We at Tom's Guide love HBO Max (heck, it kept the best streaming service crown even after it lost the day-and-date movies), but I personally spent the first two years of the service somewhat annoyed as I waited for it to finally release this one show. And, hilariously enough, this show didn't originally air on HBO Max!
So, you're forgiven for not identifying Harley Quinn with HBO Max, as one of the best DC shows or movies recent history didn't even debut on the service where it now lives. Originally, Harley Quinn aired on the since-retired DC Universe streaming service, where it won more acclaim than notoriety.
Fortunately, it feels like the show's new home on HBO Max allowed it to get a stronger following, as I know multiple people who care more about Harley Quinn season 3 than any other show this summer. So you can take your Lord of the Ring: The Rings of Power and toss them to Andor, for all I care.
And I make this recommendation because Harley Quinn is almost back, making now a perfect time to get caught up and get familiar with the HBO Max (which starts at $9.99 per month (opens in new tab)) show. Now, let's dive into why Harley Quinn is so damn good.
What is Harley Quinn about?
First off, while I will avoid all spoilers, I have to put a MATURE CONTENT warning up front. Harley Quinn is a cartoon show, but it's also an unapologetically-adult animated series. In the era of South Park, Big Mouth and Rick & Morty, I assume we can all understand that clicking on the below trailer will result in hearing some profanity and watching some cartoonish violence?
Great, because Harley Quinn, which gives a very bent view of life in Gotham City, is one of the few DC shows or movies I've actually loved in recent memory. It begins where many shows should, with a breakup. Or at least the start of one. As long-time DC Comics fans may know, The Joker (or Mr. J if you're Harley), doesn't really treat his girlfriend that well. And the premiere goes to great lengths to show that Harley loves to excuse his behavior.
And once Harley gets outside of Mr. J's relationship, she starts seeing things more clearly and finds the ambition to be her own boss. That said, she also finds herself working with a new gang of misfits. But before I introduce them, we need to talk about Kaley Cuoco, the voice of Harley herself.
Yes, Cuoco, who is best known for her work on The Big Bang Theory (and later The Flight Attendant), does a great job with the character. She may not have the New Yawkeh accent you might associate with the character, but you buy into the performance.
Out on her own, Harley is associating with Poison Ivy (Lake Bell), the bff who has been telling Ms. Quinn to ditch the Joker for years, Clayface (Alan Tudyk, who voices many characters, including Joker), King Shark (who Ron Funches plays as a heartfelt jabberjaw) and the annoyingly misogynistic Doctor Psycho (Tony Hale). And through the misadventures of this band of misfit villains, you'll come to appreciate Harley Quinn.
I further fell for the Harley Quinn show as these weirdos interacted with Gotham's other heroes and villains. Diedrich Bader (The Drew Carey Show) makes a great dry Batman, but this show's take on Commissioner Gordon (Chris Meloni taking a break from Law & Order for a personal breakdown) is top notch. And I won't even spoil how James Adomian's version of Bane is a must-see. Did I mention Giancarlo Esposito is Lex Luthor? Talk about casting that the actual DCEU could use!
But Harley Quinn is a great show because of its exploration of its titular character's own mind and emotions. It takes you on a journey of how a breakup can lead to a deprogramming of manipulative behavior, all while accusing Batman of doing weird things with actual bats.
Why the critics love Harley Quinn
So, while Harley Quinn season 2 got the stronger Rotten Tomatoes score of 100% (opens in new tab), I'll skip those reviews because right now what matters more is focusing on why critics love the first season (which got an 89% (opens in new tab), the two average out to 94%), the one you should start with.
The AV Club (opens in new tab)'s Shannon Miller called the show "a hilariously gnarly win." She also commended its "pitch-perfect comedic timing, a solid cast of comedy’s hardest hitters, and inimitable chemistry presented in the form of one of the most satisfying female friendships in a long while," before calling it "one of the best shows of the year, easily."
At The Hollywood Reporter (opens in new tab), Robyn Bahr wrote "Harley Quinn is the story of what happens when a woman’s ego happens to be as inflated as any mediocre man’s. It’s one of the best surprises of the year." She also commended the scripts, noting "The writing is frequently uproarious, chock full of millennial nostalgia and cerebral gallows humor."
Eliana Dockterman at Time (opens in new tab) wrote that Harley Quinn "offers a master class in how to transform a female character with a tricky backstory into a compelling protagonist in her own right."
Should you watch Harley Quinn right now?
Unless you think your sensibilities are too tame for some cartoonish violence, I say hit play on Harley Quinn right now. While people may be checking back in with HBO Max for Succession season 4, Euphoria season 3 and even Our Flag Means Death season 2, the first two seasons of Harley Quinn are so good that Ms. Cuoco's version of Ms. Quinn's voice has been living in my head rent-free for a while now.
Not only does Harley Quinn scratch the vulgar comedy itch, but it also has heart and a real journey inside of it. Oh, and all the DC fan service you could ask for. If that's your thing. But even if you're not a DC fan (I barely count myself as one, I've primarily been into select Batman movies and the classic Batman animated series), I think Harley Quinn has somethin for you, puddin'.