DC has been displaying an impeccable amount of range with their films and shows, gearing their characters for specific audiences. In theaters, we got the family-friendly DC League of Super-Pets for kids (though notably no Batgirl, RIP). Within that same week, the grown-ups received the long-awaited Season 3 of Harley Quinn. After shifting from the now defunct-DC Universe streaming service to HBO Max, the adult animated series following the titular anti-hero of Gotham City is back with a bang.
Let me clarify: back with an “eat bang kill” tour.
Picking up right after the events of Season 2, Harley Quinn (Kaley Cuoco) and Poison Ivy’s (Lake Bell) romance is in full swing! As the bumbling Commissioner Gordon (Christopher Meloni) is determined to bring them to justice, the newly dating supervillain going by Harlivy embark on their romantic and chaotic “eat bang kill” tour across the globe. From invading Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, hijacking Wonder Woman’s invisible jet, and fooling around from coast to coast, the season wastes no time giving the gays what they want.
After their blissful gay fun comes to an end and the two return home, a myriad of problems that can only occur in good ol’ Gotham City evokes the chaos that’s worse than their villainy. The city is in a mayoral political season as Jim Gordon and Joker (Alan Tudyk) begin campaigning for the top seat in the city. The newly established Bat family—Nightwing (Harvey Guillén), Batgirl/Barbra Gordon (Briana Cuoco), and Robin (Jacob Tremblay)—are on the rocks as Batman/Bruce Wayne (Diedrich Bader) is in his bag after experiencing heartbreak with the emotionally distant Catwoman (Sanaa Lathan), and all just in time for a James Gunn (as himself) directed biopic about his dead daddy, Thomas Wayne. Meanwhile, Ivy, with the support of Harley and her crew Clayface (also Tudyk), King Shark (Ron Funches), and Frank the Plant (JB Smoove), begins working on a plan to reclaim Gotham and terraform the city into a green paradise.
Adult superhero series, whether live-action or animation, tend to bulk up their body count and shock value factor with their raunchiness as the seasons progress. While Harley Quinn retains its irreverent sensibilities full of the bloody violence and vulgarity viewers know and love, it’s dialed back to make way for character-driven stories for the familiar faces of Gotham. There’s still jaw-dropping mayhem present, but the balance between the mature humor and the mature study of the characters has strengthened.
Co-showrunner Justin Halpern said in a Reddit AMA that he’d do better with LGBTQ representation this season after fans were disappointed with how trope-filled Harlivy came to fruition via love triangle, and he sure put money where his mouth was. From the get-go, the season shows that it’s not all cupcakes and rainbows between Harley and Ivy, because relationships are hard as hell, and that’s no different with LGBTQ ones either. Alongside veteran co-showrunner Patrick Schumacker and newcomers Chrissy Pietrosh and Jessica Goldstein, the writers swing as hard as Harley does with her bat to explore the nuances of a queer relationship maturely and thoughtfully. This is the woman’s first real relationship after dealing with Joker, and not every scar from her past relationship is healed. Instead of going the cliched route of leaving Harlivy’s status in a constant state of limbo, the writers subvert tropes by having the partners learn how to vocalize their needs healthily so they can strengthen their love further while retaining their individuality.
Apart from the main pairing, the season furthers the character growth of just about the entirety of the familiar Batman-based part of the DC universe, and crazily enough, most of the insane story routes, points, and beats set up for laughs are effectively earned. While the prior seasons put Harley’s trauma to the forefront, this one now delves into the psyche of everyone’s favorite brooding billionaire, Bruce Wayne/Batman. Granted, Bruce’s backstory is familiar to the point of boring, which the show itself points out. However, the writers take an inventive, if not hysterical, approach to make the Dark Knight a contrast to the titular lead. Batman fatigue might make some of his story elements not as enticing, but a clear effort to focus on his trauma gives his arc more heft than anticipated, especially considering how well it’s discussed through other characters.
The voice ensemble is still as lively and hilarious as before; Kaley Cuoco and Lake Bell helm the humor with their exceptional line delivery. Some standouts include Lathan doing her best Eartha Kitt impression as Catwoman and Tudyk as Joker, never ceasing to delight with his one-liners. New additions such as Sam Richardson, James Gunn, Harvey Guillén, and Griffin Newman, to name a few, assist in expanding the Gotham roster to further the worldbuilding.
Going three for three, the latest season of Harley Quinn goes beyond its Batman-based setting to boldly break the binary of the DC confines. Earning all of its absurdity through great writing and well-paced storytelling, this animated Gotham has become more lovingly fleshed out than any depiction to date. The balance between character-driven arcs, overall humor, and, most importantly, a mature portrait of gay romance makes this one of the best adult-animated series airing today.
Rendy Jones is a film and television journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. They are the owner of self-published outlet Rendy Reviews, a member of the Critics Choice Association, and a film graduate of Brooklyn College. They have been featured in Vulture, The Daily Beast, AV Club and CBC News.