This Harley Quinn review contains spoilers.
Harley Quinn Episode 2
Harley Quinn got off to a flying and f*ck-filled start with the highly entertaining first episode that set up the core-conflict for DC Universe’s first adult animation series. Episode 2 “A High Bar” finds Harley (Kaley Cuoco) freed from the grasp of the Joker, rocking her Amanda Conner designed New 52 costume, and generally ready to party so she does just that. accidentally crashing a Bar Mitzvah in an attempt to prove that she won the very messy breakup with the Clown Prince of Crime.
Though this sophomore offering isn’t as strong as the debut outing of Harley Quinn it’s still a whole lot of fun and does a lot of legwork when it comes to setting up the pre-existing dynamics between the criminal underworld of Gotham. As she settles into life with Poison Ivy (Lake Bell) and her carnivorous plant Frank (J.B. Smoove) things seem to be coming up roses for the newly emancipated Quinn, but when the Joker (Alan Tudyk) gets wind of the fact that everyone knows it was his long-suffering partner who ended the relationship he decides to take matters into his own hands with a murderous stunt on Harley’s favorite Morning Show.
Tudyk’s Joker is a petty genius who is dedicated to destroying Harley Quinn and everything she holds dear, even if that’s Good Morning Gotham and its sweet but doomed host Howie Mandel. One of the immediate strengths of the pilot was the centering of just how toxic Harley and Joker’s relationship was and has always been. It’s refreshing and actually enjoyable to get to see these dynamics explored in a way that’s completely ridiculous–your evil ex is probably not about to kill your fave local TV host on live TV—whilst still feeling like it understands the power dynamics and manipulation tactics at play. Anyway, they don’t call him the Clown Prince for no reason and just as she seemed to be getting over him Harley just has to get her revenge.
In classic sitcom fashion–an unexpected source of inspiration for the show which has so far delivered some of the absolute best moments–she decides to get dressed up and crash a party to show him just how well she’s doing. Of course, Bell’s worn out and sarcastic Ivy is less than happy with the plan but with some egging on from Frank Harley she goes all out: sexy new costume, sunglasses, a pet tiger, she’s ready to shock. But it turns out that the Joker’s party isn’t some cool villainous shindig and is in fact, the Bar Mitzvah of the Penguin’s nephew. Now, if that doesn’t sound like a funny bit to you, this episode will likely disappoint as that is really the crux of narrative and gags here, it does work overall but the simplicity of the bit also makes it feel a little more like a mid-season filler than a stand out second episode.
That’s not to say that’s a particularly bad thing though as honestly the fact that the writers and DC Universe trust the show enough to just have a gag episode this early is kind of exciting. Especially when it features seriously silly deepcut characters like Kite Man who plays a key role in this episode as he tries to unsuccessfully seduce Ivy at the Bar Mitzvah. It’s also Kite Man who ends up causing the only real major conflict when he uses his love interest’s toxin to infatuate a group of little boys without knowing that shock horror: it also kills them. This leads to a pretty funny adventure as Ivy and Kite Man head back to her apt to get the antidote but the willfully ignorant villain thinks she’s taking him back to hook up. Sadly, the end of this episode made this reviewer think that might actually happen in the future which would be a huge waste.
Another highlight of the relatively simple episode is that it once again showcases the power of Harley Quinn’s ensemble cast. Not only are the voice actors brilliant but the creative team have apparently been handed the keys to the Batman-Kingdom, with Scarecrow, Two Face, Bane, and of course, Penguin taking center stage this time round. It’s fun to see the stars of the Dark Knight’s rogues gallery acting so goofy and if you’re a Bat-Fan you’ll love the fact that each of the characters are so obviously written by creators who know them.
As the Legion celebrate Penguin’s nephew becoming a man the show also seeds a potential future conflict as Harley tries to emancipate the rogues from the wiry grasp of the Joker who turns up only to stress out his ex and showcase his power over the other villains. But this is Harley it’s hardly an entirely philanthropic gesture as she’s far more concerned with having a bad guy gang of her own–and even potentially joining the Legion herself–than with actually helping the villains escape from their horrible and machiavellian leader.
Narratively we leave Harley, Ivy, and Frank in pretty much the same place as we found them which may give us a hint of the kind of series this will be. Historically early seasons of adult animation shows like Archer and Venture Bros. have focused more on singular gags and jokes than large overarching plotlines and though the pilot promised something deeper, after this episode Harley Quinn may be taking that route too. We’ll have to wait until more of the season hits to truly know but for now we’re still big fans of this raucously unexpected gem.