The summer Television Critics Association press tour began with DC Universe’s presentation of Harley Quinn. The animated series is full of R-rated language and violence that they can get away with on streaming. The voice cast includes Kaley Cuoco as Harley, Lake Bell as Poison Ivy, Diedrich Bader as Batman, Alan Tudyk as The Joker, and JB Smoove as Frank the Plant.
Executive producers Justin Halpern, Patrick Schumacker and Jennifer Coyle spoke to the TCA about Harley Quinn, along with their cast. We learned how this differs from other DC animated series, what arc Harley will follow, which Robin you’ll see, and what word is too far even for Harley Quinn.
It’s Gotham City Through Harley’s Eyes
Batman and The Joker do resemble their Batman: The Animated series models, although they don’t act quite the same. The idea is to view Gotham City from Harley Quinn’s point of view, which means she looks down upon many of DC’s icons.
“From the get go, the pitch was the show is from Harley’s perspective,” Schumacker said. “Gotham is going to be a lot brighter and more technicolor. The way we portray the heroes who are ordinarily lioinized, we can have a little fun at their expense. Batman is real buzz kill and Superman is a guy who tells dad jokes.”
Kicking heroes down from their pedestals is always fun, and you’ll hear them all swear. “I think this is the first ever adult TV-MA animated comedy set in the world of superhero/supervillains,” Schumacker said.
Harley Quinn will have Joker plots and other superhero battles for Harley to foil, or plot herself. The show can also spend more time on Harley’s down time when she’s not plotting, as well as the other villains’ coffee breaks.
“In those [other animated] shows, you see a lot of really tense action and battles,” Halpern said. “Our thinking was that stuff’s great but what is it like when Bane needs to go get coffee? What does that look like? Does he remove his mask?”
Cuoco added, “It’s obviously so huge and ridiculous but then there’s a scene where they go and get coffee, or the girls sit around the couch and watch a Howie Mandel show.”
Breaking Up with the Joker is Hard to Do
The Suicide Squad movie showed Harley Quinn breaking free of her abusive relationship with The Joker. The Harley Quinn animated series leans into the idea of The Joker and Harley as dysfunctional, or even abusive. The Joker will dump her, but still string her along, expecting her to ask him to take him back.
“That is something we felt we needed to address in the show,” Halpern said. “The idea was that we’ve all been in relationships with someone we felt maybe wasn’t right for us all the way to someone who was toxic for us. How you extricate yourself from that is really what this show is about.”
Just like in real life, that’s easier said than done for Harley. It will take a whole season, or more, but she does experience emotional growth. She stills swears and kills people, but she grows.
“It’s almost like a few steps forward and 25 steps back,” Cuoco said. “She falls back in her old ways and an’t help it. Building her crew, she learns what real friendships are. She actually loves these people, but she falls into her old ways. That’s Harley Quinn.”
Cuoco said she sees Harley Quinn as female empowerment, and the world of animation is also becoming more welcoming to women, said veteran animation producer Coyle.
“Honestly, I think it’s changing so much,” Coyle said. “The animation studios that are female these days are so much more than males. For the 10 years or so I worked in this business and didn’t meet one woman who did this, this is a groundbreaking opportunity.”
Poison Ivy is Her BFF
Poison Ivy is one of Batman’s more colorful villains. She controls plants who help her execute her master plans. In Harley Quinn’s world, Poison Ivy is the voice of reason.
“I think she’s super grounded,” Bell said. “I love this character because it’s the idea of wielding plant life. Seeing her as the voice of reason is really fun but also super wry. I think in general playing this comedy that’s supremely irreverent and unwieldy and fun.”
In a movie with both Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy, we’d likely have to see Batman fight them. On the animated show, we get to see them hang out.
If Harley Quinn is the Hero, Her Opponents are Worse
Harley Quinn will allow its anti-heroine to be as bad as she wants to be. She will remain a murderer, but the producers are selective about who she kills.
“The nice thing is most of the time she’s going up against other villains who are worse than her,” Schumacher said. “So I think we can root for her in that way. She is a killer but generally we built this so that those dying at her hands all deserve it.”
For example, Schumacker revealed Jacob Tremblay will voice the Damian Wayne incarnation of Robin. He’ll be a foil to Harley, but he’s safe. “She’s never going to kill Robin,” Schumacker said.
That’s one reason. They also aren’t likely to kill off major DC characters as long as they’re allowed to use them.
The One Word They Won’t Say
The first few minutes of Harley Quinn sound like a Tarantino movie and it never lets up. Until, that is, one episode where one word is bleeped out. Harley and her friends and enemies will say f*** all day, but they won’t stand for the C word.
“I think the C word is much worse,” Halpern said.
Schumacker explained, “In a show that’s packed to the gils with foul language, that episode involves a certain villain voiced by Tony Hale who is ousted from the Legion of Doom because using the C word is not their brand of evil. So I wanted to make sure everyone was aware that was the one word. That’s the line.”
“It’s a really blurred line,” Cuoco added.
The Gang’s Already Here
The first episode of Harley Quinn has Batman and The Joker. Schumacker revealed Robin and Superman. Aquaman is in the trailer. It seems no DC character is off limits to Harley Quinn.
“The idea was here’s the whole sandbox,” Schumacker said.
With all the characters at their disposal, there’s not much room for a crossover from another DC animated series. They’re already in Harley Quinn, but in success the show could expand.
“There hasn’t been a plan in place yet for a shared universe,” Schumacker said. “Who’s to say? I’d be open to it for sure. Those things seem to work well.”
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