I didn’t think highly enough of this show to really dislike it.
Ben Hopkins (Jake Johnson) is a high school basketball coach who can’t seem to get a win. His ex-wife Shannon (Natasha Leggaro) is dating his best friend Ron (Ron Funches), his team can’t win to save his life, and the Principal (Cleo King) has informed him that he will soon be terminated if he can’t turn it around. His only hope is to convince Matty (A.D. Miles), a 7-foot-tall teenager to join the team and try to help him change his life. Then, hopefully, Ben can make his way to fame and fortune.
This show sucks.
I really am going to have trouble pointing out exactly where I think it dropped the ball, because so many talented people were involved in this project that I can’t really be sure. The show was created by Wheeler Walker, Jr., real name Ben Hoffman, a comedian known for doing vulgar country songs, which might account for why much of the humor in the show is apparently supposed to derive from swearing, but Hoffman is usually much more clever than this show.
The voice talent is all quality. Jake Johnson was great as the aged Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Natasha Leggaro was one of the best parts of Ugly Americans, and Ron Funches is hilarious as King Shark on Harley Quinn. All three of them have consistently made me laugh both live and in animation, so it came as a shock that nothing they said in this series was funny. Think about that. Ron Funches was given lines so bland that even his charming delivery couldn’t make them good. Truly, it’s baffling.
It really seems to come down to the fact that this show pretty much solely goes for being outlandish without being funny. Having casually swearing characters doesn’t inherently make them amusing and, after a bit, they get so repetitive they’re boring. While people may have accused South Park or Family Guy or even The Simpsons of taking advantage of shock humor, time has proven that they clearly had a core of solid humor and a willingness to push the limits. This show doesn’t have that core. It just throws out empty, tired jokes and thinks that adding a f*ck makes them funny again.
Overall, I’m sure that there are some people out there who like it, but for the streaming service that brought us BoJack Horseman, this is a massive disappointment.
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.