Comics On TV

Harley Quinn Is 'Very Much Not for Kids,' Say Animated Series' Producers

Supervillain's potty mouth in episode 1 of DC Universe show is meant to shock.

by | November 27, 2019 | Comments

The first two minutes of DC Universe’s Harley Quinn features one of the most profanity-laden screeds ever uttered by a DC Comics character. But it is also a statement of purpose executive producers and showrunners Justin Halpern and Patrick Schumacker told Rotten Tomatoes was necessary to set the show apart from other animated offerings.

“We were really concerned about people thinking maybe the show is for kids,” Halpern said. “We wanted to come out strong in the first couple minutes and make it very clear that the show was an adult show and it very much is not for kids.”

Harley Quinn (DC Universe)

(Photo by DC Universe)

With its occasional potty-mouth, outrageous cartoon violence, and focus on villains like Harley Quinn (Kaley Cuoco), Poison Ivy (Lake Bell), and King Shark (Ron Funches), Harley Quinn is a different kind of animated DC cartoon. Like Halpern and Schumacker’s previous DC Entertainment effort, the short-lived sitcom Powerless, it refocuses fantastic concepts into everyday life, but unlike that show, the mundane comes to singular characters like Harley and Lex Luthor; in fact, it begins with one of the most common heartaches people experience: a breakup. This breakup, however, features Harley and the Joker (Alan Tudyk).

“We wanted to structure the first season as a prolonged breakup story, dealing with the post-breakup and how you remove yourself from underneath the specter of your ex who has sucked all the air out of the room and is the superstar of the relationship. The [person] everybody thinks about first,” Halpern explained.

Harley Quinn (DC Universe)

(Photo by DC Universe)

Set against the breakup is Harley’s attempt to join the Legion of Doom and prove she’s more than the Joker’s girlfriend. To that end, she forms a crew of her own comprised of some great DC Comics misfits.

“We take it in think a different direction than the comics have taken it,” Schumacker added. “In the current version you have her living in Coney Island with a cast of newer characters. We wanted to use [more] established characters in the Batman and Gotham City sandbox, as well as characters like Dr. Psycho, a classic Wonder Woman villain who becomes part of Harley’s crew.”

Psycho (Tony Hale) joins the team alongside Clayface (also Tudyk), who in turn invites King Shark to handle IT support.

Both have some presence on television thanks to Batman: The Animated Series and The Flash, respectively, but the characters have some new quirks thanks to the Harley Quinn writers and the performers themselves.

“We knew that we wanted to portray Clayface as this sort of erudite, Juilliard reject. A self-serious ‘act-or’ with a capital-A, and Alan knows [how to pull that off],” Schumacker said. “All you have to do is say, ‘Kind of like a Juilliard, Mid-Atlantic accent. Go.’”

Funches, meanwhile, was the perfect voice for an “excitable” and more verbal take on the comic book shark-man.

But even with the focus on older DC characters, current Harley Quinn comic book cast member Sy Borgman makes his animated debut in the series.

“When we found out that we could get Jason Alexander to [voice] an elderly Jewish cyborg … you have to take that,” Halpern said.

Harley Quinn (DC Universe)

(Photo by DC Universe)

The series also features a number of surprise cameo voices that will leave you searching the end credits to see if a guest character actually voiced themselves. Halpern credited Cuoco (who also serves as an executive producer) with helping to bring both the guest and regular voice cast together.

“Once we had Kaley on board – and Lake and Alan who we had worked with before as well as Ron, actually – it kind of snowballed from there,” he explained. “I think people were like, ‘Oh, OK, this is like legit. There’s clearly these highly respected colleagues that are interested in doing the show.’”

The availability of talent also meant they could go further with reinventions of like King Shark and a broken Jim Gordon voiced by Christopher Meloni.

“Our basic thought was what would Gordon actually be like if he had to be the commissioner of Gotham City for every day of his life and live the movie Seven every day,” Halpern said. “He’d have trauma and probably some sort of substance abuse problem.”

Meloni, who seems to enjoy demolishing cop archetypes in series like Happy! was game for the wildly different take on Gordon.

“If you tell Chris we need to play it a little bit ‘up,’ he’s going to give you something pretty special,” Schumacker said.

Harley Quinn trailer screencap (DC Universe)

(Photo by DC Universe)

Also special was the showrunners’ take on Bane – that is to say, they decided to play with the comedic potential of the voice Tom Hardy gifted the character in The Dark Knight Rises.

James Adomian kind of took that and ran with it … that version of the voice just fit our representation of Bane so well,” Halpern explained.

The voice, as it did in The LEGO Batman Movie and with comedians across the country, makes the character something of a joke, which the producer was quick to admit is a very different interpretation from the comics.

“He’s one of the smartest criminal geniuses in the whole entire DC Universe and in our show he’s — not that,” Halpern explained. “For the longest time we were just like, ‘OK, he’s like a punching bag for the rest of the criminal underbelly. It shouldn’t just be just like an elaborate ruse, because he’s all about those long cons, and then we were just kind of like, ‘Nah, this is too funny.’”

The producers’ sense of humor led them to directly adapt one idea from a 2001 JLA story by introducing a villain called the Queen of Fables (voiced by Wanda Sykes in the series) in the exact state the Justice League left her at the end of the issue – stuck inside a paper copy of the United States tax code.

“We just thought that was so funny and absurd,” Schumacker said. “And then we were like, ‘What’s the next evolution of that?’ What can she do inside of that tax code? Well, she can become a CPA.”

But beyond her humorous appearance, the Queen of Fables also serves a role in Harley’s ongoing story.

“We wanted a very powerful, female supervillain to act as sort of the cautionary tale for Harley if she were to break [the Legion of Doom’s] glass ceiling, and the Queen of Fables felt like a perfect fit,” Halpern explained, noting that her relative obscurity meant the character could serve this role in an accessible way to viewers who may not have read the original JLA story. “Even if you don’t know who she is, [you realize], ‘OK, she’s an evil sorceress who has Gumby-like power. Got it.’

“Also [the League’s] punishment for her was so much worse than their punishment for literally every other supervillain,” he added. “That’s what I think jumped out to us. I think that that was our jumping off point.”

Nonetheless, viewers will see a major difference between Harley and the Queen of Fables. One which Halpern called their “North Star” while developing the series.

“Harley has her own moral code,” he said. “It definitely does not align with the moral code of most people on Earth. But in her mind, she’s doing what she thinks is right.”

Harley Quinn (DC Universe)

(Photo by DC Universe)

Viewers will also see that moral flexibility with Poison Ivy, who insists she’s not part of Harley’s crew and just doing her thing to protect the environment. Her unique worldview also makes Harley the one human being she considers a friend.

Historically, the two have had a rapport since the 1993 Batman: TAS episode “Harley and Ivy.” In the comics, it eventually evolved into a romantic dynamic. But for the purposes of Harley Quinn’s first season, that element is being downplayed for an important reason.

“If we’re breaking her away from the Joker and we’re telling a story of self-discovery, we didn’t want that self-discovery to get wrapped up in yet another relationship,” Halpern explained. “We didn’t want Harley to be defined by the person she was dating. We wanted her to be able to explore [the question] ‘What does my life look like and what do I actually want when I’m not tethered to someone else?’”

Nonetheless, their relationship may be teased here and there, and Halpern suggested it may come into play in a potential second season.

In the meantime, their friendship is one of the show’s highlights. Ivy’s deadpan delivery and Daria-like outlook bounces off the energetic Harley, who Halpern described as a “consummate optimist.” Well, an optimist freed from “societal pressures and norms” anyway.

When not cracking jokes, the series will explore a little bit of the divide between Harley and her life as Dr. Harleen Quinzel. Although, both Halpern and Schumacker agreed “the core [of her] was still the same,” with Halpern adding there was “probably a lot of work to keep Harleen ‘Harleen.’”

It is the sort of thing adult animated shows explore alongside the freedom to curse.

Harley Quinn premieres Friday, November 29 on DC Universe

Tag Cloud

Disney Plus Ghostbusters Mindy Kaling Sony Pictures Shudder stoner OneApp spider-verse Showtime legend mob The CW directors indiana jones TV One 24 frames Indigenous basketball Netflix The Purge pirates of the caribbean social media The Witch Columbia Pictures political drama werewolf Fantasy Film Festival series Elton John El Rey ghosts worst movies Sundance TV zero dark thirty YouTube 72 Emmy Awards Legendary sequels composers Heroines DirecTV sopranos Super Bowl Starz comic book movies historical drama Marathons south america diversity anime Pop TV Lifetime Christmas movies Comic Book spanish crime BBC One Red Carpet halloween tv spanish language free movies Musicals USA Network new york BET Best Picture Paramount dceu binge Fox News Fargo TCA 2017 Music richard e. Grant docudrama WGN football heist movie Mary Poppins Returns President Mary poppins Mary Tyler Moore dexter aapi sitcom book MCU films anthology dark Captain marvel NYCC zombie james bond Epix technology movie Instagram Live Biopics Prime Video romantic comedy action-comedy game show TLC children's TV 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards zombies PaleyFest supernatural Grammys Lucasfilm scene in color Walt Disney Pictures FX on Hulu Focus Features Disney streaming service theme song franchise cancelled TV shows award winner E3 Chernobyl science fiction criterion BBC America summer preview Family Holiday GLAAD TCA Awards superman Certified Fresh child's play canceled concert medical drama The Arrangement Comedy Central period drama 73rd Emmy Awards marvel comics Wes Anderson San Diego Comic-Con young adult adaptation Polls and Games halloween target scene in color DC Universe TV renewals remakes 21st Century Fox LGBT Mystery Best Actress classics asian-american Superheroes Awards NBA strong female leads comic books Emmys justice league comiccon Academy Awards book adaptation CBS All Access scene in color film series TCA romance cancelled television 2019 what to watch critics The Walking Dead video on demand E! GoT slashers Action crime drama TIFF blockbuster Bravo Oscar 2017 Paramount Pictures Avengers slasher Film 2016 Best Director breaking bad ITV FXX 94th Oscars MGM popular kids Anna Paquin Western summer TV Acorn TV genre Comics on TV Dark Horse Comics transformers Amazon Prime Video Summer psycho boxing dreamworks versus BAFTA Food Network DGA Marvel Studios die hard rom-coms video Comic-Con@Home 2021 93rd Oscars IMDb TV spinoff MSNBC Pirates deadpool dragons CMT Turner live event Television Critics Association Holidays olympics Winners latino Star Wars indie SundanceTV Arrowverse teaser elevated horror Trailer See It Skip It kong ABC Signature Creative Arts Emmys posters Lifetime cinemax black ESPN Amazon Prime movies Star Trek Neflix Baby Yoda ViacomCBS hispanic heritage month 4/20 spider-man MTV summer TV preview obi wan news Awards Tour 2020 Geeked Week Hallmark Christmas movies Sundance hidden camera renewed TV shows Tarantino Crackle Rocky Lionsgate independent VICE art house Amazon Studios Image Comics Apple critic resources VOD OWN golden globes 45 Binge Guide streaming Funimation Teen emmy awards Comedy a nightmare on elm street Netflix Christmas movies documentary Winter TV rt labs critics edition Nominations tv talk Hallmark doctor who archives know your critic witnail Infographic BBC Valentine's Day revenge best nbcuniversal Podcast Nickelodeon Reality spy thriller YouTube Premium venice ID Turner Classic Movies name the review CNN stop motion war fresh Sundance Now 2015 PBS streamig target Toys leaderboard Masterpiece television ABC Family royal family Brie Larson telelvision live action YA SXSW 2022 chucky broadcast Crunchyroll Native travel Travel Channel obituary king kong superhero trophy ABC YouTube Red parents CW Seed 2021 Universal Rock Pixar hispanic Photos Character Guide Spring TV Discovery Channel Sneak Peek Reality Competition women natural history Shondaland australia adenture Country scorecard Calendar kaiju 90s Syfy Watching Series Women's History Month worst sag awards cops biopic Disney Channel Countdown DC streaming service quibi japan scary movies debate Video Games cartoon robots Apple TV+ National Geographic Hollywood Foreign Press Association cats 1990s DC Comics GIFs suspense 99% Pride Month Extras cancelled thriller green book hollywood Marvel Christmas dogs Animation Superheroe animated prank Hulu Peacock Pacific Islander TCM canceled TV shows Marvel Television NBC biography Kids & Family laika stand-up comedy festival TNT fast and furious dramedy FOX Fall TV streaming movies APB saw italian razzies Martial Arts Star Wars Celebration Drama A24 Sony Chilling Adventures of Sabrina rt archives interviews black comedy mission: impossible 20th Century Fox First Reviews Election Tumblr high school king arthur Exclusive Video HFPA marvel cinematic universe universal monsters Trophy Talk Stephen King psychological thriller FX Oscars USA vs. reboot SDCC cancelled TV series Disney History cults crossover Song of Ice and Fire screenings serial killer rotten movies we love Ellie Kemper South by Southwest Film Festival jurassic park twilight documentaries disaster Paramount Plus space scary christmas movies satire Tags: Comedy Paramount Network 007 boxoffice rotten Premiere Dates HBO Go blaxploitation Spike comedies A&E Adult Swim Emmy Nominations Musical Writers Guild of America feel good Disney+ Disney Plus festivals Alien X-Men IFC Films new star wars movies screen actors guild miniseries cooking Nat Geo Interview mcc sequel Amazon 79th Golden Globes Awards international all-time LGBTQ Freeform comic reviews Tomatazos Quiz Mudbound Television Academy Tubi Britbox scene in color series godzilla toy story 2018 french 71st Emmy Awards casting Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Best and Worst wonder woman VH1 New York Comic Con First Look PlayStation toronto The Walt Disney Company WarnerMedia joker Hear Us Out TCA Winter 2020 SXSW Logo monster movies Trivia The Academy batman finale true crime hist police drama Pop AMC Fox Searchlight spain vampires Rom-Com Year in Review RT21 HBO Max comic book movie dc Black History Month IFC Cannes CBS lord of the rings Vudu TruTV Thanksgiving gangster docuseries sports blockbusters Endgame Set visit Rocketman RT History Opinion HBO mutant Warner Bros. foreign Ovation crime thriller japanese ratings Spectrum Originals BET Awards Broadway mockumentary aliens comics nfl Cosplay facebook jamie lee curtis discovery golden globe awards TV movies new zealand unscripted Box Office rt labs AMC Plus game of thrones based on movie Esquire Sci-Fi Black Mirror cars trailers politics Tokyo Olympics harry potter TV Land nature singing competition TBS Cartoon Network Pet Sematary Apple TV Plus TV Best Actor American Society of Cinematographers Schedule Universal Pictures Horror Classic Film adventure talk show