So… Harleen “Harley Quinn” Quinzel. Fan favorite ever since she appeared on Batman: The Animated Series in 1992. This last year they announced she was getting her own TV series, and it looked promising. And it was enjoyable for a time! And then suddenly… it wasn’t.
…Well, let’s get into it.
Official Rating: TV-MA | Personal Rating: Adult
I was excited for this series since I first heard about it. Harley Quinn getting her own TV series about breaking up with and moving past the Joker!? Who wouldn’t want that!? The first episode started things off on a very high note. Harley Quinn is ditched by the Joker one last time and Poison Ivy finally convinces her to cut ties with the Joker and begin her own crimefighting career. The series gets violent, but it doesn’t feel too excessive (at least in the first few episodes). And unlike a lot of adult-targeted cartoons, the animation is pretty and fluid. All great signs! Then Harley Quinn begins gathering her team, recruiting the disgraced Dr. Psycho, struggling actor Clayface, computer-savvy King Shark, with Poison Ivy occasionally helping them out. Unfortunately, the first signs of trouble appeared as early on as episode 2.
Harley Quinn as a character has a few fairly consistent traits: she’s been involved with the Joker, she was a psychiatrist, and she’s Jewish. Seems the writer got the memo for the first two whole-heartedly, but didn’t really get the third one. Or at least, they got it, but didn’t handle it well. In aformentioned second episode, Harley Quinn crashes the Bar Mitzvah for the Penguin’s nephew Joshua. As far as I know, this is the first instance of the Penguin’s Judaism. However, the Penguin’s backstory and appearance is full of antisemitic stereotypes, the most clearly obvious being his large, sometimes hooked nose (allegedly where he got his Penguin nickname from). This is already a bad sign. Then it just gets worse, as part of Joshua’s ritual is doing a faux bank heist. Which, of course, goes right along with all of the money-hoarding antisemitic tropes. (There’s more about the overall stinkiness of this in this post by tumblr user mrgreedyguts.).Great. Fantastic. This episode also has awkward flirtations between Kite Man (who I personally believe has only returned to the public consciousness because of I Hate Everything) and Poison Ivy, which alongside the DC Universe sweepstakes referring to him as Poison Ivy’s “not-so-secret boytoy”, was raising early red flags. But hey, it’s only episode 2, they’re still getting their sea legs, and I really like Harley Quinn, so I’ll give it a bit more of a chance.
The next few episodes are relatively uneventful, except for the meeting of Poison Ivy’s landlord, Sy Borgman, who was established to be Jewish in the comics, which Um. Damian Wayne shows up, which is fantastic, because I love Damian Wayne. Episode 5 is when this show really goes off the rails.
Shenanigans ensue and basically Harley Quinn and crew are all inside her subconscious rendering them unconscious. Sy encounters them and decides he needs to clean up the bodies, so he calls up his old friend Golda, who proceeds to say a very bad line: “A little Jewish Lightning never hurt anyone”. At the time this sent up red flags for me though I couldn’t specify the origin of the phrase, and later I encountered this post, again by mrgreedyguts, who delves into why that bit is problematic along with the other stuff I couldn’t pick up on as a gentile. It’s bad. It’s real bad. It’s pointed out in this Twitter thread by @dorkgraysonn that the phrase is a really obscure slur, meaning very bad things about the writers. On a related note, we don’t even get a mention that Harley herself is Jewish until episode 10.
And oh boy episode 10. I don’t know if there was anything more overt in this one, but overall it’s just… stinky, especially with the off-handed mention of the family being Jewish–especially with the dad’s gambling addiction and ties to the mob. Oof. Also by this point the show has just gotten gory just for the sake of being gory and it’s really squicky.
Also back in episode 7 Poison Ivy starts officially dating Kite Man which isn’t necessarily problematic but more just disappointing? You have an entire show about Harley trying to get over her abusive ex while being helped by Poison Ivy, the two of whom have always had a close relationship. This understandably has led to the two of them becoming girlfriends in some storylines, and here I was hoping that this show would lead into that–don’t have to worry about any censors or anything, you’re on your own dang streaming platform! Clearly the answer there is no, and they’re only using the lack of censors to show as much gore as possible and also be antisemitic I guess.
Honestly I’m just so… disappointed. This show had so much potential, and it just continuously shits all over itself and its source material. This isn’t even getting into all of the other problematic things, such as racebending the Queen of Fables into a black woman (not problematic) and then making her one of the most violent supervillains of all time in this universe (problematic!!!). And there’s Poison Ivy’s sidekick(?), the plant Frank, who’s supposed to be her sassy black friend or whatever and is also very crass. As of the publishing of this post, ten of the thirteen episodes have aired, and honestly I’m not even sure I can put in the energy to see the end of this first season. It just keeps disappointing me again and again.
So, do I recommend this? If you asked me after the first episode, I would have wholeheartedly said yes. Ever since episode 5, I’ve been neutral, and by now I can’t recommend it at all. Maybe watch the first episode, but after that quit while you’re ahead. It’s just not worth it. Go back and rewatch her appearances in Batman: The Animated Series instead, read DC Bombshells, or even her appearances in Justice League Action, those all get Harley Quinn. This series does not, and even on the rare occasion it somehow does it’s just not worth it when it comes with all of this other bullshit. 0/10 giant Batcave pennies. I’m going to rewatch Batman Beyond now. Screw this.