It’s sometimes a tempting tactic for reviewers to simply repeat some of the best jokes in a movie or show as a shorthand for talking about how good it is. Fortunately, in the case of Harley Quinn season 3, nobody’s going to do that, because most of the jokes are unprintable. No one involved in the show has felt the need to soften it — the plot is very clear that Harley and Poison Ivy have basically been having nonstop sex (and occasional violence, against others) since hooking up at the end of season 2. And it’s not all implication, either. HBO Max in this case may stop short of showing actual cartoon nudity, but it shows…intimate things.
Considering Time Warner won’t even let DC action figures come with guns, the anything-goes nature of this series –which has zero compunctions about WMD, or any other weapons, in its antiheroines’ hands — can feel freeing. It can also go so far as to feel like posturing, a bit. But just when a viewer might think the swears and sexiness verge on gratuitous, the show stealthily tugs at the feelings. The R-rated trappings may get teens in the door, but once so lured, Harley Quinn has some decent points to make about relationship dynamics.
In an ongoing series, as in life, couples can’t just live happily ever after generically. All couples have issues, and Harley and Ivy’s come into play when they get a moment to think about it. Which isn’t often, since Harley’s hyper-active with a short-attention span, and longs to knock eyeballs out of people’s heads. That Ivy loathes modernity and its polluting consequences, and wants a more slow-burn genocide type of violence, becomes oddly relatable. Not for the killing part, obviously, but for the personality conflict between two partners with similar goals but very different and conflicting approaches.
Other plot strands that continue include Commissioner Gordon’s sad, desperate run for mayor with Two-Face as his campaign manager (“You know what my name is, right?”). And Nightwing (Harvey Giullen) returns to Gotham in season 2, as a near-parody of Robert Pattinson’s Batman. There’s a mild rip-off of a Leonard Nimoy joke from The Simpsons monorail episode that lands almost as well. Bat-fans who’ve missed more comedic takes on the sometimes overly Dark Knight should delight in the show’s take on the Bat-family. Those who grew up with Diedrich Bader as a more kid-friendly version on The Brave and the Bold should particularly appreciate his continuing self-parody here.
Let’s just say that in this universe, Hollywood constantly reboots Thomas Wayne biopics. Which obviously springboards into meta-jokes, but also allows Clayface, in full pretentious actor mode, to pursue a related storyline. Throw in James Gunn as himself directing one of the reboots, Amanda Waller running afoul of Harley for relatively minor reasons, and a whole host of Suicide Squad movie jokes ensue as well.
The meta-commentary of the show has always been funny, but it wouldn’t work without fully developed characters of its own. The surprisingly poignant Kite-Man, off to his own spinoff show, feels sorely missed. But the Tom Hardy-ish Bane keeps going, and his own tragic arc gets steadily more ridiculous. Accused of identity fraud, Bane wonders if, on a deeper level, he actually stole his own identity. In that voice James Adomian does, it plays as wonderfully stupid. It’s also kind of a deep question, however. And that balance is what keeps Harley Quinn a show worth watching.
Some of the characters play so broadly they could have gotten stale. Instead, the show does the simplest thing: it lets them develop naturally. Even if this is a world where mutant plants become kaiju with some mosquito-imbibed DNA.
Grade so far: 4/5
Harley Quinn season 3 debuts on HBO Max July 28.
What, or whom, do you want to see on Harley Quinn? Let us know in comments.
Recommended Reading: Harley Quinn The Rebirth: Deluxe Collection Vol. 1
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