The pilot episode of the Justice League television show—the seminal two-season animated show from the early 2000s—allows tension to build, slow and steady. The opening, pre-title scenes tease the enigmatic demise of a couple unsuspecting astronauts. After the theme song plays (and as our goosebumps of admiration slowly begin to subside), we see Batman. He moves in the shadows, stalking a few questionable scientists who are tinkering with unknown technology. More than five minutes into the first episode, Batman—equipped with Kevin Conroy’s stoic, limestone voice—says the Justice League’s first line: “I doubt that modification’s legal.” Thus begins a show about honor and justice.
In her DC Universe animated show, what is Harley Quinn’s first line?
At exactly 38 seconds into the episode: “Party’s over, ya pieces of ****. This is my money now, so back the **** off!”
DC Universe’s Harley Quinn is edgier than Deadpool, wittier than Ragnarok, and more fan-worthy than Suicide Squad, Batman v Superman, and Aquaman combined. If modern-day superhero media is a steady breeze—a constant gust of glossy action so ubiquitous that you have no choice but to breathe it in—then Harley Quinn is the lost, windblown umbrella that smacks you in the face. This show is abrasive, unexpected, violent, occasionally dark, and unapologetically vulgar.
But, hey, free umbrella?
Here’s the point: In a world oversaturated with pretentious superheroes and pretentious-er supervillains, DC Universe’s Harley Quinn stands out as one of the few aggressively honest works of superhero fiction. And it’s wildly funny.
The show depicts Harley Quinn—voiced perfectly by The Big Bang Theory’s Kaley Cuoco—as an impulsive, lovelorn queen-in-process whose inherent innocence clashes with her grandiose ambition. All the traditional Harley hallmarks are present, but this show sprinkles her character with a bit of grounded edginess. Her whimsy occasionally yields to a surprisingly nuanced stoutheartedness that makes her more relatable than most adaptations of the character. Curiously, in Harley Quinn, this relatability is reinforced by the types of things that typically undermine well-crafted authenticity: wanton violence and bizarre secondary characters.
Harley’s crew consists of cleverly refitted portrayals of established DC characters:
- Clayface (Alan Tudyk) as a melodramatic thespian,
- Doctor Psycho (Tony Hale) as a politically incorrect hothead,
- King Shark (Ron Funches) as a wide-eyed technology nerd,
- and—most importantly—Poison Ivy (Lake Bell) as a mumblecore environmental activist.
And the non-crew characters are equally offbeat.
Chris Meloni of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit fame plays a delightfully sad version of Commissioner James Gordon. Meloni’s Gordon is a secretly sensitive cop with frayed nerves who just wants a friend.
Impressionist James Adomian offers a whimsical, bumbling, wannabe, people-pleaser version of Bane. In one episode, Bane develops a petty-but-explosive rivalry with a fast food employee named Todd who keeps calling him “Bang.”
Breaking Bad’s Giancarlo Esposito portrays Lex Luthor as the amusingly clichéd corporate boss of the Legion of Doom. “We modeled it after the way they do things at Pixar,” he says at one L.O.D. corporate meeting (which sparks a debate between Bane and others about the possibility of an Up sequel).
Jacob Tremblay, award-nominated actor from films like Room and Good Boys, transforms Robin into a whiny opportunist in desperate search of a nemesis.
iZombie’s Rahul Kohli provides the voice of Scarecrow, a British-accented villain who gives introductory tours through the Legion of Doom.
And Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander plays Sy Borgman, an elderly, ornery, wheelchair-bound ex-agent with a few Optimus Prime-esque tricks.
We are living through strange times, so why not watch a deeply strange show? See the characters you love in a fresh context. Watch them run around Gotham with the piercing awkwardness of Arrested Development characters. Learn about environmentalism from Ivy. And maybe a bit about acting from Clayface.
Season two of Harley Quinn is now on DC Universe.
Check it out.