“Harley Quinn” is the best animated show to come out of DC since Bruce Timm’s “Batman: The Animated Series” and the “Justice League.” The film is hilarious, has an emotional core, great characters and I can’t wait to see where the story goes. This is one I show I highly recommend. The closest comparison I can make in tone is to a show like “The Venture Bros.” which is a favorite of show of mine as well.
The series is written and produced by Justin Halpern, Patrick Schumacker and Dean Lorey.
The story follows Harley Quinn (Kaley Cuoco) after Poison Ivy (Lake Bell) breaks her out of Arkham after the Joker (Alan Tudyk) has once again abandoned her. From here she must face her trauma as she seeks to make a name for herself in Gotham.
This Version of the DC Universe – This version of the DC universe is much more bloody than Bruce Timm’s early outings (The show is TV-MA for a reason) while also having more jokes as well. The jokes aren’t 4th wall breaking and come from the characters and their relationships, which makes things a lot of fun.
The Animation – The animation is some of the best I have seen come out of DC as larger landscapes and cityscapes give the painted city feel while you still the details and action in brutal fights. The animators like the writers clearly had a lot of fun with this show.
The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is so much fun. Jefferson Friedman chose the songs that fit the tone of each story really well. There is a fun and dangerous feel to it which fits the feel of the story being driven by Harley and her crew.
The Characters – Villains drive the story and the heroes are broken, so we are very much in Gotham City. The “heroes” work in this universe too and I’ll get into why they and the others do as well. The comedy works so well because of these characters.
Jim Gordon – This is the most pitiful Jim Gordon put to screen. He’s an alcoholic in a failing marriage who sees Batman as his only friend. It is only through making friends with Clayface’s hand that he and Batman repair their friendship enough for Jim to be functioning again. In the end he is captured in Joker’s rise but freed after Joker’s defeat by Harley and left in a destroyed Gotham, setting up next season.
Bruce Wayne / Batman – Batman is distant in this but you see that at his core he does care. We see this in how he shows empathy for Harley and sees how bad her relationship is with the Joker and he calls out Joker’s psychoses after he is captured as well. The season ends with it being unknown if he is dead or alive after Joker destroys Joker Tower setting off the earthquake that destroys Gotham.
Kiteman – Kiteman is a D List villain and Ivy’s love interest. He’s a loveable doof in how genuine his emotions are and how awkward he is with his jokes and presentation. He’s an ally to Harley and her squad as well and his kite comes in handy on more than one occasion.
The Legion of Doom – The Legion of Doom is a lot of fun. Giancarlo Esposito’s Lex Luthor is reminiscent of the one from Bruce Timm’s universe and is great in how smart, threatening and manipulative he is though the Gotham villains are really the standouts. I wish we could have spent more time here as all the classic DC villains make this place their home from Cheetah to Sinestro. They mostly just show up though.
Scarecrow – This version of Scarecrow is smooth and scary. He and the Queen of Fables are the ones who team together to destroy the Legion of Doom Headquarters and it is Scarecrow who takes Ivy’s blood to make uncontrollable demon trees. He is a good threat and one of the more competent versions of this character. The only reason he doesn’t survive is his pisses of Joker when he takes of Batman’s mask and is killed because of it.
Joker – Alan Tudyk is such an amazing voice actor. He also voices Clayface in this but Clayface isn’t all that complicated of a character and mostly just a fun member of Harley’s squad. Joker on the other hand is a great villain whose ego leads to him escalating any plan he puts into motion. Harley is the first person to tell him no and manages to upend his plans a few times ending with him losing all memory of who he is when what he planned to do Harley happens to him (erasing memories in acid).
Bane – Bane is my favorite character on the show. The guy is a wonderful villain cinnamon roll who is sensitive but quick to anger as he wants to blow up whatever displeases him. He’s a mixture of classic Bane with Tom Hardy’s voice and it is a running joke that Legion of Doom doesn’t respect him. I really like this version of Bane as he is given nuance and is one of the few good bad guys.
Harley Quinn and her Squad – Harley Quinn and her Squad are the ones who drive the show as she recruits those who the Legion ignores, be they sexist like Dr. Psycho, obsessed actors like Clayface, and outsiders like King Shark. She also has Ivy and Ivy’s former CIA agent landlord Sy Borgman helping out and basically members of the Squad.
King Shark – Ron Funches is great as King Shark. King Shark loves technology and is the one to first help Harley’s social media image. He’s also the strongest member of the group and is still clearly a shark as he has no issue eating people. We also see a hint at his history to come when Aquaman mentions his dad. These were all nice touches that made the character entertaining.
Poison Ivy – Lake Bell plays Poison Ivy so well. This version of Ivy is full eco-terrorist mode with an understanding of the glass ceiling that women supervillains face (Legion of Doom is overwhelmingly men) and she is great at seeing through toxic people and organizations. She is the one who helps Harley realize how abusive the Joker is and their friendship is what drives the story as you see why they are best friends and all the drama and healing that comes through that journey.
Exploration of Trust, Identity and Trauma – The main theme of the show is the exploration of trust and trauma and how it relates to a person’s identity. This is core with Harley as we see her abusive parents were what to lead to her abusive relationship with the Joker and it is in facing the Joker and her parents that she is freed from them and realizes who her family (The Squad) really are. Ivy also goes through this as well as we see how Harley was the only person who was ever kind to her and seeing Harley repeating the abuse cycle with the Joker leads to her not trusting Harley. The two of them love each other so much and it is the powerful core of the story as they discover more about who they are.
Robin / Damian Wayne – Robin is really annoying. This version is supposed to be Damian but this version has none of the raised by the League of Shadow intensity and it mostly played as a joke. The thing is as a joke he just isn’t that funny and the show could remove him completely and be better for it.
Legion of Doom Screentime – We see so many members of the Legion of Doom and not many of them have much to do if they aren’t Gotham based or Lex Luthor. Given that the crew and Harley were living at Headquarters for a while, this was a missed opportunity.
This is a great show and I can’t wait to watch “Season 2.” This certainly follows the pattern of DC being better at animation and television than they have been with their films and for shows this I would say is the gold standard. Every episode advances the plot, the animation and soundtrack are fantastic and these versions of the characters have arcs and are compelling. This is probably my favorite thing DC has put out in a long time and it is well worth your time.
Final Score: 9.6 / 10