Harley Quinn showrunners preview season 2: Harley-Ivy romance, a twist on Mr. Freeze, and more
Justin Halpern and Patrick Schumacker tells us what to expect from the DC Universe animated series.
Good news for everyone looking to stream something colorful and fun during quarantine: Harley Quinn season 2 has launched on DC Universe. The season premiere of the hilariously profane and violent animated series hit the streaming service Friday, and the next 12 episodes will follow one at a time over subsequent weeks.
Harley Quinn's new beginning comes little more than a month after the season 1 finale, a result of the fact that the creative team broke the two seasons pretty close together. "New Gotham" picks up right where season 1 left off. The Joker (Alan Tudyk) has been defeated, but Batman (Diedrich Bader) is also missing in action. In the opening minutes of season 2, the U.S. government officially renounces Gotham City, leaving it in the hands of other Batman villains: Riddler (Jim Rash), Bane (James Adomian), Penguin (Wayne Knight), Two-Face (Andy Daly), and newcomer Mr. Freeze (Alfred Molina).
Harley Quinn (Kaley Cuoco) now wants to prove she's a villain to be reckoned with alongside those big boys, but finds that breaking in to this exclusive group is more difficult than she thought. Luckily, she's still got her loyal crew by her side: Clayface (Tudyk), Dr. Psycho (Tony Hale), King Shark (Ron Funches), Sy Borgman (Jason Alexander), and Poison Ivy (Lake Bell), who is either Harley's best friend or… maybe something more.
EW caught up with Patrick Schumacker and Justin Halpern, who work as showrunners alongside Dean Lorey, to find out what to expect this season. Their answers involve an actual Harley-Ivy romance, a cooler-than-cool Catwoman, and more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You made season 1 and season 2 pretty close together, but even so, what did you feel you accomplished in season 1 that you were excited to build on in season 2?
PATRICK SCHUMACKER: I think the thing we wanted to concentrate on in season 1 was Harley’s career outside of the Joker. She had business to attend to. It was always broken out as her ascension to the top of the food chain of Gotham’s criminal underbelly. That does of course go hand in hand with the Joker, which was mixing business with pleasure, if you can call it that. It was always about her identity tied up with her career and vocation. So season 2 is going to continue that, but also focus a lot on her relationship with Ivy. Now that she has squared away her identity as a career criminal and has her crew in place, she can move on to other things. That focus happens to be quite a bit on her relationship with Ivy in the second season.
JUSTIN HALPERN: I think for us, the first season was about self-discovery: Harley figuring out how to extricate herself from the Joker and become a whole person. In the second season we wanted to explore, “Now that I’m not bound to this guy and thinking about what he thinks about, what do I actually want? Do I want the responsibility that comes with all the things I may want?”
That's music to my ears. Of all the amazing things in this show, I really love the Harley-Ivy dynamic and how it forms the emotional core of the series. They’re a very interesting pair, going all the way back to Batman: The Animated Series. Over the years they’ve been interpreted variously as best friends or romantic interests. It was mostly platonic in season 1, though we got some good shipper teases. What can you preview about their relationship in season 2, especially now that the Joker’s gone?
SCHUMACKER: I don’t want to say that the Joker’s completely gone in season 2. He’ll appear. We sort of set up at the end of season 1 that he’s alive, but maybe not the version of the Joker that we’re used to. But to go back to Harley and Ivy, I think over time the fandom has maybe chipped away at my ability to keep my mouth shut about where this is going. In recent times, my own feeling of wanting to give people something to hope for means I have let slip a few things on social media. Their relationship definitely takes a romantic turn.
HALPERN: We thought through this season and that relationship before the show had come out. I think the benefit of that is we didn’t feel all of the pressure to get them together as quickly as possible, because no one really even knew what was going to be in the show. If we had released season 1 and then started working on season 2, we would’ve been feeling a lot of pressure to make that happen. We didn’t, so all that said, we really tried to take our time in the same way we took our time in season 1. If you go through a bad breakup, it’s not just like, what’s next? Breakups come in stages. We had the luxury of being able to explore what a bad breakup looks like. In season 2 we were really able to explore, what is it like when you realize you have feelings for your best friend?
SCHUMACKER: It’s very messy. As Harley has experienced, and as Ivy may or may not experience, you can easily wind up with the wrong person for you. Even in the case of Ivy and Kite Man, everyone’s well-intentioned, everyone cares for each other, but maybe there are still lingering feelings outside of that relationship that are quite meaningful and life-changing. To Justin’s point about the timeline of it all, our writers' room finished in February 2019, and then the show premiered in November 2019. We had written all 26 episodes already. We were removed from that glass house, I guess, with people looking at us as we’re doing it. Just like we wanted to start with Harley as a criminal and then maybe over a long period of time start exploring some of the antihero stuff that’s in the comics now, we wanted to really slow-drip the evolution of Harley’s relationship with Ivy. It did exist, as you said, in little hints. At one point in the comics it was very clear and now we’re not so sure, but we’re very sure in the show. You’ll see.
HALPERN: This is how I’ve always responded to the fans: We tried in the show to make everything feel like it lives in a gray area, because Harley lives in a gray area. So this is not to say that we have definite closure in that relationship. We come to a place that’s very clear, but our point is that life’s messy. You don’t get black-and-white things very often. Ivy’s dating Kite Man. Kite Man’s not a bad guy, but maybe not the right guy for her. So when we’re making story moves, we’re thinking, how does this affect Kite Man? How does this affect the crew? We wanted it to be messy, not clean, kind of painful, but ultimately getting to a good place.
What do you like about working with Kaley and having her be the vessel of the show? Harley has had a few iconic performances by this point, going back to Arleen Sorkin, but Kaley’s version still feels unique. What do you like about it?
HALPERN: I can tell you one anecdote that really speaks to how good Kaley is and how right for this part she is and how much she thought about it: She doesn’t do the accent in the show. When we were first starting out, we were torn because it’s so iconic, it’s a huge part of the character. But we sat with Kaley and talked to her about it and she was like, "Look, I want to bring a different take to this. I don’t want to sound like I'm doing a bad version of someone else’s take on it." Ultimately she felt like she could hit all of the notes better in the way she did it. We were uncertain, but we went with it because Kaley’s one of the nicest people you’ll meet; she’s just genuinely a nice, thoughtful person. She was like, "This is what I want to do." Pat and I were torn, but as we got it back, she was absolutely right. It took a little while to get there, but she’s a really good actress and when she’s not putting on an affect, she can hit all these levels we wouldn’t have been able to hit otherwise. Our version of Harley hits some pretty dramatic points, there are some real ups and downs, and that is 100 percent Kaley.
SCHUMACKER: Despite not ultimately doing the accent, with the exception of the "Bensonhurst" episode when the accent slips back in when she’s around her parents, she still managed to capture the spirit of the character. Now every time I’m reading a new Harley comic, like Sam Humphries’ stuff, I just have Kaley’s voice in my head. It’s impossible to shake for me at this point. To her credit too, when we were trying to find the voice of the character, she went back and rerecorded entire episodes to get it right. She’s so enthusiastic about this character. It was a cool departure from the stuff she had been doing for 12 years. As great as that was, 12 years is a long time, and this was a chance to pivot to something different, and I think she really seized that opportunity.
HALPERN: It was one of those things where she was excited to show people what she could do outside this character she’d been playing for such a long time. Like Pat said, she went back and rerecorded the first three eps after she got to the place she wanted to get. A lot of actors won’t do that.
We have some new faces in season 2. Mr. Freeze shows up in the first episode, and we know Catwoman is coming down the pike. What were you excited about getting into some of these other classic Gotham characters you hadn’t had room for in season 1?
SCHUMACKER: In season 1 it was this dance of, "What can we get away with doing with these beloved characters? How can we use the heart and soul of these classic characters, some of which have been around for 80 years, and make them comedic without completely betraying their characters?" Season 2 was more opportunities to do that. With Catwoman in particular, Justin and I were the perfect age for the Tim Burton Batman movies to be so influential. Michelle Pfeiffer’s take being so iconic, it’s just like, Catwoman is so cool. She has zero f—s to give, so how do the other characters react to that? We ended up making her someone who Ivy actually looks up to. Ivy is so cynical, Ivy doesn’t care about much either, but she cares about Catwoman’s approval. That was the comedic game that we played with those characters. Harley’s watching Ivy, like, melt in front of Catwoman because she’s so f—ing cool. That was really fun to play with.
With Mr. Freeze, we have Alfred Molina voicing him, which was just such an incredible experience getting to direct him and work with him. He walked in and just nailed it. The opportunity to play with the legend of Mr. Freeze and his origin story and his cryogenically frozen wife… how can we disrupt that story in a comedic way? That episode is about Harley becoming a little bit more woke and getting used to learning more about someone before passing judgment. She thinks Mr. Freeze is a straight-up villain, but we all know he’s ultimately a sympathetic character. Yes, he handles his trauma in, let’s say, unproductive ways, turning his anger and angst into crime. It’s a weird episode, it’s super-weird, and it’s also oddly really touching. We do get to kind of meet Nora Freeze in a way that we haven't before. I don't want to give away who voices her, but it’s pretty fun.
Speaking of figuring out how much you could get away with, what’s the craziest thing from season 1, whether a characterization or a plot beat, that you’re happiest about getting away with?
SCHUMACKER: I think definitely for me it was getting them to let us do Commissioner Gordon in the way that we did him. To DC’s credit, they were like, "Okay, we’ll let you guys test it through the animatic and see how audiences react." People were super into it! As ridiculous as he can be, his PTSD is certainly based on some semblance of reality. It’s obviously a hyperbolic version of it. I think Justin came up with this analogy: Every day in your life as police commissioner of Gotham City means living out David Fincher’s Seven. What that would do to your psyche is horrendous.
HALPERN: Also Christopher Meloni is so amazing. We’d worked with him before on a live-action show we’d done for Fox. We tested him, would you be interested in doing this? He told me his hero is Mel Blanc, so he loves voice work. Nobody plays barely-keeping-it-together as well as Meloni does.