Batman: The Animated Series was groundbreaking in a lot of ways. It started the DC Animated Universe, like Arrow began the “Arrowverse” on the CW. It was a serious cartoon that told some great stories. We got the phenomenal casting of Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamil as the Joker, and those are the definitive voices of the characters for many. The show also introduced several new characters who made their way to the larger comic book universe eventually, and then later, even movies. Probably the best known of these is the former psychiatrist turned loony villain/anti-hero (depending on who’s writing her), Harley Quinn. The DC Universe streaming service went ahead with an animated series for the character, with a 13 episode first season and a roughly half hour running time per episode.
This is most definitely NOT a kid-friendly cartoon, and I admit to some mixed reactions to it. It seems like at least a third of the dialogue is words that would be censored on regular television, and the fight scenes are not only hyper-violent, but feature copious amounts of blood, breaking bones, and various deaths. I get villains swearing, although I question the need for this much of it, and Harley has always been a violent character. I’m just not a fan of this style of visuals, although the regular animation is pretty good. I also don’t like how some of the characters are portrayed, but the actual story of the first episode was a good one. As I said, mixed reactions. There will be a few spoilers below.
Til Death Do Us Part is the first episode, and it sets up a decent idea of where the season will probably be going. Then again, predicting Harley’s actions is never easy. It starts off with some ridiculously exaggerated rich white men holding a meeting on a fancy yacht to celebrate the fact that they’re… rich white men. Joker and Harley attack, and almost from the first, they’re a bickering couple. Joker, as always, is completely self-involved. Harley gets taken advantage of and taken for granted, especially after the inevitable arrival of Batman and the expected fight. Joker manages to escape, and Harley unshakably believes that she’ll be rescued before she even spends a single night in Arkham Asylum, home of Gotham’s crazier villains, and Harley’s former workplace.
For reasons unclear, Batman brings the cuffed Harley to the roof of the GCPD, where an unhinged version of Commission Gordon demands answers about where Joker is. This is one of the things I didn’t care for; this take on Gordon is halfway between needing to be in Arkham himself, and the weird ranting loser archtype on so many sitcoms. Aside from making Gordon a joke, the scene demonstrates Harley’s loyalty (if that’s the right word) to the Joker.
Naturally, her insistence is comedic setup, and we check in at various points with her after six months, then three, then another three. Those check-in points introduce Poison Ivy, Harley’s frequent comrade in crime (when they’re not written as lovers). Ivy keeps trying to get Harley to realize the Joker isn’t coming for her, and there are some amusing bits here, including pretty much the entire Arkham population telling her, in chorus, that her Clown Prince won’t come.
Breakouts in Arkham are nothing new, and so, of course, one comes along. This one was started with a Riddler/Poison Ivy scheme, and, on the way out, Ivy isn’t taking no for an answer. After Harley wakes up, there’s some comedic bits with Ivy’s plants, and a lot of Ivy trying to talk her around to seeing things for what they are. It gets even more entertaining when Harley is sort of talking to herself. Elsewhere, ego raises its ugly head as the Joker hears about another villain getting his press and reacts about like you’d expect him to. Against Ivy’s better judgement, she accompanies her friend to see Joker, who launches a new set of mind games on Harley. Disgusted and annoyed, Ivy leaves.
Later, there’s another bizarre scene with Gordon and Batman, which introduces a new threat from the Riddler. Elsewhere, Joker is ranting and committing random acts of mayhem against innocent baked goods as he fumes about Riddler, and Harley makes an offer about date night. Embarking on her own mission, Harley tracks down Riddler with ease, and then gets a string of unpleasant surprises, as well as more talking to herself. What emerges here is a very clever plot twist that I really enjoyed. Harley comes to some realizations as Riddler and Poison Ivy argue about Costco memberships.
The final scene is a showdown between Harley and Joker, and it’s the most violent they’ve gotten yet. Harley ditches her classic, Animated Series look for the more revealing outfit she’s been wearing since the DC Reboot. She makes a few promises to herself and others before arguing with Ivy about texting and Thai food to end the episode.
What I liked: The central plot was well done, and the big twist was clever. Kaley Cuoco as Harley, Lake Bell as Ivy, the great Alan Tudyk as Joker and Calendar Man, and Diedrich Bader returning as Batman were all good casting. I’m not familiar with Jim Rash, but he did a good Riddler. As a set up episode, this worked well.
What I didn’t: The level of the violence and the language were a bit much. It called to mind the classic line from Jurassic Park about can we vs. should we. I really didn’t care for this take on Gordon (sorry Christopher Meloni, but it was the writing, not you).
As I said at the top, I had mixed reactions here. I’ll give this a 3 out of 5, and am curious enough to see where they go.