Harley Quinn: Season One Review

Harley Quinn Smashes Bones and Glass Ceilings

Main Cast: Kayley Cuoco, Lake Bell, Alan Tudyk, Ron Fuches, Tony Hale, Jason Alexander

Dr. Quinzel: [inside a picture] “So this patient of mine, she’s fixated on a murderous psychopath and won’t end their relationship no matter how terribly he treats her.”
Harley Quinn: “Oh, easy! Classic abusive codependency. You’ve just gotta show her that there’s no future with him and she needs to end it and find her own identity and- [gasps] Oh. I see. You’re smart.”
Dr. Quinzel: “I know. I’m you.”

“Til Death Do Us Part” (Season 1, Episode 1)

Harley Quinn has a long history with television. She was created when executives meddled with Batman: the Animated Series, added into the comics because she was popular, and has appeared in many movies and shows. Now it’s time for Harley to headline her own animated show.

Harley Quinn season one follows the psychiatric supervillain and a crew of misfits and madmen after she breaks out of The Joker’s shadow to go solo. So will Harley Quinn season one hit the big time or live on as a trivia answer? Let’s find out!

The Good

Not Clowning Around

Queen of Fables: “I thought the point was to get the job done.”
Harley: “Yeah, but not by murdering innocent people! I mean, that’s just a line I won’t cross.”
Fables: “Oh, you have a line, huh? Hey guys, she has a line! Superheroes have a line. Teen Titans have a line. We don’t give a fuck.”
Harley: “Yeah, you know, you know, I think maybe I just give, like, a microscopic fuck.”

“The Line” (Season 1, Episode 7)

Harley Quinn had to break from from her abusive relationship with The Joker before she could break the glass ceiling as a female villain. Season one celebrates her victories as she takes Gotham City by storm.

Harley is sick of being a second string goon who is upstaged by The Joker. He abandons her during a crime and she spends a full year at Arkham Asylum. An intervention by her fellow prisoners helps Harley realize that Joker never cared about her. Freshly broken out of prison, she decides to become a crime boss, Joker be damned.

Harley’s early career is a struggle. No one takes her seriously, villain suppliers won’t deal with her, and fellow villain Queen of Fables reveals that the glass ceiling for female villains is nigh-unbreakable. She slowly builds her own gang, winning respect, power, and the attention of The Legion of Doom.

Throughout season one, her irreverence and brutality shine, albeit at the cost of writing her as a female Deadpool. She cracks plenty of jokes and is shown exploring why she became a wild villain. Despite the devastation left behind her, Harley makes sure that only jerks or people opposing her get hurt.

Quirky Crew in Harley Quinn Season One

Clayface: “The name is Clayface, thespian extraordinaire recently portraying the juicy role of a country boy bartending in the big city!”
Doctor Psycho:I thought you were playing the role of a literal piece of shit.
Clayface:Not yet. [Transforms into Psycho] NOW I’m a literal piece of shit!

“So you Need a Crew” (Season 1, Episode 3)

It’s hard to make it as a solo villain. Luckily, Harley Quinn has plenty of audacious allies to make things easier.

Poison Ivy was one of Harley’s patients at Arkham who befriended her after Harley’s breakdown. Ivy serves as the crew’s voice of reason and experience. She also recruits her boyfriend Kite Man, the supervillain community’s biggest joke. He’s not good for much, but he’s always ready to help them bumble through adventures.

Doctor Psycho is their first recruit. The short, misogynistic psychic was part of the Legion of Doom until he was kicked out for calling Wonder Woman a c***. Twice. Even Darkseid thought that was going too far. Clayface is introduced shortly after. He can shapeshift and create disguises, but always overplays his identity.  

King Shark serves as Harley’s social media manager and muscle. He’s jolly and supportive, but prone to rampages when he smells blood. The crew’s final member is their landlord, Sy Borgman. This crotchety, retired cyborg is able to call in favors from old CIA friends and can reluctantly transform into a car. As one does.

Biting Humor

Scarecrow: [giving a tour of the Hall of Doom] Pretty cool, eh? All the heavy hitters: Sinestro, Lex Luthor, Roger Goodell. Oh, uh, FYI, we stand for the anthem. This is the big leagues of evil!

“L.O.D.R.S.V.P.” (Season 1, Episode 8)

You don’t run with The Joker without learning how to laugh through the pain. As far as Harley Quinn season one is concerned, little is sacred.

The superhero and villain communities are portrayed as celebrities, complete with paparazzi, talk show appearances, and a 24/7 news cycle. Having an archnemesis is directly compared to having a celebrity relationship. Season one uses this depiction to mock everything about celebrity culture, such as Dr. Psycho being canceled for insulting Wonder Woman or Robin announcing that Harley is his nemesis without consulting her.

The heroes and villains are easy pickings for parody. Batman serves as a straight man while Commissioner Gordon is close to a breakdown from overwork. Bane is obsessed with explosives and has the goofy accent from The Dark Knight Rises. Luthor grandstands and gladhands while secretly loathing everyone around him. 

The jokes are dark and blood flows like wine, but Harley Quinn‘s humor is surprisingly mature. The leads still have a few shreds of morality and are horrified by some cruel jokes and actions, especially when people are needlessly hurt. Queen of Fables summoning the Three Little Pigs to eat her victims and Joker insulting Penguin’s nephew at his own Bar Mitzvah earn everyone’s scorn.

The Bad

The Joke’s on Harley Quinn

Poison Ivy: “So let me get this straight: you’re not over your ex, and you want to throw your success in his face.”
Harley: “Exactly!
Ivy: “Honestly, that might be the most relatable thing you’ve ever said.

“You’re a Damn Good Cop, Jim Gordon” (Season 1, Episode 6)

Harley Quinn season one shows how supervillains can operate in Gotham City, but runs afoul of the eternal problem with being a Bat-villain: escaping The Joker’s shadow.

Almost every episode features Alan Tudyk’s Clown Prince of Crime bedeviling Harley and her crew. He fights with them, usurps her schemes, and otherwise looms large.  

Focusing on The Joker makes sense because of how he abused Harley, but is repeated too much. Even when other villains are the episode’s focus episode, the writers use Joker to upstage everyone.

Tudyk’s Joker is excellent and later seasons balance his appearances better, but Harley Quinn’s first season overplays him.

The Verdict

Harley Quinn season one is exactly what the character needed: a jungle gym made of violence and dark humor with allies on a solid base of character development. Focusing on her already overused ex is irksome, but the show is worth your time. It is streaming on HBO Max and available for purchase on Amazon. Seasons 2 and 3 are already out, with a fourth on the way.

Don’t go yet. We have an exclusive Harley Quinn backstory for you.

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