaving her husband and kids and Scrags quitting his career at the FBI to rejoin a team of amateur detectives.
  • Two Girls to a Team: Mirroring the original Scooby Gang's gender ratio. Also lampshaded and made fun of, since Gwen tries to get a "Girl Power!" photo with Esther and Esther reacts to it with the same disdain as everything else and, unlike the Velma/Daphne relationship, makes zero effort to spend any time with Gwen or pass the Bechdel Test the whole show.
  • Vague Age: As a result of the original Solve-It Squad reflecting a Broad Strokes mish-mash of the child characters of A Pup Named Scooby-Doo with the young adult ones of the broader Scooby-Doo canon. The gang repeatedly refer to their adventures "back in middle school", and Scrags says that they "captured hundreds of criminals before we even got into high school". But Gwen specifically says she's fifteen in the Case of the Witch in the Wings, and Keith's verse of the Theme Tune Roll Call says he's "the man with the plan with the van!" Presumably at this point he doesn't own the van, his parents do, but in most of the country he wouldn't be able to drive until he was 16. And yet Esther says she "hasn't been sober since my junior year of high school", which shocks Scrags, implying that that was after she and Scrags lost touch with each other.
    • The easiest answer is that either Mayberry is in one of the states where you can get a license earlier than 16 — South Dakota issues them at 14 years, 3 months — or Keith is just a year or two older than everyone else. (He may even have been in the same grade in them but was Held Back in School.) No matter what this still does mean that the Signature Team Transport was only part of the Solve-It Squad's shtick for a short time toward the end of their career, but that honestly fits with how they only call it "the van" and never got around to giving it a name the way Mystery, Inc. did.
    • Their current age is likewise not completely nailed down, with Chief O'Brien saying it's been "almost twenty years" since Cluebert's death but not the exact amount of time.
  • Vomit Discretion Shot: Keith's response to Cluebert's death is to run off to throw up.
  • We Were Your Team: Cluebert's death twenty years ago was the end of the Solve-It Squad (even though he was, technically, only the Team Pet). Very much Truth in Television for the Scooby-Doo franchise, which has never even tried to do a show without the title character. That said, we get a hint of a subversion when Scrags reveals the Solve-It Squad already existed with just Keith, Gwen and Esther before Esther invited him and Cluebert to join. The ending reveals that Keith always hated Cluebert and never thought he was as necessary to the team as he was cracked up to be, and that he finally gets his wish when the Solve-It Squad agrees to reunite as a team without him, even though Scrags insists they keep the same name to honor his memory.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Part of the confusion of doing a parody of a Funny Animal cartoon in a more realistic setting. Cluebert is obviously sapient, can speak, and is a famous celebrity — but Scrags is still his "owner", and Scrags' boss talks about his death like it's the death of any other animal. This gets extra weird with the implication that, despite this, the FBI is treating Cluebert's death as a "murder". Even though it turns out the Demonic Apostle killed Cluebert and not one of the other Squad members because Cluebert was only a dog and not a human.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: To the 2002 live-action Scooby-Doo movie, arguably an homage to What Could Have Been if James Gunn had been given free rein to make his Darker and Edgier R-rated adaptation. The gang starts out broken up and has to reunite for a new case (a plot the movie borrowed from Scooby-Doo: Return to Zombie Island), everyone last parted on bad terms and has taken a level in jerkass, the villain is someone specifically targeting the Team Pet (although in this show the Demonic Apostle successfully kills Cluebert in the first scene), and The Reveal of the Big Bad at the end is that it's a member of the Solve-It Squad themselves.
  • Writing Around Trademarks: The show is relatively careful with this, using names that are thematically but not actually similar to the original characters. There's a sly one with "Cluebert" being the name of the dog — Scooby-Doo's full first name is in fact "Scoobert", a fact revealed in A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, and which is referenced in the soundtrack with the hard-rock version of the Theme Tune being called "Clueby Booby Doobie Doo".
    • One particularly notable way this show's marketing deviates from the Scooby-Doo franchise is that it's not named after the Team Pet Mascot, but the team as a whole. (There wasn't even a show where "Mystery, Inc." was the subtitle until 2010.) This turns out to be significant to the plot — the story is about how Cluebert died twenty years ago, and how the Solve-It Squad learns to move on from this as a team without him.
  • You Meddling Kids: The show carefully avoids actually using this stock phrase, even though it's so commonly referenced now as to be a cliché. In the opening scene, Clyde Buchanan calls the Solve-It Squad "you meddlesome hooligans", Harold Pendergast calls them "you nosy nitwits", Melanie Butler calls them "you foolish brats", and Keith cuts off Prof. Baxtresser saying "And I'd have gotten away with it too—" with "No one cares, bro."
    • When the Demonic Apostle is unmasked as Keith, he subverts the catchphrase with "And I'd have gotten away with it too, if not for this beautiful group of people!"
    • Ricky the concierge does call the Squad "those meddlesome kids" at one point, though not as part of a Dramatic Unmask. Foreshadowing for the fact that he is, in fact, the other person posing as the Demonic Apostle and Keith's accomplice.
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