TV

Maybe You Should Just Chill Out And Binge The Animated ‘Harley Quinn’ Series On HBO Max

Things are weird right now, everywhere, in a lot of different ways. We’ve all been stuck inside for months, some of us alone, some of us with our families, neither option ideal. People are shouting at each other about masks, online and in person. Our political discourse is the equivalent of two circus animals heaving rotten produce at each other. You have every right to be fried extra crispy right now, to be stressed, to need something to slow your brain down a little and give you a few fleeting moments of peace. We all do. You can find lots of suggestions for how to do this (deep breathing, taking a walk, etc.), but here’s another one if you need it: Maybe you should just chill out for a while and binge the Harley Quinn animated series.

Are you familiar with the Harley Quinn animated series? I’ll forgive you for now if you aren’t. It premiered last November on DC Universe, a more niche streaming service tailored to fans of the DC Comics. The second season came out in April. Critics love it, as you can see by taking a quick scan through the reviews at the time of its premiere, but if you’re not the type of person who wants to plop down $8 a month for content from one specific comics brand, it might have slipped under your radar. That’s a shame because the Harley Quinn animated series is very good. And this is a very fixable problem, especially now, today, because both seasons of the show came to HBO Max at the beginning of this month. You might have access to it and not even realize it. What an exciting development for you.

You should check it out if you can, too, because it is really very fun and good. The show is smart and funny and powerfully strange at times. It’s dark and violent and silly. It’s the kind of show where someone’s Nana might get killed with a shotgun in one scene and a hulked-up supervillain like Bane might be holding a coffee mug that says “CAFFEINE IS MY RECKONING” a few minutes later. This, to be clear, is exactly the kind of show I need in my life sometimes.

It’s also an interesting take on the character of Harley, one we’ve all become very familiar with recently thanks to Margot Robbie’s live-action portrayal in Suicide Squad and Birds of Prey. This version, voiced by Kaley Cuoco, has broken up with The Joker — portrayed here as equal parts toxic boyfriend and supervillain — and is setting out to form her own crew, with the help of Poison Ivy, who never actually joins the crew but serves as a kind of emotional and physical support system as Harley’s best friend. There are moments between the two that are legitimately touching. The show has layers.

It also has an incredible voice cast. Cuoco is properly unhinged as Harley. Lake Bell gives Poison Ivy a touch of exasperated Voice of Reason. Tony Hale plays a cackling Dr. Psycho. Ron Funches plays a sweet but menacing King Shark. Alan Tudyk plays like half a dozen characters, including Joker and Clayface, the latter a member of Harley’s crew who can shapeshift into anything and is very pleased to give it more theatrical flair than necessary. Jason Alexander is in there, too, as are Andy Daly and Wanda Sykes and Giancarlo Esposito and about two dozen other recognizable voices. J.B. Smoove plays a murderous houseplant names Frank. It’s upsetting how long it took us, as a society, to make that happen.

My favorite character on the show, though, is Bane, voiced by James Adomian as a well-meaning doofus who sometimes wants to blow up service workers who get his name wrong on a takeout order. Here, look at my sweet evil boy.

Everything on the show is like this, tilted maybe 30 degrees off of what you know and expect from characters you’ve seen in other DC projects. The Legion of Doom — the villainous collective that features Joker, Bane, Lex Luthor, and more, and which Harley is at times desperate to join on her own — is shown as a bureaucratic mess, middle-managed out the wazoo, with forms that need filling out and mandatory meetings and break rooms with microwaves and refrigerators. Jim Gordon is an unshaven wreck who likes playing with the Bat signal. Batman shows up every once in a while and it barely ever matters, which is actually refreshing in a way. Creators Justin Halpern and Patrick Schumacker have refocused the whole world through Harley’s eyes, making you root for a series of mini-triumphs for a sociopath who loves her friends and doing crimes pretty much equally.

The show works so well as a binge, too. The episodes are like 25 minutes each and flow so well from one to the other that you can easily lose four hours in its world. You don’t even need to be super-familiar with the comics to get into the action. I had zero clue who King Shark was until I Googled him halfway through the first season and I still love him anyway. If you’ve seen the Dark Knight trilogy and are generally familiar with Harley Quinn, you’ll be fine and get the vast majority of the jokes.

And again, it’s very good. It’s one of my favorite shows of the last year or so, one I only refrained from shouting about because it wasn’t accessible to a lot of the people I wanted to shout about it to. But again, it’s on HBO Max now. And you probably need the mental vacation a show like this can provide. And I really think you’ll like it.

So, once again: Maybe you should just chill out for a while and binge Harley Quinn. I promise it can’t hurt.

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