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Harley Quinn [Season 1] (2019)

Unlike most of the roster of DC characters, Harley Quinn actually appeared in animation first, before ever featuring in the pages of a comic. Originally devised as a female counterpart/ love-interest to The Joker in the groundbreaking Batman: The Animated Series,  she has gone on to become a hugely popular character in her own right and a bisexual icon. Harley is arguably now one of DC's most recognisable characters, played memorably by Margot Robbie in the live-action movies.

That made her an ideal choice for the first original animated series for the fledgeling DC Universe streaming service, and DC's first adult animated series. Harley Quinn season one began streaming exclusively weekly on DC Universe in the United States in 2019. In the UK it aired on E4 and streamed on All4 from the spring of 2020. The series was produced by Warner Bros Animation.

Harley and The Joker have split up for good, and the newly free and single Ms Quinn is trying to break out on her own. She's desperate to step out from her ex's shadow. What will it take for her to be recognised as a villain in her own right and to be finally invited to join the Legion Of Doom?  Along with new roomie Poison Ivy, She soon forms a ragtag team with lower-tier villains Clayface, Psycho and King Shark and gets on with getting up to no good.

For the most part, each episode is a standalone story, with Harley's attempts to get in the limelight being the driving force. Towards the end of the season though, the storytelling begins to get much more serialised.

At first, it seems the series might fall prey to a problem that dogs a lot of western 'adult' animation. The first episode plays up the gory violence and swearing to make it clear that this is not a kid-friendly Cartoon Network show. After that, though it seems to settle down. The over-the-top violence and the effing-and-jeffing is very much present throughout the show, but it never feels like a crutch.

This is a series that knows its audience. It's made for DC fans, so they know that they will have at the very least a passing familiarity with most of these characters. Even if you know them only from the live-action movies, you should be absolutely fine here- even if you'll miss some of the deeper cuts.

Harley Quinn features appearances from numerous characters from the DC Universe. It leans more towards the villains, and with most of the action taking place in Gotham City, characters from Batman's rogue's gallery are particularly prominent. Some of the better-known baddies such as The Joker, The Scarecrow and Bane have quite prominent roles. But much like The LEGO Batman Movie before it, the series delights in featuring more obscure characters such as Kite Man and Sy Borgman as main characters. DC heroes also pop up throughout the series- most prominently Batman of course, but Superman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman also have occasional appearances.

The series isn't beholden to any particular version of the DC universe, so it can pick and choose elements from any of the existing iterations. For example, the show's version of Bane has his traditional appearance but uses a voice obviously modelled on Tom Hardy's portrayal from The Dark Knight Rises, or how Aquaman wears his classic costume.

The series has an animation style is in line with the aesthetic that has been used for most DC animation from Batman The Animated Series on and with the majority of their made for video movies. There's a slightly more cartoony twist, and it's certainly more colourful than your average Batman series, but it wouldn't look out of place next to the rest of DC's animated output. The backgrounds have a much more original style, with some great looking use of different painting style and textures- sometimes even borderline abstract imagery. It's definitely one of the best looking of the currently airing adult animated series.

This is a comedy, but it's not a parody. It doesn't make fun of the very concept of superheroes and villains- which would be essentially making fun of its potential audience. But it also knows that they shouldn't take itself too seriously. Much of the comedy here comes from the contrast of the comic book world and the mundane. One episode revolves around The Penguin's nephew's Bar Mitzvah. Doctor Psycho struggles to connect with his estranged son and Commissioner Gordon has marital issues. Being a villain or a hero is their job- but it's not their whole lives.

Aside from being a comedy, it's also a comic book show. Recognising this, Harley Quinn also delivers on the action front, with some great set-pieces. It's also surprisingly effective with more dramatic material, too. The show's heart is the relationship between Harley and Ivy, with their growing friendship bringing an unexpected emotional dimension to the table. Some will be disappointed that their relationship doesn't develop into a romantic one in this season (as it does in the comics), but arguably building up their relationship first will make it more believable if or when that happens (no spoilers for season two here). Harley Quinn is a very funny show, but there's much more to it than that.

Also worthy of praise is the voice cast (and the casting director). Some fans were disappointed that the lead role didn't go to regular Harley Tara Strong, but newcomer Kaley Cuoco (The Big Bang Theory) is excellent, bringing the necessary manic energy while nimbly handling the more serious moments too. The same goes for Lake Bell as Ivy, pulling off the 'cynical, too-cool-for-school' tone without just playing it flat. Alan Tudyk is just perfect as the Joker, reminiscent of Mark Hammill's run without being a straight-up impression. Tudyk also voices a wonderfully theatrical take on Clayface, alongside excellent turns by Tony Hale as Doctor Pyscho, Ron Funches as King Shark and Jason Alexander as Sy Borgman.

Outside the main cast, there's also an impressive line-up of talent voicing recurring or guest roles. Listen out for a mix of career voice actors and on-screen talents including Phil Le Marr, Jim Rash, Andrew Daly, Wanda Sykes, J.B. Smoove, Diedrich Bader, Rahul Kohli,  Wayne Knight and Giancarlo Esposito (ingeniously cast as Lex Luthor). Everyone brings their A-game here.

A second season recently finished airing in the US,  with 13 episodes making up the back half of the 26 episodes that were initially ordered by DC Universe. A third season has yet to be confirmed, but as the series has been well received it seems likely it's more a case of when than if. The show is also headed for HBO Max soon, which is great news as this is a stellar show that deserves a much wider audience than a niche service like DC Universe can offer.



IN A NUTSHELL: Like its titular (anti)heroine, Harley Quinn the series is colourful, outrageous, hilarious and looks fantastic. A confident and expertly made debut season.