Harley Quinn E1 Review (Part 1 of 4)

Harley Quinn E1 Review

The Layers of Story

Physical Layer: The art, music, lighting, and general components that make up the medium that the story is presented through.

Structural Layer: The way/style the story is presented and written.

Surface Layers: The fore-story and backstory being currently told. (Composed of two layers)

Layers of Depth: What the audience can take away from the story.

Kick-Off Notes:

I want to go ahead and say that I am NOT a long time fan or dedicated comic reader. I am coming at this with a relatively light knowledge of the DC universe compared to many dedicated fans. (This is largely due to a childhood prejudice against liking ‘boy shows’ due to having three brothers. As a young adult I am now curious and open to exploring.) That being said, I did do a lot of general research over the last week leading up to this show’s debut, and that includes learning (objectively) about how a lot of fans feel toward their beloved characters and their favorite storylines. That is to say, I have no personal biases due to long-term story investment, but I most certainly see where and why people do feel the way they do about particular aspects of this show. This review will address various perspectives.

The Physical Layer:

I think it can generally be agreed by everyone that the physical presentation of this show is stellar, even for those who are not big fans of cartoons. I personally love the art of animation. It’s attraction to me is the amount of fine emotional expression and manipulation it is able to pull off that doesn’t always work through a live cast. (Not saying that live casts cant have this, just that animation has more freedom and control.) Harley Quinn has a simple yet beautiful art style that I already love. The background is kept simple and artsy which allows the sharper foreground to clearly shine. Whereas most Gotham depictions rely heavily on black with color undertones, this show is doing the opposite. It’s like going from a raven to a parrot. This gives a very new feel to an old setting and it suits the story to a tee. This is meant to be represented through Harley’s perspective, and so it makes sense.

I like how much color and lighting is already being utilized in order to set mood and tone. Lots of greys and muted colors to mark Arkhem as a depressing drag, sunlight and clarity at Ivy’s apartment to show a sense of ease and security (also sanity), the neon-on-shadows to evoke mystery for the Riddler’s hideout (love the sphinx), and, of course, the bright splashes of color throughout the action scenes to mark Harley’s manic energy. Even the gray-scale photo of Harleen Quinnzell gave the aura of a ‘lost’ aspect of Harley’s personality. I especially love that even though Joker and his goons wear the typically vibrant colors of violet and green, they are muted and drab so that they are not mistaken for the fun of Harley’s world. All the goons have a greyness to their skin and opaque eyes to make them look already dead and zombie-like before they are actually killed. It makes it easier not to feel so bad about it.

I loved the music in this. The moment that creepy carousel music started, I was hooked by it and the suspension of disbelief was put up. The music serves as the constant and perfect undertone to it all, never overcoming the story until the right moments.

On the subject of sound, all voice acting was phenomenal. I wont say too much as I can’t add to what’s already been put out there, but I did enjoy it all with Ivy being my favorite. I do understand people’s reserves about Harley’s lack of accent, but better no accent than a bad one. I have not watched much of Big Bang Theory, so Cuoco’s voice was not off-putting for me. I think that this voice shift will be easier for younger generations than those who grew up with Batman: TAS, but can still be enjoyable for those older audiences once they adjust. (No one likes changes to their favorite characters, but I think this is one change that can be glossed over as Harley isn’t defined by her accent; she’s defined by her energy and optimism.)

(I am still learning this site, so I have to break up my review to make it fit)

Structural Layer:
This is where I’m seeing the most controversy in the reception of this show. This show is definitely making it’s mark as an adult show, but have they gone a little too far off the deep end? The short answer is yes, but it’s actually really important that they do. (This, BTW, is coming from someone who never cusses.) Look at it this way: most parents do not have the time to sit down and sift through all the cartoon content when deciding what and what not to let their child watch. American culture has lead to most animation and cartoons to being predominantly kid targeted. So instead of spending an hour researching a show and looking through reviews, a parent is likely to watch about five minutes of the first episode and make their decision off of that. So if you were to remove all swearing, blood, gore, and dirty jokes from that firs opening scene, what you would end up with is something that looks like an average superhero show. (To the eyes of a parent.) And there are several kid-friendly animated superhero shows on this sight already. So for all the flack this first scene is getting, imagine how much worse it would be if that wasn’t there and only when it’s too late do parent’s realize that this wasn’t something they should have let their kids watch. So is the gore and swearing overdone? Absolutely. But it needs to be to set off those red flags early on. From what I hear, it will dial down as the series goes on and the weight is no longer placed on the flippant humor. So for those who are really put off by that sort of thing, I recommend waiting for a few more episodes to come out, then try again to see if those later ones suit your preferences better.
How cursing is received by different audiences is very tricky because the ‘line’ for that sort of thing is largely decided by culture and family norms. It’s the battle of definition verses connotation, the latter of which varies greatly throughout the country. To some people, cursing is only used for the extreme expression of emotion and meant to make an impact, while for others it’s just another word in the vocabulary book. No matter where you stand, the best way to look at this show and not be put off by the constant f-bombs is to look at the characters intent, not at the physical word. Why is ‘s***’ a curse word yet ‘crap’ isn’t? They mean exactly the same thing. So if you take a step back and recognize that the language in this is used as if there was no such thing as ‘curse words,’ it becomes a lot easier to watch. Let the character’s connotation of the word trump what they are actually saying. Again, I’m not a curser myself nor do I find any pleasure in hearing it. I can easily numb myself to it because of the amazing story being offered, but I do hope they reel it in as the show goes on.
As fore the gore, yeah it’s a little over the top as well. I am not squeamish or disturbed by gore at all. I actually think that kids shows need to include a bit of blood more often to add some weight of consequence to the actions of characters. I don’t mind things getting messy. What I do mind is that is seems like everyone has way too much Co2 in their bloodstream. Dial back the excessive spurts of blood to a more realistic ratio, and I’ll be good with it.
Okay, as for the actual pacing of this first episode, I love it! It’s a piolet with a mission, and it accomplishes that effectively. Because this show is intended for people with at least a general knowledge of the characters and their history, it doesn’t spend much time really introducing characters. Because of this, I can see were some people would find this first episode a little rushed, but I think this will work well in the long run. The action is fast and exciting, and the story and heartfelt moments are given the attention they deserve. There was a lot that had to happen in this first episode, so I am downright impressed with how well the authors handled it.
The show wasn’t quite as laugh-out-loud funny as I was hopping it would be, so it was a tad disappointing in that aspect. I love to laugh, but I can have a picky sense of humor. I have to agree with what people are saying about using crude language to make a joke: it doesn’t work. However, I was highly amused throughout. Almost every scene with the Riddler was grate, and I especially liked the little humor moments of the Costco card and tia-food. Those are the character moments I love as it takes them out of the more idolized view and reminds us that they are still people. I think my favorite LOL moment was Harley’s remark on villain hideouts; that was pretty good. As it is, I’m not here for the humor but for the depth of characters.

The Surface Layers:

The surface layer of story is comprised of two sub-layers: the fore-story and backstory. These two components are meant to dance in rhythm with each other, so let’s see how this episode holds up.

The four-story of this episode is about Harley coming to realize and except that her relationship with the joker is unhealthy, and so she breaks it off. That is the goal of this episode. The backstory involves a whole lot more, including character backgrounds, their past relationships with each other, and what has brought them to where they are now. Because there is so much content already out there on these characters, this show is making the assumption that you (the audience) already knows who these people are and of Harley’s abusive history with the Joker: this is what allows for so much to happen within the first episode. That said, they do give the just right amount of time to Harley’s dedication, Joker’s clear abusiveness, and a bit of history between the friendship of Harley and Ivy. For anyone who has a small knowledge of the Gotham world, the flow of fore-story and backstory is beautiful and perfect. For those who are less familiar, it can get confusing real fast. (But not quite to the point of danger.) If they’d gone the other rout, I think it would have dragged for some audiences as well as eaten into the limited amount of time the creators have to tell their story. I think the fast pace was definitely the better option.

I love the set up of this episode. The lengths that Ivy has to go through to finally open Harley’s eyes is both hilarious and heartwarming. Harley’s personal journey through her breakup is interesting, but I think it’s her friendship with Ivy that’ll keep me coming back to this, not her personal drama. (More on that in a bit.) I am both hoping and predicting that the climax of this series will sort of parallel what happened in this episode, but with Harley in Joker’s position. I can see things escalating to where she really has become very much like her past abuser, and then finally realizes that she doesn’t have to be him to beat him. That’s just speculation. This is just one episode of thirteen, so I can’t say much yet other than I’m on board.

Hmm, looks like I cant post part 4 quite yet. I’ll place it here for now.

Layers of Depth:

This is where things get fun, especially for someone studying psychology.

The obvious takeaway here is about abusive relationships and codependency. The show addresses all this itself, so I won’t bother. Instead, I want to look at what is just beneath that: entrapment. The psychological definition of entrapment is as follows: A gradual process in which individuals escalate their commitment to a course of action to justify their investment of time, money, or effort. This is Harley’s big problem. She used to be an honest psychiatrist, but once the first step was taken, she kept on going to justify it until she got in as deep as she was at the beginning of the episode. Not just with her relationship, but with crime as well. This is a real-world thing that often leads good people who join the wrong groups to commit terrible crimes. One extreme example is when 900 people committed suicide at once because of their entrapment to a religious group. (Look it up, I’m not kidding.) And because Harley when so far, I think she’s about to do the same thing in reverse. Each step she takes away from the Joker will become stronger and more passionate as she goes, but some of those steps might just trod on those closest to her.

Let’s talk Ivy. The moment I saw this character in the trailer, I knew she would be my favorite and the deepest of them all. I’d seen snippets of her before without much interest, but this has my attention. I’m seeing a lot of comments about how she’s the friend everyone needs in their life, but what people fail to realize is that there are people like that near their lives, but it is extremely hard to get to them. Heck, they even stated that Harley is the only one who ever managed to get to Ivy’s core, and what we are seeing is the powerful loyalty that results from that. I know this because it is my personality type: befriend very few, but give them the most powerful friendship on the planet. It is not easy for people like Ivy to let people in, and the fact that this show covered that so well is amazing. People who don’t know the type will likely read into it as being romantic, but that isn’t the case here. (More on that in a bit.) These people care very deeply without it having to become romantic, and they treat anyone they let in that way. There are some dangers that come with this for Ivy, however. First off, Harley is her only friend. I hope to see her struggle of gaining another at some point, and I think I will if the rumors about Kite-Man are correct. The other big pitfall is that because she cares so deeply, when the knife hits it will cut deep. Meaning, when Harley does something truly hurtful (we all know it’s gonna happen) it’s not going to be easy to heal the wound. One thing that caught my attention about Harley’s diagnosis of Ivey was the abandonment issues. Wall all knew about the misanthrope and her avoidance of people, but I have a feeling the abandonment is going to come back big. Heck, he can already see that Ivy can’t abandon Harley to her own misguided perceptions. I’m not sure how, but it’ll come into play.

Okay, I know a lot of people want to see Ivy and Harley’s relationship taken a step further, but I’m going to vote against it, at least for the first several seasons. I’m not against the idea of it, but I think the writers will be shooting themselves in the foot if they bring that in too soon. For one thing, as the creators have already stated, it’s not right to see Harley jump from one relationship to another; she needs to be able to define her character without leaning on someone else. The same actually goes for Ivy. She needs to learn to make at least one more close friend other than Harley before going down that road. If these characters enter a romantic relationship without other external support, things are going to get rock in a bad way. Also, do they really need it? Seriously, it their relationship any less for not being sexually involved? These powerful friendships can exist without romance, and romance is such a small element in the grand scheme of life. Roads will be closed if the writers go that route, and it’s a route that’s already been explored in the comics. I’m not completely inherently against it, but I think the story is going to be stronger without it.

That being said, I would absolutely love to see an episode or two where these woman have to take care of a toddler. One think I like in the comics id Ivy’s hidden affection for children, and that could be hilarious as well as very heartfelt if explored in this series. Let the majority of the episode be funny, but the ending should seriously tug at the heartstrings. Back to Ivy caring more than she’ll admit and her struggle to abandon a child, I think it could make for some grate development when she realizes the kid would be better off without her. That’s just one concept I’d like to see explored.

Conclusion:

So, my overall verdict is that while the outward presentation of this show is over-the-top and chaotic, there are some truly valuable things to be explored here. This show isn’t sacrificing the depth just to be funny, and I think it’s going to rely on those deeper aspects more and more as it goes on. I almost wish there was a kid-friendly version as well, because there is some valuable stuff to be learned. Not everyone will love it, that’s just the nature of having so many different adaptations and versions of age old characters. Harley may be ‘new’ compared to other DC characters, but she is aging. It’s inevitable. I am very excited to see where the next episode takes us.

1 Like

I just read a wall of text, I’ll come back with some substance once I digest that article you just published. But I can state I value these kinds of opinions and open minds. I can also say you might be set up to judge the show off a pilot episode. Around mid season we should have a clear image of character development an storybeat ( unless it was written by the team on Titans)

So far for settings the “tone” of the show I think it came off as abrasive and is clearly going to sour a large group of people.

I was contemplating what I initially thought may have been gratuitous profanity, but realise that in every culture around the world, criminal elements tend to swear a lot. Gordon only uttered one expletive and the guards and batman none at all. This is a good ratio. Profanity could be an indicator of the underworld scenes and the more verbally chaste scenes are an indicator of more legitimate aspects of society.