'Harley Quinn' Season 3 Review Continues To Transcend The Conventions Of The Animated Superhero Series

To say that the DC franchise as a whole has had a troubled history translating its characters to the big screen would be an understatement. Though DC characters in live-action and animation have certainly had their gems in the realms of film and tv, the most recent crop of live-action DC movies have been divisive money-makers, prompting a disjointed and generally disappointing answer to Marvel’s competing MCU. Somehow, in the midst of all the live-action chaos, DC’s strongest, most consistently well-review series slips by, vastly unnoticed, and it’s returned for a third – no less raunchy and no less outstanding – season: DC’s “Harley Quinn.”

Starring “The Big Bang Theoryex-pat Kaley Cuoco (the titular Harley Quinn) and Lake Bell (as Harley’s will-they-won’t-they best friend/girlfriend Poison Ivy), the series follows the outlandish, borderline psychotic ex-psychiatrist as she struggles to make a name for herself as an independent supervillain after a split from the joker and a stint in Arkham. After the twist ending of last season’s wedding episode finale (Poison Ivy ditches Kite Man, practically at the altar, to ride off into the sunset with Harley), season three picks up to document the newlyweds’ “Eat Bang Kill” tour/honeymoon as they joyride around Gotham and attempt to conquer the world. 

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You know. Typical rom-com stuff. Perhaps more than any other DC film or series out right now, “Harley Quinn” has respect and understanding for not just the content but the tone of its source material, brilliantly capturing the lighthearted, comedic nature of Harley’s comic persona with the gritty, maladjusted side. Season three continues to make ample use of its score, vocal performances, and witty scripts to highlight the discordant nature of Harley’s life and romance, proving yet again its uncanny ability to do justice to such elusive and often-replicated characters.

At the heart of season three is, yet again, Kaley Cuoco’s vocal performance. Though it’s perhaps unfair to immediately and constantly associate Cuoco with her 12-season stint on “The Big Bang Theory,” her career post-sitcom is a dazzling display of her range and persuasiveness as an actress: both “Harley Quinn” and “The Flight Attendant” serve as impressive reminders of her raw talent. Her strong, brash voice is a unique but thoroughly well-suited one to fit the colorful and instantly-iconic character design, and combined with dialogue and banter ripped straight out of the comics, you have a recipe for a protagonist whose voice has become irreparably associated with her character.

What’s most delightful about season three, though, is the prominence with which it features Harley’s now-wife, Poison Ivy (Bell). Though Ivy has been a constant, calm, welcome presence since the pilot, her subdued personality and fascinating narrative role as both confidant and love interest have made her often feel like a supporting character in Harley’s one-woman show. But with Ivy as Harley’s full-fledged wife, and Harley taking every opportunity to remind us of that fact, Ivy becomes a proper main character this season, as Bell’s performance and her character deserve. 

Ivy’s romantic history and breakup with Kite Man is one element the show handles remarkably well, though perhaps too neatly, considering the implications of last season’s finale. But the way the show continues to surprise and delight audiences among the carnage and the crassness is an entirely unique charm that “Harley Quinn” can continue to boast.

Though the 22-episode runtime and the animated format would certainly make it seem more at home (at least on paper) as a Saturday morning cartoon (albeit an extraordinarily R-rated one), “Harley Quinn” transcends the conventions of the animated superhero series, adapting a personality as unflinching and unique as its heroine and namesake. [A]