HBO Max’s Harley Quinn: Seasons 1 & 2 – A Few Thoughts

I subscribed to HBO Max because I am DC Comics for life and I could not resist the Zack Snyder Justice League Director’s Cut. 

Okay. There, I said it.

However, there have been some very welcome surprises since subscribing to HBO Max, and Harley Quinn is very much among them.

Let me explain. DC Comics launched a streaming service about two years ago featuring original show content such as Swamp Thing, Doom Patrol, Titans, and Harley Quinn. I heard rumors that, with the advent of HBO Max, the DC streaming service might get absorbed, at least in terms of shows. To my great advantage, that is happening even as we speak. 

Harley Quinn never struck me as a must-watch, but I’d heard good things about it, and so when it popped up on the HBO Max “just added” page, I gave it a shot.

I instantly loved it.

At just about 23 minutes apiece, this animated comedy regularly made me laugh out loud as I powered through the first two seasons. The show is cartoonishly bloody and relentlessly profane, but it is absolutely hilarious.

It features Harley Quinn played by Kaley Cuoco, Poison Ivy played by Lake Bell, Batman played by Diedrich Bader, Clayface played by Alan Tudyk, King Shark played by Ron Funches, Dr. Psycho played by Tony Hale, and Commissioner Gordon played by Christopher Meloni.

You’ve also got substantial voice appearances by J.B. Smoove, Jim Rash, Jason Alexander, Giancarlo Esposito, Michael Ironside, Wanda Sykes, Rachel Dratch, Wayne Knight, Will Sasso, and Alfred Molina. These are NAMES, people!

However, I’m not sure how funny this show is to anyone not deeply steeped in nerd culture. There are a ton of inside comic book jokes, parodies, and satires squarely aimed at the last eighty or so years of DC Comics.

Furthermore, they make everyone hilarious. Clayface makes me roar every time he talks, Bane is comedy gold, and King Shark is adorable. Kite Man has become the most sympathetic character going, and Poison Ivy is cooler than anyone ever imagined possible, and also bitingly funny. Don’t even get me started on Commissioner Gordon. 

Harley Quinn is such a fresh take on these characters and so unusual that you have to watch it for the novelty alone. For anyone who says DC is too dark, I dare you to feel the same way after watching Harley Quinn. (Just don’t pay attention to the blood, the maiming, and the general anarchy.)

Best of all? HBO Max just announced that Harley Quinn: Season 3 is coming exclusively to HBO Max.

If you have HBO Max, I highly recommend that you give Harley Quinn a try.

Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn – A Movie Review

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I really, really wanted to like this movie. The trailers looked vibrant, action-packed, and fun. I didn’t see how this film could miss. Unfortunately, I can only describe it as “fine.” It wasn’t bad–not at all. However, it also wasn’t especially good.

As I think on it, I believe the biggest misstep occurred by having Harley Quinn share the screen with others. We already know Harley Quinn from Suicide Squad, so the film might have been wise to simply pick up her story and go from there. Instead, they included Dinah Lance (Black Canary), Renee Montoya, Cassandara Cain, and Helena Bertinelli (Huntress), which resulted in a great deal of additional exposition. The movie had to introduce and explain these new characters as it also tried to intertwine them with Harley Quinn’s plot. This resulted in several start and stops, many flashbacks, and more than a few backtracks.

The fact is, Margot Robbie and Harley Quinn can carry a movie by themselves. The more I see Robbie in other movies, the more I appreciate her as Quinn. She really lays it all on the line with this character. There are so many interesting places to take Quinn. After all, she’s a former psychologist, an actual doctor. While treating the Joker, she descended into madness herself. Or, perhaps she finally accepted her own madness. That alone is a compelling thing to explore. Sadly, they only touched upon these aspects and instead chose to focus on her more manic tendencies, which, admittedly, lend themselves to frenetic scenes and a visually exciting experience.

Much of the movie revolved around her break-up with the Joker. For a film that touts Harley Quinn’s emancipation from the Clown Prince of Crime, it spent a lot of time focusing upon that issue. That being said, I found it odd that they neglected to actually include the Joker. They showed drawings of him, or the back of his head or shoulder in a few scenes, but never his face. If they simply said they broke up and left it at that, I wouldn’t have found the awkward flashbacks with him so … awkward. It’s as though they refused to let Jared Leto reprise his role as the villain while Joaquin Phoenix is attempting to win an Oscar for playing the same character.

It was fun to see Rosie Perez (Renee Montoya) on screen again, and Jurnee Smollett-Bell (Black Canary) stuck me as a true movie star, but they simply weren’t necessary to the story. Mary Elizabeth Winstead was completely mishandled. Her “Huntress” barely even appeared in the film. (If you want to see her at full strength, check out 2017’s Fargo FX series, which also stared Ewan McGregor, believe it or not.)

Speaking of whom, I’ve never seen McGregor so villainous. His take on “Black Mask” kept us off balance because he was at times childish, at times charming, at times brutish, and even feminine in some moments. So while the character remained consistent, we never knew what actions to expect from him.

By the way, the action is mesmerizing. Women fighting men twice their size have to be creative, and there is a great deal of creative fight choreography in Birds of Prey. There’s one particular scene in which Harley Quinn wields a bat, and it is beautiful. I’ve heard others say this is DC’s best action movie, and I think that’s accurate. There’s ample eye-popping action to behold.

I want to recommend a movie featuring not just primarily female actors, but female DC characters as well. I think it’s a meaningful development not just for the genre, but for the movie industry. Unfortunately, Birds of Prey simply failed to capture much of my interest due to its attempt at explaining all of the new characters it included. It’s a fun action movie with entertaining humor and hypnotic visuals, but it could have been far more with Margot Robbie at the helm.