Harley Quinn: Season 1 — a review

HarleyQuinnS1

I delayed writing my review of the first season of DC Universe’s Harley Quinn because I thought I had more time. The first season debuted November 29, 2019. I assumed that meant Season 2 wouldn’t come out until at least the fall of 2020.

You remember that old saying about what it means when you assume something. I’m not calling you an ass, but I just may be one because Season 2 is scheduled to premiere very soon, on April 3, 2020. That was a quick turnaround. So, I bumped this particular writing project up on my schedule.

The final episode of Season 1 aired on February 21st, so I’ve had a little time to think about the entire season. I rarely write a review of something immediately after watching, reading or playing it because my initial response is rarely my lasting opinion of a television series, movie, book or video game. It helps to run things through my mental sifter to see what’s left after some thought on the subject. Looking at things from different angles, perhaps with a bit more objectivity, allows me to delve into why something made me feel a certain way.

I wrote a review of the pilot episode after I watched it. I liked it a lot. Twelve additional episodes later, my opinion hasn’t changed. Harley Quinn isn’t exactly what I look for in your average superhero series. Then again, this isn’t your average superhero series. Since the central protagonist, Harley Quinn herself, isn’t exactly sane, it is no surprise that the series itself is a bit, shall we say, offbeat. I don’t think we’re meant to take the world represented in this show seriously. Instead, it’s a funhouse mirror reflection of the real DC Universe, perhaps filtered through Harley’s own crazy-quilt consciousness. All of the characters in the series are twisted reflections of the characters in the comics.

This is a comedy. An absurd comedy, even. Batman (voiced by the always-excellent Deidrich Bader) is the most serious character on the screen, but even he goes for the laugh on occasion. Like when he takes away Jim Gordon’s bat-signal privileges for misusing it. Usually, Batman just plays straight man for the other, wackier, characters, a role he’s better suited for. Gordon (Chris Meloni) is a great example of the twisted take on classic characters. This version of Gotham’s commissioner is a frazzled, unpredictable and largely ineffectual man whose marriage is breaking up. Not your father’s Commissioner Gordon.

Because of the nature of the series, its success hinges upon the comedic actors hired to play the many characters on the show. Kaley Cuoco is amazing, funny, and just shrill enough as Dr. Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn. Lake Bell is perfect as Harley’s BFF Dr. Pamela Isley/Poison Ivy. Harley soon has her own Scooby Gang composed of King Shark (Ron Funches), Dr. Psycho (Tony Hale), Clayface (Alan Tudyk), Frank the Plant (JB Smoove) and Sy Borgman (Jason Alexander). All funny actors on their own, and hilarious together, convincingly selling the most ludicrous plots and insane dialogue.

The conceit of the show is that Harley Quinn is breaking away from her abusive relationship with the Joker (also voiced by Tudyk) and making a villainous name for herself without her more famous boyfriend. Harley obsesses over joining the Legion of Doom after earning her own reputation as a super-villain. Other well-known actors play supporting characters. Giancarlo Esposito voices Lex Luthor. Wayne Knight is Penguin. Alfred Molina is Mr. Freeze. Wanda Sykes is the Queen of Fables. And, Howie Mandel and Frankie Muniz play themselves. I rarely recognize this many voice actor names in an animated series.

The seasonal arc for this thirteen episode run begins and ends with the Joker/Harley relationship. The two go their separate ways in the first episode, then confront each other in the last. Along the way there are assorted side missions and hijinks, interpersonal conflicts within Harley’s new group of henchmen, and a love interest for Ivy in the form of the ridiculous villain Kite-Man (Matt Oberg).

In spite of the comedic take of the series, this is not meant for children. There is blood and gore, over-the-top violence, and bad language. It didn’t bother me much, but only you can decide just how much R-rated fare you can handle in your comic book entertainment.

After watching the entire first season, and taking a little time to think about it, I’ve decided that my opinion about the series remains unchanged. I like this show a lot and am looking forward to Season 2 in April. It more resembles Doom Patrol, which also airs on DC Universe, than it does Titans or even the various DC shows on The CW. If you’re looking for serious superhero fiction, this probably isn’t for you.

Firewater’s That’s-Actually-Standard-Goon-Operating-Procedure Report Card: A

A

Your favorite DC Comics superheroes and villains, just slightly off-kilter and a lot less serious. Except for Batman.

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