I didn’t expect to be laughing at shitty magic tricks from Bane, but that’s just one of the many excellent punch-lines that catches you completely by surprise in Harley Quinn.
The animated series, streamable only through Amazon Prime Video, is an absolute breath of fresh air. It first premiered late last year, but it’s only become available in Australia recently.
It starts violently and brutally, with the Joker and Harley Quinn ripping off a bunch of mobsters for their money. The joke isn’t in the heist, but that Harley Quinn wants to be more than just a sidekick.
"When Gothamnites hear the name Harley Quinn, I want them to piss themselves. I want a taste of that," Quinn says.
"You ... you want a taste of piss?" Joker asks.
And that's basically the tone for the entire series. It's rapidfire savagery throughout, with just enough smattering of the kind of comical violence you'd expect from Gotham City. The opening begins with Poison Ivy trying to convince Harley Quinn to abandon Joker, for plainly obvious reasons. What makes the series stick is the constant one-liners, which land with the same kind of pacing and effectiveness as The Good Place, Big Mouth or Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
Harley Quinn is obviously a different kind of show to any of those. But it takes the very-well established character tropes and traits of Gotham's criminals, sometimes turning them on their head in the funniest way possible. One member of Ivy's criminal troupe, Doctor Psycho, joins Quinn's group after being universally cancelled:
Bane is transformed from one of Gotham's most fearful villains into a bad Tom Hardy impersonator who's more like the Legion of Doom's accountant, and very shitty with magic tricks.
Other highlights from the first series include: Commissioner Gordon triggering the Bat Signal to whine to Batman about his marriage problems; Harley breaking up a bar mitzvah for the Penguin's nephew just to impress the Legion of Doom, and Poison Ivy being hit on by Kiteman; everyone treating Robin like shit; a shark hacking "into the mainframe" because Harley Quinn didn't use the right keywords for Gotham's Tinder for finding a nemesis; the Queen of Fables being imprisoned in the US tax code; Ivy's sentient plant, Frank, who is frequently high while calling her and everyone out; the Queen of Fables taking out Humpty Dumpty to make an omelette while Humpty screams; and Cinderella's mouse being a chain-smoking Rambo.
Along with the excellent hit rate, the voice cast is excellent. Quinn's excellently represented by Kaley Cuoco (The Big Bang Theory), but the rest of the cast aren't far behind. Lake Bell nails Poison Ivy's brand of cynicism and exhaustion in trying to keep Harley on track, and Christopher Meloni and James Adomian absolutely kill as Commissioner Gordon and Bane whenever given the chance. Alan Tudyk's Joker is fantastic, and it's hard to fault the efforts of Jason Alexander, JB Smoove, Wanda Sykes, Giancarlo Esposito, Diedrich Bader, and more.
The only negative, really, is that there isn't more Harley Quinn available in Australia. The second season finished airing in the US in June, and a third season is expected to be announced on September 13 local time at DC FanDome.
If this hasn't convinced you already, then let me borrow a quip from a friend who was selling my partner and I on the series. "It's like a show written by a writers room that was let go," they said. Except this show about the best characters of Gotham being characters, instead of the plans and all the emotional torment.
That alone already makes it sound like one of the best shows of 2020. But in a nice change from how everything else has gone this year, Harley Quinn actually sticks the landing. It's funny as hell, completely bingeable, and absolutely brilliant.