Harley Quinn Is A Raunchy Reinvention Of Gotham's Most Dangerous Dame
Nearly 30 years after her introduction on Batman: The Animated Series, Harley Quinn, the plucky blonde originally conceived as a foil to the Joker, has cemented herself as a veritable pop culture icon. Enter DC Universe’s Harley Quinn, which offers a raw, mature take on the character via added in-your-face humor and unapologetic boorishness, taking Harley in a whole new direction.
The obsessive sidekick, whose blind affection for the Joker was her only defining trait, has undergone a gradual transformation over the years into a confident woman who finally recognizes her own worth — and understands that she deserves better than a toxic relationship with an unhinged man. Harley Quinn is a necessary tale of self-exploration and resilience.
The show also puts a fresh spin on old faces. Batman becomes a surprising paternal figure always poised with a sarcastic quip. Poison Ivy is a self-assured, vegan (naturally) activist who won’t put up with anyone’s bullshit. And, like her live-action counterpart, Harley’s a foul-mouthed miscreant with a penchant for dropping F-bombs hellbent on living her best life. Her plans for doing so include joining the Legion of Doom, the same supervillain collective of which Joker is a card-carrying member.
The first time we meet up with Harley she’s clad in her classic jester costume, staring down a mess of trash-talking goons who want her dead: “You think we’re afraid of the Joker’s girlfriend?” Though she’s standing by Joker’s side, Harley’s already filled with rage; she’s heard this taunt too many times. She tears into combat, blinded by anger, until the fight goes south. When Batman steps in and shuts the party down, Joker’s ready to dip, but there’s “no room” for Harley. She’s busted, and off to Arkham Asylum she goes, where her “true love” leaves her to rot.
By the time she finally emerges from prison, Harley’s figured it out: Joker never cared about her. And thus begins her journey. “I view it as a completely new character,” Harley Quinn producer Jennifer Coyle told MTV News.
The Big Bang Theory‘s Kaley Cuoco brings an ebullient, manic energy to Quinn that’s a far cry from the distinct voice actress Arleen Sorkin imbued her with back in the ’90s. One moment, she’s a bubbly, young go-getter and, in the blink of an eye, she transforms into a crazed, revenge-driven banshee who swings her bloody bat first and asks questions later. Both personalities are refreshingly foul-mouthed, with more than a few “fucks” and “shits” distributed throughout each episode for good measure.
“Harley is a lot of things,” said executive producer Patrick Schumacker told MTV News. “She can be totally insane, and she can be someone who has a crazy amount of empathy toward a person on the street. She can hit all these different levels, so you need an actress who can pull off a bunch of different things.”
“We couldn’t think of anybody with better comedic chops than Kaley, too,” Justin Halpern, also an executive producer on the show, added. Cuoco gives Harley a “small-town girl in a big city” feel, as she’s totally out of her element in the beginning of the series. But by using her resolve and determination to win over sidekicks and friends, she builds her own colorful crew as she goes.
“When we pitched the show several years ago, we felt like The Mary Tyler Moore Show was always a touch point for us because we saw Harley as this sort of consummate optimist,” Schumacker said. “She goes through this breakup and then runs loose in the big city. She’s striking out on her own; a solo act in this big scary world and pushing through.” You could call her a role model, but that isn’t quite the right term for Harley. That certainly doesn’t change the fact that she’s so ridiculously popular, though.
“She’s just completely unhinged,” Coyle said. “She’s an adult psychotic woman who doesn’t really worry about what people think. She’s reactive, and her reactions are big. She doesn’t check herself in terms of social norms. Who doesn’t love that kind of character?”
Harley’s oddball antics are easy to love, especially when she’s literally telling her ex-lover to “go fuck yourself.” But she isn’t always the zany, out-there Maiden of Mayhem fans have come to expect over the years. Just as her fashion sense has evolved, so have Harley’s inner sensibilities, which are reflected throughout the course of the series.
“In the context of our show, she’s not crazy without a reason,” Coyle explained, referring to the abuse Harley has grappled with at the hands of her clown-faced “lover.”
“God knows that she’s been through some rough times with the Joker. To see her completely free to make her own decisions and how nuts some of them are is really fun.”
But one of the most refreshing parts of the show isn’t the character herself; it’s the way it approaches her toxic relationship with the Joker. Instead of glamorizing her obsession with the Clown Prince of Crime and romanticizing the abuse he put her through, this series isn’t afraid to remind the audience how much of a joke he really is.
“I think we’ve all dated a Joker or two,” Coyle said of the toxic relationship at the center of Harley Quinn. “So much about her story resonates, and sometimes in not such a positive light either.”
“We played him as this petulant man-child the whole way through,” Schumacker said of Alan Tudyk’s portrayal. “He’s deeply insecure, and the second that Harley gets any sort of fame that could possibly displace him, he’s going to go after her, so there’s no generosity on his part. It’s a zero-sum game with him.” Harley Quinn is the first animated DC adventure to look at Harley’s relationship with the Joker and examine it under such a lens.
And luckily, with the help of this series as well as Birds of Prey, it signals a turning point for the character as a whole. Get ready for a whole new era for one Harleen Quinzel.
“This emancipated, independent side of her is too much fun,” Coyle said. “There’s been other renditions over the years where she’s just sort of this empty, like monstrous person. I don’t think she’s ever going to go back that way.”
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