To paraphrase Sophia Petrillo: Picture it — Canada, 1992. A kid comes home from school and expects to enjoy a bit of Tiny Toon Adventures before his little brother commandeers the TV and he is forced to endure Mighty Morphin Power Rangers AGAIN. But today, something different is in store for our young Canuck. The Detroit Fox affiliate has decided to forego its normal programming for a new show. A dark show. A show with an eerily familiar theme song. It’s Batman: The Animated Series, the birthplace of psychiatrist-turned-sociopath Harleen “Harley Quinn” Quinzel. The kid waiting for his brother to ruin yet another afternoon is me.
I watched Harley's first episode, “Joker’s Favor,” and though it wasn’t my absolute favorite, little did I know that a scant 25 years later, Harley Quinn would be everywhere. Thanks to Margot Robbie, the weird lady in the black-and-red jumpsuit with the Brooklyn accent and the PhD would become the go-to Halloween costume for misunderstood girls 15-35 everywhere. And Margot Robbie is all well and good, but we’re here to talk about a different Harley. Join me, won’t you, as we dip into the adventures of our favorite morally ambiguous bisexual with a giant mallet, DC’s Harley Quinn. Keep in mind SPOILERS are coming and to check out our grading rubric if you are unfamiliar with the Unicorn Scale.
Since her creation back in 1992 by Batman writer Paul Dini, Harley’s gone through some changes. She started out as a question: “What if the Joker had a girlfriend?” She had an outfit — the red-and-black jester’s outfit that subsequent outings have jettisoned for a sexier “crop top and short shorts” look — and merely followed “Mistah J” around, providing comic relief and occasional mayhem at his behest. Quinn was an immediate fan favorite, getting her own comic book, becoming a sort-of-sidekick to Pamela “Poison Ivy” Isley (more on her later), and eventually joining the Suicide Squad.
Harley shows up in both Suicide Squad movies and is the best thing in the Zack Snyder cut. So, when DC got into original programming in 2018, a Harley Quinn series was a pretty sure bet. Produced by (and starring) Kaley Cuoco, with voices by everybody from Chris Meloni to Tony Hale to George Freaking Costanza, the show follows Harley after she breaks up with the Joker, teaming up with Poison Ivy and a bunch of other Rogues Gallery members in her quest to become Gotham’s greatest supervillain.
What I Liked:
First of all, EVERY BATMAN VILLAIN IS BI. They just are. Even the dudes. Especially the dudes. It’s nice to see a TV show that acknowledges this. The writing is smart, the characters are compelling, and the bisexuality is casual and important to who they are — not just a sexy affectation they throw in every couple episodes. It wouldn’t really work as pure titillation since this is a cartoon (I know, I know — cartoons can be sexy, Rule 43, all that). But it’s refreshing to see bi villainy be played as an equal situation. She’s not evil because she’s bi, she’s evil and happens to be bi. Hooray!
There is immediate chemistry between Harls and Ivy, the latter of whom casually mentions being bi in the first five minutes of screen time she’s given. Their relationship takes its time to develop, hindered by Harley’s season 1 obsession with the Joker, and season 2’s Poison Ivy/Kiteman nuptials.
But then, comes season 2, episode 9. Entitled “Bachelorette,” the episode takes 1.5 seasons of insane sexual tension and brings it all to a head one hedonistic bachelorette weekend on the all-girl island of Themyscira. The two villainesses kissed at the end of the previous episode, after escaping an underground prison run by Bane. But that’s written off as adrenaline or something... until they get hammered during Ivy’s bachelorette, and hook up again. And again. Now neither one of them can deny their deep need for each other. Except that they do (wildly unsuccessfully) until the season finale, which sees the two of them *SPOILER ALERT* fleeing Ivy’s wedding, making out while driving off into the sunset. The third season is airing this summer, and will no doubt deal with the fallout, plus their new arrangement, whatever it may be.
Also, the show is beyond hilarious, straddling a line lots of comic book properties try to walk and fail at miserably, being both funny, heartfelt, inclusive, and insanely violent. A tough road to hoe. It’s also genuinely for grownups — something the cinematic Batman has tried to be and failed for decades.
What I Didn't Like:
In the words of Milhouse Van Houten: “When are they gonna get to the fireworks factory?”
In terms of the clear and present-from-day-one sexual tension between Harley and Ivy, they drag it out so long it’s ridiculous, with a lot of almosts and more innuendo than a Three’s Company episode. So, a little more cutting to the chase would’ve been great.
Raunchy, hilarious, heartfelt, and binge-able AF, Harley Quinn finally gives us Gotham from the bad guy (or gal’s) perspective, and succeeds masterfully. It’s a story about love, empowerment, and snarky supervillains. I cannot WAIT for the third season.