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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
Harley Quinn gets her own television show and it had all the parts to be amazing without quite getting them together… yet.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
DC tries to give Harley Quinn a second shot at a decent film along with a team of female anti-heroes.
Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) has been dumped by the Joker (Technically Jared Leto) and is setting out on her own. Unfortunately, during the process of moving on, she earns the ire of Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), the supervillain and mob-boss known as the Black Mask. Sionis is being investigated by Detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), who also starts chasing Quinn. Montoya, Harley, singer/asskicker Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), and assassin Helena “Huntress” Bertinelli (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) all get caught up in a plot involving Sionis and a young girl named Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco).
I hated Suicide Squad. Admittedly, a lot of that was because I was angry that I had been suckered by the trailers into thinking it was going to be a good movie, even though I should have known from the earlier trailers that it was never going to work out. The way that characters were introduced, the generic plotlines, the constant desire to be “edgy” but never actually being edgy, all of that just made me hate that film. I even really didn’t like Margot Robbie’s version of Harley Quinn, but I don’t think it had to do with Robbie’s performance. The writing was just awful.
Unlike that movie’s over-the-top promotion, I almost didn’t realize this movie came out. The advertising focused so heavily on “the fantabulous emancipation of one Harley Quinn” over the Birds of Prey that, after Suicide Squad, I really wasn’t that interested in this movie. However, after hearing a few people praise the movie, I gave it a shot, and somehow this movie does almost everything Suicide Squad did, but does it mostly correctly. The writing is still bad, but it’s not AS bad and the characters and directing manage to mostly salvage it.
One of the biggest things about the movie is that it’s narrated by Harley Quinn who stylizes most of the narration, captions, and flashbacks. The first thing this does is actually justify the stylized character screens that were present throughout Suicide Squad, where the introductions were being done by Amanda Waller, a person who would never try to be that cutesy. Also, Waller’s explanations are to other people, whereas Harley is just crazy enough to talk to the imaginary audience. Harley breaking the fourth wall can be a bit over-the-top at times, but for the most part Robbie makes it charming. I’ll admit that the opening 10-15 minutes weren’t great, but once Harley gets a cheese sandwich, it starts to find its feet. In fairness, the sandwich was the emotional center of the movie. Still, having a good point of view to follow actually erases quite a few of the mistakes of its predecessor.
It also helps that the character introductions are less “blatant narration” and more “scene depicting, through their actions, what kind of people they are.” I admit that Huntress’s backstory is way more narrated, but she’s so damned fun that I will overlook it. Moreover, the characters aren’t all introduced to us en masse, instead, they are explained when they enter the story. It feels less forced and the movie even admits that when the team finally comes together, they’re not really a team at that point, they’re just four women and a kid who have to work together out of necessity. Given their varied personalities and predilections, that’s really the only way they could have ever agreed to cooperate.
The characters are very different from their comic counterparts in a lot of ways, but it never annoyed me. Black Canary spends much of the movie refusing a call to heroism because her mother was killed being a superhero. Huntress was raised with a desire to kill her family’s murderers, but this has made her completely insecure and socially awkward. Rene Montoya, as played by Rosie Perez – Actually, I’m going to stop here and just give a round of applause to Rosie Perez for A) playing an action movie character over 50, B) getting work as a leading woman over 40 in a big budget film, and C) selling a character who admits to being a cliche half the time. Seriously, just… good job, Rosie. Anyway, Rene Montoya, as played by Rosie Perez, is a grizzled veteran who has been screwed over by the system repeatedly, a stark contrast to the naive rookie that the character was originally. Cassandra Cain is an in-name-only character, who bears no resemblance to the mute super martial artist of the comics.
Despite all of the changes, they just serve to drive home that this “team” really has nothing in common. Canary fights because she’s got just too much hero in her to let Sionis capture a girl, Harley does it because she likes Cassandra and because Sionis is going to kill her, Montoya believes in stopping Sionis even if the rest of the department doesn’t support her, and Huntress is just after vengeance. We have a vigilante, a self-serving antihero, a cop, and an assassin, and it somehow comes together organically for the final major action set piece.
Actually, I really liked all of the action sequences in this film. They vary a lot and many of them capture the fun slapstick element of violence that the John Wick films did well. I will admit that some of the gore is a bit more than I was expecting and, honestly, maybe more than the film needed, but they’re overall solid.
I also loved Ewan McGregor’s performance as Roman Sionis. He perfectly nails a combination of psychopath and insecure over-compensating douche. He has no emotional strength and whines constantly, but due to his wealth and influence can get away with anything, so he just moves straight to violence as a response. He seems almost unbelievable as a human being, except that YOU ABSOLUTELY HAVE MET THIS GUY ON THE INTERNET. It’s also amazing that he is utterly incapable of doing almost anything on his own, but is still threatening to everyone. It helps that his chief henchman, Zsasz (Chris Messina), is a grade-A serial killer, but still, McGregor sells that Sionis can be simultaneously weak and yet overwhelming.
Overall, I genuinely liked this film. I don’t know why it’s failing at the box office aside from the fact that it felt like a tacked-on sequel to a terrible movie, which it absolutely is not. I mean, it’s poorly written, but still better than Aquaman. I wonder if there’s a reason a female superteam movie with some admitted flaws would have 1/10th the box office of Jason Momoa in spandex, despite getting better critical and audience reviews? Dang it, Drogo…