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Photo: ‘Harley Quinn’ Season 3
We are buried in superhero content these days. It seems like every week there is a new ten-part series, or upcoming Cinematic installment from a tentpole franchise that swoops in and commands the attention of fandom at large and dominates the discourse for a while. And yet, within the torrential deluge of super-powered content in which we find ourselves, the freshest storytelling and cleverest writing of the entire, overcrowded genre is quietly being done on DC’s ‘Harley Quinn.’ In its first three seasons (now streaming on HBO Max) ‘Harley Quinn’ has seemingly pulled off the impossible, by sincerely utilizing all of the rich lore and characters inherent to the DC comic book canon, while also relentlessly poking fun at itself, and all of the previous, more self-serious iterations of Gotham City and beyond, that fans are so familiar with. Best of all, the show’s voice only appears to be getting funnier, sharper, and more tonally-layered with every subsequent season.
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The Good, The Bad, and the Harley
The main narrative thrust of season three lies in the perilous emotional balancing act shared between Harley and Poison Ivy, as they attempt to navigate the choppy waters of their now-official romantic relationship. The classic, ongoing “will they/won’t they’ sitcom dynamic between Harley and Ivy finally came to a close at the end of season two, when Ivy called off her engagement to Kiteman in dramatic fashion, and finally embraced her truest love, the titular, clown-faced-calamity that is Harley Quinn. It goes without saying, that despite what animation-skeptics may say, seeing iconic characters like Harley and Ivy engage in an unapologetically loving, queer relationship on screen is hugely significant for LGBTQ+ representation. The casual reality and believable depiction of their relationship serve as a real step forward, toward a more progressive atmosphere in comic book storytelling in general. In season three, both characters are in the midst of their own personal evolutions. This sense of dueling metamorphosis forces them both to grapple with their respective identities as either heroes or villains, and whether they’re increasingly branching ideologies can coexist within the context of their new love.
Everything, Everywhere, All at Once
With Harley and Ivy’s central relationship solidly anchoring season 3, the show is able to give itself permission to quite literally, go anywhere and do anything within the expansive world of DC comics. This season is overflowing with memorable characters, side-stories that often turn into crucial plot points, and authentically hysterical, politically-charged pop cultural dialogue that runs through each and every episode. ‘Harley Quinn’ essentially dumps the entirety of the DC canonical toy box onto the floor, and starts reinventing, parodying, and deepening all aspects of it in wonderfully unpredictable ways. From poking fun at headlining DC fixtures like the comically-dower, bang-swooshing, crime-fighting Bat-family, to shining the spotlight on esoteric baddies such as Clock King and Plastique. A standout and now iconic deep-cut moment happens in episode five titled, “It’s a Swamp Thing.”
The moment occurs during a side story in which Batman and Catwoman (voiced by Diedrich Baker and Sanaa Lathan) are forced into a couples therapy session led by the villainous crooner, Music Meister. Armed with the power of musical sorcery and an electric keyboard, the tuneful tyrant proceeds to enchant the Bat and the Cat into belting out an absolutely hysterical duet, that actually crescendos into a legitimately somber conclusion to their clearly one-sided relationship. A moment like this seems so bizarre on paper, and yet the show is always able to ground the humor and the humanity of any given situation, no matter how absurd, precisely because the writers understand the identity of every character so well – down to a random henchman with a single throwaway line.
Laugh Now, Cry Later
Perhaps the episode that most epitomizes this series’ unique ability to slam together disparate elements of DC lore and mine them all for brilliant comedic insight and unexpected emotional payoff, is episode three, “The 83rd Annual Villy Awards”. Joker (who, by the way, becomes the full-blown socialist mayor of Gotham City seemingly in season three’s spare time), is hosting Gotham’s annual celebration for achievements in Villainy. This glitzy, Academy Awards-esque ceremony, is an unabashed cavalcade of entertaining and absurd characters, one-liners, gags, and includes a memorable jam in “Like Joker Do” performed by series MVP Alan Tudyk, to boot. During all of this, Catwoman calls out the pandering voting body of ‘the Villys’ for giving her an award simply in order to shamelessly appease their collective white guilt, Clock King weeps insecurely over his “big stupid clock for a face” and how it cost him and the Riddler a chance at winning best couple. This episode, among several others, illustrates the precarious tonal tightrope that the show walks with Catwoman-like agility across the series, and especially in its finest moments like this one.
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A Voice Cast For The Ages
The final ingredient that makes ‘Harley Quinn’ season 3 such a potent creation, is its stupendous cast of voice actors, who all bring fresh, uniformly hilarious interpretations to the famous comic book characters that they are portraying. Seasoned comedic actors like Andy Daly (Two-Face), Ron Funches (King Shark), James Adomian (Bane), and the newly added Sam Richardson (Swamp Thing) to name a few, all deliver the sizzling comedic dialogue with endless aplomb. Adomian’s deeply self-conscious and perpetually frustrated Bane, is flat-out one of the funniest recurring characters on any TV show from the last five years. Fan-favorite Alan Tudyk (Clayface, Joker, etc.) is routinely doing triple, sometimes even quadruple duty as a performer, voicing numerous characters often appearing in the same episode together. Obviously, most of the narrative and performative weight of the story is carried by Lake Bell and Kaley Cuoco, whose romantic chemistry as Ivy and Harley has only amplified in season 3. So rest assured, the voice acting talent of ‘Harley Quinn’ works in tandem seamlessly with consistently excellent writing.
The Beating Heart of ‘Harley Quinn’
A show like ‘Harley Quinn’ is far too acerbic, wry, and self-aware to ever earnestly spell out its moral or political ambitions plainly for its audience, but nevertheless, its radically progressive perspective is clear to any discerning viewer, and it deserves recognition. Season 3 literally climaxes with Joker, the newly elected mayor, throwing the naive billionaire Bruce Wayne, in prison for tax evasion. The show reflects the attitude, and the ideals of its main character. Meaning that it takes immense pleasure in calling out the toxic masculinity, moral and social irresponsibility, and innate silliness of the traditionally unassailable, overwhelmingly white male characters in DC comics. But while the show heavily skewers certain aspects of its source material, ‘Harley Quinn’ never loses its palpable sense of adoration for the history of its world and the legions of colorful characters that occupy it. It would take a long time, and an even longer memory in order for one to properly celebrate the overwhelming amount of witty jokes, indelible voice-acting performances, and compelling story choices that season three of ‘Harley Quinn’ manages to pack into only ten short episodes. So do yourself a favor, and watch it all instead!
Cast: Kaley Cuoco, Lake Bell, Alan Tudyk, Ron Funches, J.B. Smoove, Andy Daly, Tony Hale.
Creators: Justin Halpern, Dean Lorey, Patrick Schumaker.
Producers: Julian Coutts, Jennifer Coyle, Kaley Cuoco, Justin Halpern.
By Dillon Goss-Carpenter
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Dillon is a writer, and a lover of storytelling and creativity across all mediums. He studied Film and Digital Media at UC Santa Cruz, where he became a voracious consumer and ponderer of the creative arts. He has a background in screenwriting, as well as freelance film theory and pop culture journalism. Dillon connected to the inclusive, empowering mission statement of The Hollywood Insider, because of his shared belief in the power of storytelling, and its facility to engender empathy and understanding, as well as entertain. He believes in finding joy and purpose through making, watching, discussing, and dissecting the diverse collection of creative media that inspires him. He has particular interest in stories that come from largely unheard, historically excluded perspectives.