Studio: DC Universe, Warner Bros. Animation
Air Date: Debuts Nov. 29, 2019 on DC Universe, new episodes debut on Fridays.
Description: Harley Quinn puts everyone’s favorite Gotham villainess front and center as Harley has finally broken things off with the Joker and attempts to make it on her own as the criminal Queenpin of Gotham City. Voicing the title role of Harley Quinn, Kaley Cuoco (The Big Bang Theory) leads an all-star comedic voice cast which includes Lake Bell (Bless This Mess), Alan Tudyk (Doom Patrol), Tony Hale (Veep), Ron Funches (Powerless), JB Smoove (Spiderman: Far From Home), Jason Alexander (Seinfeld), Diedrich Bader (Veep), Chris Meloni (Happy!), Jim Rash (Community), Wanda Sykes (Black-ish) and so many more. Harley Quinn is produced by Ehsugadee Productions in association with Warner Bros. Animation, with executive producers Kaley Cuoco, Sam Register, Justin Halpern, Patrick Schumacker and Dean Lorey.
By James Harvey
Fun, wacky and gleefully absurd, Harley Quinn perfectly captures what has made the Harlequin of Crime one of DC Comics’ most popular characters today, even if it leans a little too heavy on the foul language and gratuitous violence on occasion. Factoring in every DC Comics animated product to date, be it a series or movie, Harley Quinn is easily one of the most slapstick, dirtiest, craziest releases ever and, thankfully, it works … for the most part. There’s a lot of pressure on this series, it being the first real original animated title for the DC Universe streaming service, but Harley Quinn and her merry crew of ne’r-do-wells prove they are definitely up to the challenge.
The series kicks off with Harley Quinn finally breaking things off with the Joker for the last time, following the Clown Prince again leaving her behind to take the fall for their latest violent (and quite gruesome) caper. Determined to emancipate herself from the Joker’s shadow, Harley sets out to become the criminal Queenpin of Gotham City and to finally nab a spot in the Legion of Doom. She’s not alone in her surprisingly empowering-feeling journey, joined primarily by Poison Ivy and her sentient house plant Frank, along with a who’s who of some of DC Comics’ biggest bad guys.
Please note this review focuses primarily on the first episode, “‘Til Death Do Us Part,” but also includes spoiler-free references to Episodes #2 – 13.
Pulling inspiration from everything – including Batman: The Animated Series and her assorted comic books, specifically from DC Comics’ The New 52 and Rebirth eras – and then tossing it in a blender, Harley Quinn gleefully revels in farcical, almost campy world it’s created for itself. The foul language is near constant, sometimes excessively so, and the violence is something akin to Looney Tunes, just usually accompanied with a plenty of blood. The body count in the first episode alone is in the low double digits, easy. And while this all seems absolutely out of control and chaotic (and rightfully so), Harley Quinn‘s title character serves as a suitable anchor throughout all the chaos. While she’s responsible for a fair chunk of it, granted, her character helps the viewer make sense of just how bonkers the world she inhabits actually is.
Like the character she voices, Kaley Cuoco just breaks out as Harley Quinn. Not only does she sound perfect as this iteration of the fan-favorite character, but she also gives one heck of a performance. Just be warned, don’t expect her to sound like Arleen Sorkin (Batman: The Animated Series or Tara Strong (the Batman: Arkham series), Cuoco does her own unique take. She brings the right amount of unbridled life to the role, and easily commands as the series’ lead. By her side is Lake Bell, perfectly cast as Poison Ivy, Harley’s partner on this madcap journey. Ivy is such a crucial part to this series that maybe they should’ve considered calling it Harley & Ivy. These two, who make an excellent comedic duo, lead an absolutely incredible cast, which includes Diedrich Bader back under the cowl as Batman, Chris Meloni as a crazed, obsessed Commissioner Gordon, and Alan Tudyk as The Joker and Clayface. And that’s honestly a fraction of this series’ amazing and hilarious supporting cast. The series itself is led by creators Justin Halpern, Patrick Schumacker and Dean Lorey, all of whom worked together on the short-lived DC Comics-based NBC Sitcom Powerless. Every member of the show’s cast and crew seem to all be on the same page on what type of crazy cartoon this is, and it shows (rest assured, in a good way).
Based on just the first episode alone, this show holds a lot of promise, especially given its sense of unpredictability. While we know Harley’s set goal for the season, to step out of the Joker’s spotlight and join the Legion of Doom, we have no idea how that show is going to get there. It feels like anything can happen, and that’s the excitement you need a series like this to project. Things are going be unpredictable and it’s going to be fun, and that’s exactly the right impression Harley Quinn needs to give. The first episode sets all this up nicely, and it’s legitimately entertaining, even if it starts off a little bit wobbly.
Essentially, Harley Quinn‘s first episode is a solid foundation to start a new on, but there are some potential cracks at the base. While the over-the-top foul language and violence do actually elicit some laughs, it can get occasionally get excessive and grating. The same can be somewhat said about the violence, too, but the show’s target audience likely won’t have too much of an issue with it. Be prepared for lots of blood, people biting things, getting bludgeoned, shot, set on fire and … well, the list goes on. But, honestly, it’s part of the draw and it’s perfectly suited to how comically insane Harley’s world is. There’s plenty of great gags, jokes and amazing performances, and, like the title character, Harley Quinn is smarter than it lets on, so prepared for some legitimate surprises.
Character designs in Harley Quinn are fantastic and are clearly inspired by DC Comics’ recent comic book output. Once she does away with the Batman: The Animated Series-created jester look, Harley dons a costume that’s ripped right from the character’s The New 52 rebooted look. It looks first-rate, though, as does the entire cast, thanks to the fantastic work by character designer Shane Glines (Justice League Action, Batman: The Animated Series) and animator Jennifer Coyle (DC Super Hero Girls, The Spectacular Spider-Man). The design for the frazzled, unhinged Commissioner Gordon is a personal favorite. For the rest of the cast, everyone is immediately identifiable with slight exaggerations or tweaks made to make them fit seamlessly into the show’s twistedly cartoonish style. Batman’s design, based on his armored-inspired look from The New 52, is just a shade too busy, though.
The animation does right by the character designs, too, for the most part. Like the recent season of Young Justice: Outsiders, budgetary and resources constraints are pretty evident. Movements aren’t as smooth as they should be, and big action pieces are usually jerky and choppy, or lack that ‘oomph.’ However, during the less action-intensive scenes, everything looks more than servicable. Characters are expressive, thanks to the stellar design work of Shane Glines and crew, and aren’t as stiff as they are during the bigger set-pieces. It’s a mixed bag to be sure, but honestly, the roughness of the animation from time to time actually ends up adding to the show’s charm and ‘underdog’ feeling.
And while this review is focused on just the first episode, it’s worth noting that the remaining episodes in this first 13-episode are just as good, if not better. The story takes on a surprisingly serial nature, with just enough progression week-to-week – mixed in with the new subplots and B-stories that pop up a long the way – to keep things relatively interesting and never stale. And not only that, and akin to the likes of Batman: The Brave and The Bold or Justice League Action, this series actually pulls deep from the DC Comics lore and lovingly embraces it, though not without putting it through the ringer once or twice. There’s also a host of reoccurring characters and gags that are ridiculously hilarious and the 13th episode cliffhanger that is guaranteed to surprise the heck out of the audience.
Harley Quinn, all things considered, is another win for the DC Universe streaming service. It’s a fun, crazy series littered with blood, gore and violence, but it’s also deceptively upbeat, positive and even somewhat life-affirming. Harley is making her way in the world after breaking free of The Joker, but this world just happens to be a chaotic mess (it is Gotham City, after all). The over-the-top language and violence will be deterrents for some potential viewers, and it’s easy to understand why. It does feel a little superfluous at times. However, those looking for some more adult-oriented animated adventures of their favorite Gotham City denizens will find plenty to like here. Cuoco, giving it her absolute all, leads an incredibly talented cast of actors, and the material they have to work with it pretty clever for the most part. Harley Quinn is leading DC Comics on a journey into uncharted animated territory, and it’s a trip well-worth taking. Recommended!
Harley Quinn is available on the DC Universe streaming service, along with HBO Max and other select digital and traditional outlets. Continue below for additional images and check out the videos page for more content!
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