Harley Quinn (Season 2): It Found Its Groove – HBO Max Mini-Review

The Joker’s Ex-Girlfriend has moved on and grown, and so has her story.

SUMMARY (Spoilers for Season 1)

Having beaten the Joker (Alan Tudyk) and with Batman (Diedrich Bader) and the Justice League out of the way, Harley Quinn (Kaley Cuoco) is now poised to take over the city of Gotham. Unfortunately, Gotham is quickly declared No Man’s Land, and it turns out that the Injustice League wants it too. They get the drop on Harley and divvy up the territory. With the help of Poison Ivy (Lake Bell), King Shark (Ron Funches), Sy Borgman (Jason Alexander), Frank the Plant (J.B. Smoove), Clayface (Tudyk), and Doctor Psycho (Tony Hale), she’s out to get revenge on the Riddler, Penguin, Mr. Freeze, Bane, and Two-Face (Jim Rash, Wayne Knight, Alfred Molina, James Adomian, Andy Daly) and claim Gotham for herself. Also, Batgirl’s there (Briana Cuoco). 

This is the Cobb Squad. That joke somehow ends up being amazing.

END SUMMARY

So, my main criticism of Harley Quinn Season 1 was that the show often tried to go a little too exploitative with the violence and swearing to the point that I thought it distracted from the show. I will admit that, on rewatching, it still was a little over-the-top, but I might have let my feelings towards DC Universe’s show Titans color my opinion on how they were handling “mature” superhero shows. It still bothered me when I watched it again, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought on the first go-around. Whatever problems there were, however, have been almost completely fixed in the second season. 

The lighting effects on the animation even got better.

It’s not that the show is any less exploitative in the second season, in fact the violence and swearing are probably even increased, but the show has started to use them as a form of self-commentary. Harley even says, while defending a show-within-a-show, that “violence ups the dramatic effect,” and honestly, this season that’s mostly what it did. In the way that the John Wick films manage to make killing hordes of people into slapstick routine, season two frequently makes violence cathartic or humorous.

As for the swearing, Hippolyta saying “We’re gonna have a f*cking rager” is amazing.

Moreover, the subject matter of this season was almost uniformly made more mature and relatable. While I thought that the first season forced the plot of Harley getting over the Joker to last longer than it should have which killed the relatability of dealing with an abusive ex, this season covers a number of plots that interweave and keep the relationships and topics fresh. They range from having feelings for a friend, to dealing with your own feelings of inadequacy, to dealing with repressed emotions and trauma. Instead of being a simple set of plots with a lot of swearing and ‘splosions, it’s a lot of blood and cussing that heightens the emotions of the scenes. It’s everything I wanted out of this series, and it feels so damned good. 

Especially the part where Poison Ivy also questions what she wants from life.

If you have a chance to check it out, do it. The first season is pretty good in retrospect, but this season should earn it a following.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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DC Universe Review – Harley Quinn Season 2: No Man’s Land is a Woman’s Paradise

The adult animation returns for more violence, more strong female friendships, and more of a giant shark with a cuddly heart.

SUMMARY (Spoilers for Season 1)

After the Joker (Alan Tudyk) took over the city, got rid of the Justice League, and captured Batman (Diedrich Bader), Harley Quinn (Kaley Cuoco) and Poison Ivy (Lake Bell) finally managed to take down the clown. Unfortunately, his last act was to activate a device that created an 8.2 earthquake (~30 Megatons of TNT or slightly more powerful than the biggest US nuclear device) in the middle of Gotham City. With everything destroyed, Batman gone, Joker presumed dead, and the Justice League trapped in another dimension, Harley finally has the city at her feet. The US Government has declared Gotham no longer part of the US, so no one is planning to come in and stop her. Unfortunately, the Riddler (Jim Rash), Two-Face (Andy Daly), Penguin (Wayne Knight), Mr. Freeze (Alfred Molina), and Bane (James Adomian) have banded together to put the new “No Man’s Land” under their rule. Harley has to deal with the new “Injustice Gang” with the help of her crew: Clayface (Tudyk), Doctor Psycho (Tony Hale), Frank the Plant (J.B. Smoove), King Shark (Ron Funches), and Sy Borgman (Jason Alexander). 

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Yes, that’s King Shark and Dr. Psycho as Luchadores.

END SUMMARY

This show originally didn’t grab me as much as I’d hoped. It seemed a little too violent and a little too crass to be what I was looking for. However, when I rewatched it, I found myself really enjoying the show’s fairly unique style of humor, often involving the mundane conversations of the characters that stand in contrast to the fact that they’re involved in superhuman events. For example, when trapped on a magical cloud populated by the giant from Jack in the Beanstalk, Poison Ivy and Harley both are interested in seeing how well-endowed the giant is. It’s a strange diversion, but it works well because it’s just so absurd for the situation.

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Or Giant Ivy making a joke about eating Harley after an emotional moment.

While the first season focused on Harley’s development in getting past her relationship with the Joker by trying to get into the Legion of Doom, this season starts with her in a new place both emotionally and in terms of power. While she has previously been mocked by most people for her dependence on the Joker and just generally being a female supervillain (Gotham is sexist, unlike the real wor… oh, right), Harley has shown that she is much more intelligent and capable than almost anyone else in the show. However, due to her preference for anarchy, she ends up allowing the other villains to cement power rather than just taking over the city herself, something that gives her yet another personal flaw to overcome for the season.

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It helps when your best friend has a top-tier superpower.

I will also give the show credit that it starts averting one of the general rules for comic book shows pretty early on in this season. I won’t spoil it, but it took me by surprise (or would have, if the damn ads for the show didn’t ruin it for me). 

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The surprise was not “Ivy can rock the Pippy Longstocking look.”

Honestly, I recommend this show. Unfortunately, it’s really hard to watch it, since there aren’t a ton of people with DC Universe subscriptions and they won’t put the season on Amazon streaming until after the entire season is over. Still, if you can find someone with the account, you should ask to watch this show. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Superman: Red Son – Truth, Justice, and The Soviet Way?

There’s an adaptation of Mark Millar’s famous Elseworld comic and it’s pretty solid, if short. 

SUMMARY (spoiler-free)

In 1934, a rocket landed on Earth from an alien planet… in the middle of the USSR. In the 1950s, the Soviets under Joseph Stalin (William Salyers) reveal that they now have a Superman (Jason Isaacs), which shifts the Cold War arms race from nuclear weapons to superheroes. President Eisenhower tasks Lex Luthor (Diedrich Bader) with stopping the Soviet Superman, which leads to decades long rivalry between the two. As Superman takes control of the Soviet Union, he deals with facing Luthor, interacting with Wonder Woman (Vanessa Marshall), thwarting the terrorist Batman (Roger Craig Smith), fighting off the alien invader Brainiac (Paul “The Penguin” Williams), and dealing with Lex Luthor’s wife, Lois Lane (Amy Acker). 

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Okay, so, why does he still have the same shape on the logo?

END SUMMARY

If you read the Superman: Red Son comic, then you already know the broad outline of this film, but it does do a good job adapting the story without lifting wholesale. It does cut out a lot of the images and subplots from miniseries, as well as a lot of the Easter eggs and references, but keeps the more prominent ones. Part of the cutting is because it’s short, clocking in at just 84 minutes. I realize that’s the standard length for this kind of story, but it still feels like a sizable subtraction due to the density of the source material. 

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Millar is verbose. 

The movie does do a good job of shortcutting much of the backstory by assuming that A) you know most of Superman’s origin story and B) you can apply that onto the new origin that this story is positing. I also appreciate how it doesn’t bother to do a lot of exposition on many of the alternate-version characters that the story presents. Batman, for example, is shown to be a child who lost his family due to Stalin’s gulags and blames Superman for not saving them. You don’t need to know how this version acquired all of his skills and armory, just that he has transferred Batman’s typical dedication to the war on crime to a war on Superman. He still has the same flair for the dramatic that the normal Batman has, but with a more chaotic aim. However, it does feel a little less justified in this movie than it did in the original storyline, where Batman’s parents were executed by Superman’s adopted brother, as opposed to blaming Superman for Stalin’s actions. That’s how a lot of the motives feel in this, like they’ve been abbreviated.

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Still a cocky son of a gun, though.

The film does a good job of also addressing the core issue of what the “Red Son” version of Superman addresses: What would happen to a Soviet Idealist with unlimited power? Superman in this series is not evil, although he does have fewer qualms with brutality or things that would normally be cruel to the regular Superman. Instead, this Superman is just convinced that capitalism is flawed and that only through Communism can the world be saved. He points out the natural flaws of the capitalist system (slavery, poor people dying from lack of welfare, exploitation of the vulnerable), things that the traditional Superman seems to accept as natural, but instead ignores the flaws of communism (literally forcing people to obey or be neutralized in the name of equality). Even though Superman has noble goals, the means he uses would never be considered by his normal counterpart. 

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Like lobotomizing his enemies.

It’s also interesting to show Lex Luthor as being more heroic than usual. In many modern takes on the character, Lex Luthor views himself as saving the world from Superman, who keeps humans from solving their own problems. This story takes that a step further by making Lex the nominal “good guy,” even though he is still essentially amoral. However, the story does make him a lot more relatable than the comic counterpart by making his relationship with Lois Lane sincere, rather than just nominal. 

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And he starts out with hair.

Overall, it’s a good film, but it just never quite hits the way it should due to trying to cram three issues into less than 90 minutes. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

DCUniverse Mini-Review: Harley Quinn – So Close To Nailing It

Harley Quinn gets her own television show and it had all the parts to be amazing without quite getting them together… yet.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Harley Quinn (Kaley Cuoco) is the Joker’s (Alan “Curse this sudden but inevitable” Tudyk) girlfriend. After he uses her to escape from Batman (Diedrich “The Brave and the” Bader), she is locked in prison with Poison Ivy (Lake Bell). The pair break out and Harley realizes that the Joker doesn’t really love her, so she sets out on her own and get her own crew. She picks the baddest of the people who couldn’t do better than her: King Shark (Ron Funches), Doctor Psycho (Tony Hale), Clayface (Alan “Were I unwed I would take you in a manly” Tudyk), and Sy Borgman (Jason “I was also Duckman” Alexander). Together, they help Harley get into the Legion of Doom in order to show the Joker that she’s the real villain.

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Nope, no HammerTime jokes.

END SUMMARY

Dear readers, I wanted to love this show. I wanted to scream of its success from the rooftops. I wanted to be able to say, “there is a property in which Harley Quinn is the badass that we all deserve her to be since Paul Dini had that stroke of genius.” Unfortunately, Birds of Prey ended up doing that better than this show, but this show has the potential to do so much more.

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There’s a lot of viscera in both.

This show fell into the same trap I felt like Titans fell into in its first season. You can practically hear the writers’ thought process: It’s rated-R, it’s a mature show, so naturally that means we have to justify it, right? Let’s put in a lot of f*cks and a ton of gratuitous violence and such. I mean, let’s have the Joker wear another guy’s face and rip it off like a mask, because that’s a thing we can’t show on any other cartoon? If we haven’t done it before, that makes it original and therefore good!

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Robin thinks this show is the height of comedy.

Well, unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Putting a bunch of people saying “tits” on screen doesn’t make a show mature, it makes it what a 14-year-old boy thinks is mature. Now, I will say that the show definitely got better about this as the series went on, with the violence and the language feeling more organic, but the first few episodes felt really like they were straining to justify a red band trailer. I love some good old ultraviolence as much as the next droog, but make it count, people. Or make it funny. Your main character and her primary antagonist are both derivations of clowns, so I would hope you could make it a little more enjoyable to watch them go apesh*t.

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Admittedly, sometimes it’s hilarious.

It also doesn’t help that the emotional journey Harley is on throughout the season really seems like she’s just going around in circles a bit. I mean, she claims to be over the Joker, but then spends a season defining herself by trying to outshine him, which is NOT being over someone. Ultimately, I think she learns that lesson, but it feels like they stretched the arc by like half a season in order to make it land on the finale. 

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It lands pretty hard.

And, of course, as several people have brought up online, the show has some issues with how it handles certain topics. Mainly, there were accusations of being anti-Semitic, something that seemed to fly in the face of the fact that Harley Quinn is typically represented as Jewish (and is revealed to be in this series as well). In the second episode, which takes place at Penguin’s nephew’s Bar Mitzvah, Penguin’s sister-in-law is represented in a manner which was accused of being stereotypical. The same is true of Sy Borgman, who even the creators referred to, jokingly, as “half-man, half-Jew.” Harley’s parents are also not particularly flattering. I think these jokes probably were intended to be part of the “edgy” vibe of the show, but the fact is that they not only will upset people, they just weren’t that funny to begin with. I believe comedy should challenge and, at times, offend, but part of the reason stereotypes have been dropped from comedy routines isn’t just that they’re often inaccurate and offensive, but that they were the basis for comedy for like 50 years and they’re not funny anymore. Just write a real joke, people.

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That said, “Sy Borgman” being half-robot is… well, it’s up there with Victor Fries being cold.

However, aside from these issues, I thought this show did a great job. The animation style is fun. The supporting characters are amazing, mostly because they all have their own fun quirks. Poison Ivy develops an embarrassing crush on a fellow super villain, King Shark is a computer nerd despite being a giant mutant shark/human, Clayface (presumably the Basil Karlo version) is a terrible actor despite having the ability to become anyone, and Doctor Psycho is a misogynist who loses his previous supervillain status for calling Wonder Woman (Vanessa Marshall) the “C-word” on live television. Some of the commentary in the show, particularly the discussions of female villain inequality, are on point. The Queen of Fables (Wanda Sykes) is freaking hilarious. This is one of my favorite versions of the Joker because he seems even more self-aggrandizing and random than usual, while simultaneously having more normal habits, such as loving Reese Witherspoon. Also, just having Alan Tudyk in something gives it an additional Star in my ratings. 

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And they shamelessly mock other properties.

The thing is, this show has all the pieces to be great and, at times, is, it just needs to figure out better what’s actually good for a mature show and what’s just pretending to be mature.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.