Harley Quinn, currently entering its third season on HBO Max, is a supremely messy show in the best of ways. Yes, while the world of DC movies and shows is notoriously messy (don't even ask about what's going on with Ezra Miller's stint as The Flash), Harley Quinn takes the chaotic energy of a world where The Snyder Cut happened, and turns it into brilliant TV.
And it all started off well off-campus, nestled in the DC Universe streaming service (RIP), where I didn't even notice it. Then, one day during the start of the pandemic, I found myself compelled to watch the series now that its first two seasons had landed on HBO Max.
Before I could say "Mister Mxyzptlk," I was finished with Harley Quinn's first and second seasons. And herein was my mistake: I watched the series way too early, around two years before Harley Quinn season 3. And so I waited and waited for one of the best HBO Max shows to come back.
And now that Harley Quinn season 3 is here? I'm as manic about shouting its praises as Ms. Quinn herself is about wanting to cause havoc. I was so excited to watch that I didn't let being on vacation stop me from taking time to stream the series at the Airbnb I was staying at.
I'm not alone either. Season 3 is currently at a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes (opens in new tab), just like season 2. So, for everyone who isn't up to speed on why Harley Quinn rules — I love it despite being not much of a DC fan, by the way — I thought I'd break down my top reasons why this show is amazing.
Harley Quinn is fantastically funny and filthy
Harley Quinn is most definitely an adult animated series. Gleefully violent, filthy-mouthed and subversive as heck, this is not a show I'm watching with my parents any time soon. That said, all the respect to Kaley Cuoco, whose voice-work as Ms. Quinn is so good that even die-hards should forgive her for not using the New Yawker accent that the character debuted with in Batman: The Animated Series.
And that message comes through loud and clear in the first episode: Harley takes over a boat filled with some of Gotham's most rich and evil, and she starts off by going for the kneecaps. Literally. You can see it for yourself here, as HBO Max is so confident about Harley Quinn, in fact, that it's given away the entire first episode for free on YouTube:
Then, before you know it, you're knee-deep in a very twisted version of Gotham City. Harley insinuates a dirty rumor about Batman's love life that I'd never heard, and then Law & Order veteran Christopher Meloni delivers a completely unhinged take on Commissioner James Gordon.
Next up, a trip to Arkham Asylum reminds us that even the prison guards of Gotham City are broken on the inside and out. All the while, the rogue's gallery of Batman villains locked up at the moment verbally prods at Harley's relationship with The Joker (more on that below). This show pokes at every problem in the DC world with a knife, and hopes to draw laughs from us while villains, heroes and even civilians bleed on screen.
Eventually, you'll meet even-more hilarious Gotham goons, such as Bane. This isn't Tom Hardy's Bane, but that of James Adomian, and it's a very sad and depressed version of the ultra-jacked Batman villain.
Harley Quinn is a workplace sitcom in disguise
At the core of Harley Quinn, though, you have a clever sitcom about group dynamics that just so happen to take place within the up and coming crew of villains who want to be big time. Harley, on her own, wants to be taken seriously by the boys club of Gotham's most heinous.
So, she puts together a crew with her best friend Poison Ivy (voiced by Lake Bell), the operatically-voiced Clayface (Alan Tudyk) and the lovable King Shark (Ron Funches). Oh, and there's also the annoying weirdo Doctor Psycho (Tony Hale), who's recently been canceled — by the Legion of Doom of all people — over his use of misogynistic slurs. They don't exactly all get along at first, but they all kinda need each other.
Meanwhile, we get to slowly see what The Bat Family — Batman, Robin and eventually Batgirl and Nightwing — are up to. Season 3 does an increasingly good job of showing the family dynamics at play in that group, as a sort of different version of what Harley Quinn and her cohort are up to.
And over the two-plus seasons that have aired so far, Harley Quinn has become one of the best shows on TV. In fact, it's got increasingly great because of how close we're getting to know its characters. That said, Harley Quinn shows its chops early on, with episode five "Being Harley Quinn." This episode finds the crew go into Harley's own mind to help her handle her identities.
I love Harley Quinn season 3, and the critics agree
In Harley Quinn season 3, our titular villain is actually — believe it or not — in something resembling a healthy relationship. Of course, this is a Harley Quinn relationship, so expect her to deliver a bound-and-gagged villains as a gift, as well as continue to work on understanding how a proper relationship should work. She is, after all, someone whose primary relationship was with The Joker of all people.
Meanwhile, Poison Ivy's lifelong goal of terraforming Earth is taking center-stage. Harley's ability to balance others' goals with her own, though, is already testing her maturity. So far, it's oh-so-great, and I'm now seeing each work week as four days I need to get through in order to watch Harley's latest exploits. Yes, some work for the weekend, I work for Thursday nights.
The critics love the new season, too, as I noted this season is currently rated as 100% on Rotten Tomatoes (season 2 was also rated this high). Chris Evangelista at SlashFilm (opens in new tab) describes Harley Quinn's new season as "a glut of chaos and insanity with smart quips, silly gags, and crude humor mixing together, into a big, sloppy, calorie-heavy, and highly enjoyable milkshake of mayhem."
Shannon O’Connor at The Daily Beast (opens in new tab) says that Harley Quinn is better than any superhero movie or show since its last season dropped. O'Connor also credits Kaley Cuoco "who nails Harley’s chaotic energy and heartbreaking sincerity. She remains an absolute powerhouse in the role, making Harley totally lovable, even when she’s accidentally releasing a homicidal maniac on innocent people or abandoning friends for her own selfish gain."
Should you watch Harley Quinn tonight?
This isn't the first time I've raved about Harley Quinn. But that's how much I love this show, I truly think it deserves a wider audience than most comic book shows or movies get. While it loves to poke fun at the stars of past and present DC movies and shows, Harley Quinn succeeds more than any recent DC release. Yes, I think it's better than The Batman.
Under all of the madcap DC mayhem, Harley Quinn is rooted in a strong personal story: showing us one woman's emancipation from a terrible relationship and her fight for her own twisted dreams. If I could mark Harley Quinn down for anything wrong, I'd say that I'd love to see the secondary characters get more development. But since Harley Quinn's renewal feels like a lock, I'll simply say "at least they're saving something for season 4."