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DC Universe’s R-rated ‘Harley Quinn’ Series Takes Aim at Comic-book Misogyny and Is a Total Blast, Too

DC Universe has informed critics that they’re free to spoil Harley Quinn, but in any discussion of the streaming service’s latest, plot points aren’t nearly as important as the issue of tone. Premiering November 29, this animated series is awash in gruesome violence and self-referential, pop culture-shouting-out humor, all of it employed in service of a playful critique of toxic masculinity and a bloody celebration of female independence and friendship.

Plus, there’s a motherf’ing avalanche of irreverent R-rated profanity.

Created by Justin Halpern, Patrick Schumacker and Dean Lorey, Harley Quinn is not your father’s Batman: The Animated Series—or, for that matter, your own Suicide Squad, the 2016 film that launched Quinn to mainstream prominence courtesy of Margot Robbie’s tarted-up performance. Robbie will return, in far more grrl power-energized form, in next year’s sequel Birds of Prey, but she’ll be hard-pressed to outdo the cartoon version of the character presented in this thirteen-episode small-screen effort, which uses Quinn’s twisted personal and relationship hang-ups as the springboard for a rollicking adult-oriented saga about sinister sisters doing it for themselves—and, also, for the devoted comrades by their side.

It’s the Joker (Alan Tudyk) who’s Harley’s right-hand man at the outset of Harley Quinn, although he sees things differently, viewing Harley (Kaley Cuoco) as little more than his sidekick, and thus useful only insofar as she suits his nefarious needs. Even the wealthy cretins whom Harley besieges during the premiere’s opening scene consider her merely the Joker’s girlfriend, to which the clown-suited femme fatale—establishing the enterprise’s dominant potty-mouthed attitude—replies, “Are you going to shut the fuck up so I can talk?”

Talk Harley does, in great streams of expletives delivered in a baby-doll voice that’s equal parts sexy and juvenile, pouty and enraged. Cuoco’s vocal work is top-notch, imbuing Harley with mischievous viciousness and wit, the latter typified by her habit of telling Batman (Diedrich Bader) that he “fucks bats.” Moreover, she breathes Harley into three-dimensional life by revealing a more vulnerable, damaged and insecure side of the villain, whose world is upended after the Joker ditches her so she can get thrown into Arkham Asylum, and then reneges on his promise to rescue her. Harley may still be, per the wife of a fellow inmate, a “porn clown”—a knowing nod to her sexed-up appeal, which is enhanced by her skimpy midriff top and short-shorts—but, in this iteration, she’s fundamentally an abused victim, manipulated and mistreated by a beau whom she can’t bring herself to leave. As she defiantly proclaims, “I’m a bad guy, not a bad person.”