Last week, I detailed my struggle to achieve a shape to be in, which means I’ve been elliptical machine-ing. Ellipticalizing means that I get to watch more tv shows on my IPad because I can’t read while everything’s (and I mean everything) shaking up and down on those machines. That adds up to watching stuff that I care about enough to watch but not so much that I need to be comfortable or happy or not whimpering in pain or misery while I watch it.
Enter: the DC Universe streaming service!
Today, I’m going to check out a newer animated feature available via the DC Universe streaming service: Harley Quinn.
Warnings ahoy: Minor plot spoilers lie ahead. Also, this series is NOT for the kiddos.
This TV-MA rated “adult animated action-comedy” series can be found on the DC Universe streaming service. It features the voice talent of Kaley Cuoco, Lake Bell, Ron Funches, J.B. Smoove, Tony Hale, Jason Alexander, and a host of other famous voice talents whose names you might know–or at least voices you will recognize. The basic gist is that Harley (Cuoco) is breaking away from the Joker’s shadow and striking out on her own with the help of Poison Ivy (Bell), her plant, a Venus “Feed me Seymour”-style flytrap named Frank (Smoove), and a ragtag crew she’s assembling on the fly.
Part of the fun of this show is the fact that it plays fast and loose with eeeeeeeverything. There’s a Legion of Doom, for instance, but it’s really just the Batman villains hanging out the old school swamp base instead of at Arkham. Speaking of the Bat villains—they’re now sitcommy tropes—and I love it. Instead of plotting crimes, they’re gossiping and attending Penguin’s nephew’s Bar mitzfah (although not a Bat mitvah, as even though that would be the better pun, those are for girls. I didn’t even know that was a thing until writing this. Harley is helping me to learn about cultural celebrations!). They’re more like Flash Rogues than Bat-baddies at this point.
Bane is reduced to Milton from Office Space-like status, threatening to blow up that party he wasn’t invited to, but he does it with his gas-mask voice from Dark Knight Rises. It’s wonderful. Being a bad guy is more like being in a club for terrible people as it is committing nefarious acts.
So much of this show is like Teen Titans Go! for immature weird adults instead of weird kids. Both shows share a sharp, sardonic humor. But this one has lots of F words. If you’ve ever wanted to hear Penny from the Big Bang Theory drop some f bombs, this show is for you. Once again, the violence is ratcheted up to 11, even more so than most DC animated fare. Here, bones protrude through broken legs and people are exploded right in front of Harley as romantic gestures.
The biggest difference between this show and the Batman vs. Ninja Turtles from last week is that there is no way I would ever want to show this cartoon to my kids. I might be little ashamed if they watched this stuff. I might be a little ashamed that I did.
But I’ll probably end up watching the rest of the episodes. I can deal with shame. The series oddly finds the line between immature fun for grown ups and “you shouldn’t really do that.” F bombs are cool. Dr. Psycho’s description of women reminded me of our Bundt Cake episode, but that word is censored here, too. Exploding humans are cool. Maxie Zues’s underZues gets tastefully blurred out. Even when Poison Ivy ends up smooching some underage boys, they acknowledge how gross it is. Then, they double down and remind you how gross teenage boys are.
Even when it comes to the violence and the agenda of the characters, there are signs of heart. At one point when faced with a really bad super villain (voiced by Wanda Sykes), Ivy describes the difference as Harley being “broadcast bad” while Syke’s character is “cable bad.” While this show definitely wouldn’t fly Saturday Mornings on a network, Harley isn’t a character without noble qualities. But then again, the show isn’t afraid to show entire groups of people being massacred at a picnic.
Overall, it’s another example of the immature “maturity” that DC and Warner Bros. pushes with a lot of their franchises at this point. At least here it’s in the service of madcap fun. Harley is basically Bugs Bunny but with more realistic consequences to her Looney Tunes-esq violence. As someone who grew up on those kinds of cartoons, that part is fun.
Also, there are plenty of nods for comic readers (Kite Man!), and I’m sure there are tons of references to the Palmiotti/Conner New 52 series.
Even though that was a book that never really grabbed me, I can respect its influence. It’s traditionally not my scene. My version of Harley was always in the animated series costume she jettisons along with her giant hammer in the first episode in favor of her new baseball bat and t-shirt outfit.
Like the original animated series, that Harley was crazy fun but almost classier and more respectable somehow.
Times are different, now. So are our bad guys, I guess. Respectability’s always been overrated anyway, especially for fictional characters! But now, instead of having to shell out $4 a month for a comic, it’s a show that’s wrapped into a streaming service that I’m already getting. So that’s more appealing, I guess.
There’s something about this that works more in an animated show than in comic form. Maybe this will make me go back and check out those comics again and change my mind. I’m ten episodes in at this point, and as long as they make ’em, I’ll watch ’em.
I will say like the supporting cast way more than the leads here. Lake Bell’s Poison Ivy is the secret weapon of the whole shebang. It’s not just the big-name Batman baddies–although seeing sad loser-y versions of those guys makes sense– but Frank the Little Shop of Horrors plant!
Audrey 2, but not. He’s Frank the plant here. That’s different. And Tony Hale is Dr. Psycho! And Alan Tudyk is Clayface!
Did I mention Kite Man? Kite Man!
The comedy is broad and the action is in your face, and that’s ok for killing time on the elliptical. I’ll grade it out as a B+ as it’s interesting enough that I’ll check out more. Scratch that, as the show has really grown on me since I started watching it. I look forward to its Friday new episode releases. Imma need a new Saturday morning elliptical motivator once all 13 eps for season one are done. Call this one an A.
The better way to look at this is it’s helping me to appreciate we live in a world where it’s worth the time to make animated shows for grown-ups and that not everything has to be for the kiddos. So even though the show is appealing to my baser immature humor, it’s actual helping me to grow a little bit anyway. Neat.
I’m interested to compare animated Harley with the new movie Harley, but I won’t know for sure until we release our Harley show this Tuesday! Scratch that too, we’ll know how much better the animated show is after Tuesday’s review ep!
Until next time, I’ll hopefully still be on the elliptical train, hopefully finding more fun shows to watch in the interim.