5 reasons you should watch DC Universe's wild Harley Quinn animated series
It’s a good time to be Harley Quinn. More than 25 years after she was first created to be the Joker’s right-hand woman on Batman: The Animated Series, Harley has evolved into one of the most popular female superhero characters of all time. Birds of Prey, Margot Robbie’s second onscreen stint as the character, hit theaters earlier this month to glowing reviews (if not box office domination), and her solo comic books are still going strong. But if you haven’t checked out the DC Universe animated series Harley Quinn, you’re missing out on the freshest, most fun take on the character around.
We get it: There are a lot of TV shows to keep up with these days, and only so much time. It can be hard to take notice of a relatively niche streaming service like DC Universe when there are still Netflix queues and Amazon watchlists to make your way through. But here are five reasons Harley Quinn, which this week wrapped up its 13-episode first season, is very much worth checking out.
Harley & Ivy: Gals being pals
Harley Quinn first appeared in Batman: The Animated Series, and though she understandably spent most of her screen time alongside the Joker, select episodes gave her another friend in the form of the plant-powered Poison Ivy. In subsequent years, DC worked to cultivate the Harley-Ivy relationship, though some interpretations saw them as actual lovers while others made them platonic best friends. Harley Quinn takes the latter tack, though worry not, there are still plenty of teases for any ’shippers watching.
Poison Ivy (voiced by Lake Bell) is Harley’s rock in this show. After Harley (Kaley Cuoco) finally leaves the Joker, she crashes at Ivy’s plant-filled apartment; once she assembles her “crew,” Ivy begrudgingly allows them to use it as a home base. Ivy never officially joins the crew because she sees herself more as an eco-terrorist fighting for a cause rather than stealing money and trying to impress the Legion of Doom, but she is of course always willing to bail Harley out of trouble when needed. This allows her to take on the coveted role of the show’s Jean Grey-like powerhouse; even Justice League members like Aquaman (Chris Diamantopoulos) are no match for Ivy’s fast-growing plants. On top of that, Ivy also brings with her one of the show’s best minor characters: her talking plant Frank, voiced by none other than J.B. Smoove.
Another side of the Joker
One big difference between Harley Quinn and Birds of Prey — two recent depictions of the character that both focused on the aftermath of her split with the Joker — is that Harley Quinn actually features the Joker as a main character, which makes for a much different kind of breakup story. Mark Hamill’s iconic performance as the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series set a high bar for the character, as have the myriad award-winning live-action depictions, but Alan Tudyk still puts a new spin on the Clown Prince of Crime.
There are sides of the Joker in Harley Quinn that we don’t usually see. Here, his trademark criminal mastermind posture is often undercut by his genuine confusion and resentment over Harley leading him. That adds emotional, character-driven stakes to the Joker’s ever-eclectic balance of genuine humor and horrible evil. At a Legion of Doom meeting near the midpoint of the series, Joker proposes his next great scheme: to build a giant tower in the middle of Gotham shaped like his face! Harley laughs it off and the sequence is mostly played like a humorous commentary on modern board meetings… until the season finale comes around and Joker actually unveils his finished tower, with devastating consequences.
Tudyk might be the DC Universe’s secret weapon at this point: His fourth wall-breaking performance as Mr. Nobody gave Doom Patrol its secret sauce of meta humor, and his dual roles as Joker and Clayface provide most of the laughs on Harley Quinn.
Assemble the squad!
Batman is famous for having one of the best collections of villains in all of pop culture, which explains why most Batman movies use at least two of them. But it even goes beyond villains. Down through antiheroes, sidekicks, and regular humans, Gotham City has the deepest bench of unique characters around, and Harley Quinn takes full advantage.
Though Harley starts the series with just Ivy on her side, she eventually assembles a whole crew of co-conspirators. Clayface (Tudyk), Dr. Psycho (Tony Hale), and King Shark (Ron Funches) are initially recruited to give Harley some muscle for her crimes, the way the Joker has his endless supply of henchmen. But as Harley Quinn goes on, the crew evolves into Harley’s found family, and viewers will find it hard not to fall in love with each member. Clayface is canonically a former horror movie actor who was turned into a shapeshifting pile of mud in a freak accident, so Tudyk maximizes this by making Clayface an indefatigable performer who loves coming up with insanely complicated backstories for his characters every time he has to change form for a job. Hale gleefully plays Dr. Psycho as the dark opposite of Toy Story 4’s Forky or Arrested Development’s Buster Bluth: A traditional Wonder Woman foe, Psycho finds himself demoted to the D-list after calling his nemesis the C-word on national TV. Despite the fact that he’s a dwarf with psychic powers and a giantess fetish, Psycho often finds himself acting like the reasonable one in the bunch.And every single line delivery from Funches’ King Shark, a helpful nerd with a shark’s strength and appetites, is pitch-perfect.
See the world through Harley’s eyes
At times, it’s a visceral thrill seeing iconic DC villains get subverted on Harley Quinn. Rather than being depicted as an unstoppable criminal mastermind, Lex Luthor (Giancarlo Esposito) is a passive-aggressive middle-manager at the corporatized Legion of Doom. Rather than a hulking behemoth or a vicious revolutionary, Bane (James Adomian) is a blundering goofball. Almost all his lines in the show are direct subversions of Tom Hardy’s iconic performance in The Dark Knight Rises, and he’s constantly threatening to “blow up” things that annoy him the way he blew up Gotham Stadium in that movie.
The list goes on and on, but each character interpretation makes sense because of the show’s perspective. As co-creator Justin Halpern told Den of Geek, we’re seeing every character on the show through Harley’s eyes. So Joker comes off like a “s—y ex-boyfriend” and Bane “is a big lumbering idiot who doesn’t feel that threatening,” because that’s how Harley sees them. But the best of all might be Robin, voiced by Jacob Tremblay as a spoiled brat who can get away with any lie as long as he puts on his “sweet potato pie” cute-kid face… to Harley’s endless frustration, of course.
Violence and swears galore, without being ‘gritty’
For decades now, several creators have felt that the best way to make comic book superheroes more “mature” and “grown-up” was to load them up with violent attitudes and dour worldviews. Harley Quinn takes the first but not the second, to wonderful effect. This is a show filled with obscenities and ridiculous violence, but it works because, for one thing, the main characters are explicitly villains rather than heroes, so there’s no fundamental tonal disconnect. Harley’s personality in particular is always so colorful and zany that the show fits precisely into her overall vibe, and that of the comics and cartoons that birthed her — with everything just dialed up to 11.