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.

My First Impression of HBO’s Lovecraft Country

I’ve been hearing buzz about Lovecraft Country for quite a while now, so when it finally debuted on HBO last Sunday night, I couldn’t wait to give the first episode a watch.

The first ten minutes set the tone for this show perfectly. I’m going to try to avoid spoilers, but this show is such a wonderful mix of genre, it truly captivated me.

Set in the early 1950s, Atticus Freeman has returned home to Chicago from the military in order to try to find his father, who has gone missing. He is joined by his Uncle George and a childhood friend, Leti. They embark on a road trip attempting to retrace his father’s steps.

It’s not long until they encounter real horror as white supremacists literally hunt them down with the intent to kill. However, there are more monsters lurking about, and they don’t care about the color of skin when it comes to killing.

The first episode of Lovecraft Country perfectly captures the terror of being black and traveling through racist communities that gleefully resort to murder. It is realistic, powerful, and a vivid reminder of this nation’s ugly past. Yet, the show is unafraid to shift gears in a heartbeat from societal horror to the kind of horror you would expect to find in a book by H.P. Lovecraft. It is such a brave blending of genre, perhaps even jarring to some. I love genre twisting, though, so this kind of show is very much to my liking.

Though it’s only the first episode, a ton of story unfolds and, best of all, we get to know who appear to be the three main characters. Jonathan Majors and Jurnee Smollett are stars in every sense of the word. They play Atticus and Leti. Courtney B. Vance plays Uncle George. Vance has been good for a very long time and he continues to shine in Lovecraft Country.

I literally have no idea where this show is going. Between the first ten minutes and the last ten minutes, it could absolutely go anywhere. I love that it is very rooted in the reality of the time period while also being completely unchained from convention.

If you’re searching for a show that’s just getting started, I highly recommend Lovecraft Country.

HBO Max’s Doom Patrol: Season 2 – A Few Thoughts

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Doom Patrol is a show based on the DC Comics title. During it’s first season, it aired on DC Universe, a streaming service. However, because HBO and DC both fall under the Warner Brothers umbrella, this second season of Doom Patrol appeared on HBO Max. (Conventional wisdom says DC Universe is going to be folded up and inserted into HBO Max. We’ll see.)

Doom Patrol has been around since 1963. The title has always been comprised of strange misfits that don’t quite work anywhere else in the DC Universe. You won’t find most of these characters in the Justice League, the Teen Titans, or even The Outsiders. They are sometimes a super hero team, sometimes a dysfunctional family, and sometimes just a bunch of people occupying the same space at the same time.

The first season of Doom Patrol proved a success in that it looked great, hit some very offbeat notes, and struck the audience as genuinely unique compared to most “comic book” screen properties. Furthermore, it featured some impressive names such as Brendon Fraser, Diane Guerrero, Matt Bomer, Alan Tudyk, and Timothy Dalton. Like most first seasons, though, it spent a great deal of time simply establishing character and chemistry. Unfortunately, I found myself distracted at some point during most of the episodes as they seemed about twenty minutes too long.

While the second season had some great moments, I’m afraid I can’t say it much improved on the first. The episodes are still too long for the stories, and the characters are still being developed to the point that they don’t seem to interact with each other all that much. The show is called Doom Patrol, after all, yet there are very few moments when they all appear on screen together.

Individually, the characters are all dynamic, visually interesting, and well-acted. But each episode seems to focus on their individuality rather than the “group” aspect of the show. They are a lot of fun when they are all together–I’m not sure why they don’t have them all together more often. They tend to break off into teams of two or three.

There are a few breakout stars of this show. Personally, I find April Bowlby to be the heart and soul of Doom Patrol. She plays an actress from a bygone era who does not age, yet also cannot guarantee that she won’t turn into a pile of goo. Bowlby has great timing, humor, and her voice work never fails to entertain.

I also like Joivan Wade, who plays Cyborg. Why is Cyborg a member of Doom Patrol? I have no idea. After all, he’s been a member of the Justice League both on screen and in the comic book for years. Furthermore, he’s never been a member of Doom Patrol in the comics; he actually started off in The New Teen Titans. Though it seems a strange decision, I like Wade and I think they present Cyborg well. It’s fun to see him with practical effects instead of CGI.

Speaking of which, the sets and costumes in Doom Patrol are always top-notch. The only time they get themselves in trouble is with some of the grandiose special effects. Some of the effects look good, but when the effects get too big and too complicated, they are noticeably flawed. Season 2’s main antagonist never quite looked right to me. The CGI big-bad DC dilemma strikes again, right? (I’m talking to you, Doomsday, Steppenwolf, Incubus, and Ares.)

I also understand that Fraser’s character, Robotman, is very rough around the edges, but they have him screaming–yes, screaming–the “F” word every ten seconds. I’m no prude, but they are way over the top with the use of that particular piece of profanity.

Honestly, the second season of Doom Patrol failed to capture my full attention with every episode as well due to an inevitable slog at some point. When compared to shows such as The Umbrella Academy or The Boys, which are similar in tone but far better paced, this is disappointing.

And while I won’t spoil the Season 2 finale, I found it so abrupt, so off-kilter, that I had to double check that it actually was the finale. As finale’s go, it doesn’t get much more dissatisfying.

HBO’s Perry Mason – A Few Thoughts

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I’m not going to pretend to be a fan of the 50s and 60s Perry Mason. In fact, I’m not sure I ever watched a single episode (in reruns, of course). However, something about the HBO revival of the show caught my interest–probably Robert Downey Jr.’s involvement as an executive producer.

I took in the premiere episode a few days after its debut and have kept up with it every week since. The third episode aired last night, and I believe I’m ready to share my opinion of the show.

Simply put: I like it.

I wouldn’t say I love it, but I do look forward to watching it each week. Truthfully, it’s not the story that’s captivated me. Rather, it’s the performances, the costumes, the set pieces, and the cinematography that keeps me coming back.

Set in the early 1930s, this Perry Mason is a private investigator suffering PTSD from WWI, struggling to hold on to his family’s farm, and basically down on his luck in every way possible. He’s rough around the edges, cynical, and not afraid to get his hands dirty. Yet, somewhere behind the weary exterior is a good man, a man who could have shined under different circumstances.

There are some excellent performances in Perry Mason. Matthew Rhys has truly brought Perry Mason to life. The slight expressions, the body language, the voice inflection–it’s all working to create a dynamic character that is, though incredibly flawed, deeply appealing. Tatiana Maslany is always fantastic. I haven’t seen her since Orphan Black, but she’s as potent as ever. Of course, there are other superb actors in the show as well such as Juliet Rylance, John Lithgow, Robert Patrick, Chris Chalk, Gayle Rankin, and Stephen Root.

The “look” of the show is gorgeous. Some of it is CGI, but much of it is actual reproduction of architecture, clothing, and vehicles from the 1930s. The costumes are beautiful, by the way. The suits, the hats, the leather jackets–outstanding. It’s just an interesting show to watch.

Be warned, however, there are some disturbing images from time to time. A podcast warned me to be ready regarding a dead baby during the first few moments. There’s also an intense scene taking place on the battlefield of WWI, gun violence, and regular visits to the police morgue.

Again, I can’t say that Perry Mason has connected with me at a visceral level, but I appreciate it for what it is: a very good show with beautiful costumes, exquisite set pieces, and superb acting.

HBO’s The Outsider – A Few Thoughts

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I have heard a lot of rave reviews about The Outsider, so once I caved in and subscribed to HBO Max, I made sure that it was among the first shows that I watched.

Honestly, I don’t want to tell you too much about the plot because it would be a shame to spoil even the slightest aspect of the series. It’s based on a Stephen King book, so that probably informs you quite a bit.

My wife and I watched this show together, and even though it is gruesome, unsettling, and even sometimes scary, we loved it for several reasons.

First of all, the pacing is superb. When each episode is nearly an hour long, ten episode seasons can get lost around the midway point and become a chore to watch. The Outsider did not. Every single episode added to the overall story, moved at a quick clip, and just kept building the suspense moment after moment after moment. It was incredible.

This leads to something else that I appreciated about the series–the writing. There are no wasted scenes in this show. Everything is important. They kept the big picture in mind at all times, which is very, very rare. The dialogue is crisp, the plot is tight–it just doesn’t get much better than The Outsider in terms of execution.

Furthermore, the locations are astounding. For the most part, nothing about the show’s environments are particularly special, which is what makes them incredible. The scenery in this show is real. The Outsider very much takes place in the world most of us see on a daily basis, and that does a great deal in grounding the show and, as a result, making it all the more creepy.

Finally, the acting is simply superb. You’ll recognize some of the talent in The Outsider, but some of the faces will likely be new to you. It doesn’t matter. Everyone is top-notch. From the main players to the small roles, everyone is stellar, which, again, makes The Outsider feel so rooted in reality. Every character in the show feels like a real person.

Be warned, The Outsider is violent, disturbing, and frightening, but it’s also extremely well made and wildly entertaining. I highly recommend it.