Harley Quinn Episode 1 Review (Spoiler Free)

Harley Quinn's first episode is nonstop fun that hints at the deeper, more complex character exploration fans have been longing for.

Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn in DC Universe's New, Animated Series Harley Quinn

How do we talk about the first episode of DC Universe‘s brilliant Harley Quinn without getting too far into spoiler territory? Well, it stars the titular Batman villain who has since transcended that label to become one of the most popular (anti) heroes in the world of DC.

This new animated take is voiced by Kaley Cuoco who does an absolutely splendid job as the wonderfully foul mouthed jester, and it’s a monumental moment as it’s the first time that Harley has led her own TV show. Now the big question, of course, is should you watch her debut series? The answer now that we’ve had the chance to watch the first episode of the new series is absof$&%inglutely.

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Harley Quinn is without question unlike any DC animated series or film you’ve seen before. The show is foul-mouthed, freaky, and f-ing hilarious; it feels like the first Harley property that truly gets the character and sees past her relationships with Batman and the Joker. Not that the clown prince of crime doesn’t play a vital part here, because, trust, us he does. In fact, just like the upcoming Birds of Prey movie, the pair’s breakup is actually the inciting incident of the series. With the anti-heroine unleashed, we quickly get to see the world through her eyes and, from the first 30-minute episode, it seems like it’s a wild place filled with deep-cut DC characters.

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The setup of the series is simple: Harleen Quinzel is here, (probably) queer, and ready to f*ck up the criminals and citizens of Gotham alongside her loving boo… the Joker. Well, that is until he gets her arrested after dismissing her dreams to be more than just a henchie. 

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Though Harley sees the pair as partners in crime, the Clown Prince of Crime is more than willing to leave her in his shadow and in Arkham Asylum, which she finds out before the credits even roll. It acts as the setup for an incredibly smart and funny takedown of the toxic relationship that’s often been dissected by fans and critics of Batman lore since Harley’s introduction in 1992. Writers Justin Halpern, Patrick Schumacker, and Dean Lorey do a great job of crafting an interesting introduction that subverts expectations whilst also being laugh out loud funny at every turn.

It’s interesting to see the kind of foul-mouthed, mature animation that’s usually centered around men turning its focus onto women, as Harley and her roommate Poison Ivy are without question the main characters of the series. It’s a pairing that works with Cucuo and Lake Bell doing a stellar job as the delusional love-struck jester and her long-suffering best friend who can’t believe that her roomie is still head over heels for the Joker.

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Speaking of Batman’s greatest nemesis, Alan Tudyk lends his voice to the villainous egomaniac who isn’t just a mass murderer but also a really shitty boyfriend. Without ruining too many of the other radical rogues gallery easter eggs, Jim Rash puts on an incredibly silly and enjoyable show as the Riddler, who plays a vital role in the fantabulous emancipation of one Harley Quinn. If you’re a big fan of some of the more obscure Bat-villains then you’ll be delighted, and keep an eye out here as we’ll be getting far deeper into Easter egg and spoiler territory with our future episode reviews.

Harley Quinn boasts an impressive voice cast, each member of which enjoys luxuriating in the total madness that the gorgeous technicolor animation offers. It’s hard to separate Quinn from the icons who’ve voiced her previously like Arleen Sorkin and Tara Strong, but Cuoco adds her own unique twist on the character, which is helped by the fact that she’s given free reign to be as filthy and imaginative with her language as she possibly can be.

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Getting to truly see Harley letting loose is a total joy and feels far more fitting than her often PG-13 representations. This is a full throttle, turn it up to 11, no-holds-barred version of the character and it honestly feels exciting—not only because it’s so crass, rude, and ridiculous, but also because it’s fun. This isn’t the R-rated grittiness of Joker or even the PG-13 seriousness of Nolan. Harley Quinn is nonstop laughs and the really out there stuff never feels exploitative or wasted, it’s an additive type of adultness which during the pilot seems to always work to the show’s advantage.

Not only is Harley Quinn Episode 1 really fun and impressively well written, but it also features a great third-act action sequence that reminds you that this is definitely a superhero show. If you like blood and guts with your capes and cowls then you’ll be very pleased with the wickedly directed action which at times gets almost stomach-turningly gory, which for this reviewer is a certified plus.

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DC has long been known for their beautiful in-house animated movies that have always made them stand apart from the competition. Harley Quinn elevates that reputation, adding an entirely new layer to the storied studio’s output and one that if it keeps moving forward at this quality will likely become a new high bar for others to try and hit.