The former Dr. Harleen Quinzel may not have received the right movie (one that brings in droves of comic book fans) with Birds Of Prey, but the Harley Quinn animated series is an entirely different creature. Notably, the DC Universe streaming service has shown that they’re willing to cut bait with shows that don’t work, like James Wan’s Swamp Thing, which received an immediate axe without ceremony. So, it says a lot that DC Universe is running hard and fast with more Harley, four months after her first season celebrated her free-wheeling, feminist romp on the way to finally ditch the ultimate bad (and abusive) boyfriend, the Joker. He’s gone, after attempting during last season’s finale to erase Harley by tossing her back into the transformative Ace Chemicals vat and ending up there himself. And the show’s now even better for his omission.
When Mr. J laughed his last laugh, though, he also found a way to leave Gotham City (and the Legion of Doom) in shambles, which gives this sophomore season a marvelous jumping-off point. Basically, we’re looking at the apocalyptic version of Gotham right now. The U.S. has disavowed the city, and the police force can’t cope with the increasing pandemonium. Harley’s just fine with all of this — actually, she’s thrilled — and the season launches with more inappropriate humor, along with rampant profanity and violence, but it all feels more amplified. The F-bombs are strategically placed, with none going to waste, and the rip-roaring ride feels even faster than last time.
Granted, DC Universe has not released almost the whole second season to critics, like they did last year, so I can’t assure you that the whole season is consistent, but it’s off to a bang-up start. Harley has achieved her own sense of self, and she’s pumped. She’s no longer weighed down by a clown, but the enormous Gotham power void that he’s left must be filled by someone, and as the season premiere reveals, is now filled by about 1000 a-holes. It’s up to Harley and her gang (all guys, and that’s kind-of marvelous with her as the leader) to narrow down that field of a*holes. Can she rise to that challenge? Fortunately, this version of Harley (voiced by Kaley Cuoco) has her head in the game (unlike Margot Robbie’s hollow character, who’s in the DCEU wind), and the series keeps pretending that Suicide Squad doesn’t exist.
Where does this Harley go after her emancipation has been established?
A new principal challenge awaits, but also, this Harley is a tough-as-nails lady with heart. I mean, she actually saves a sushi chef from becoming a meal for King Shark. This shouldn’t come as a surprise for existing viewers of this series, which sees her as less of a supervillain than an antihero. However, there’s still a hell of a lot of guys behaving badly in Gotham, and even though she’s the one who took out the Joker, Harley’s now also a target of a new male power structure that wafts into view. She’s keen to charge in like a bull in a china shop at them, for better or worse, but there are lessons to be learned for impulsive choices. Harley initially encourages every Gotham henchman (and she counts herself among that crowd) to rise up for themselves — she doesn’t want this anarchy to die — but reality (at least, a comic book version) rears its head.
The terrible state that Gotham finds itself in is no joke with no Batman around to do the vigilante thing. The rising power players (including Penguin, Mr. Freeze, Riddler, Two-Face, and a ridiculously muffled Bane) call themselves the Injustice League and claim “New Gotham,” as it’s now called, whether Harley endorses them or not. Yes, evil will always attempt to take root, and it’s up to Harley to make sure that the updated Gotham doesn’t end up being more dangerous — and sh*tty for women — than the old one.
Not that this means the series has grown serious. Not even close, for this TV show has already proven itself capable of balancing deep, soul-searching moments on Harley’s behalf with uproariously wicked humor. The challenges for the title character have simply shifted, and become less intermittently heavy because Harley’s no longer acting codependent within an abusive relationship. She does, however, still need tough love from Poison Ivy (Lake Bell), who seems to be the only one who can talk sense into her friend. It’s not a spoiler to say this, really, since the trailer already revealed as much: Harley and Ivy’s friendship starts to edge toward the type of relationship that the fans have really wanted to see. On an unrelated note, the season also promises to feature an ice vagina, folks. We are pushing into bold new frontiers, alright.
Underneath it all, though, the sophomore Harley Quinn season is still the same show, only more chaotic as new obstacles unfurl. It’s as unapologetically profane and absurdly violent as always, and breezy, 23-minute episodes are still the name of the game with the pink-and-blue ball gleefully bouncing down the street into the absolute pandemonium of where Gotham once stood. This is also a show that also values connection, and friendship, and furthering one’s own development without being obnoxiously preachy about it. New Gotham can’t survive without a leader, and thankfully, Harley’s gathering of henchmen — including Doctor Psycho (Tony Hale), Clayface (Tudyk), and King Shark (Ron Funches) — think she’s the gal for the job. So hang on tight while Harley fights for her right to anarchy and, along the way, enjoys the parrrty.
DC Universe’s ‘Harley Quinn’ returns (on the DC Universe streaming service) on April 3.