Justin Halpern, Patrick Schumacker and Dean Lorey have just been hired by Warner Bros. to producer 26 half-hour episodes of a Harley Quinn animated series to launch on DC’s stand-alone streaming service next year. According to THR, Margot Robbie will be asked to voice Harley but is expected to decline due to her busy schedule, and the working premise of the series is as follows:
The animated series follows Harley as she breaks things off with the Joker and attempts to make it on her own as the criminal “queenpin” of Gotham City. The effort is described as an adult animated action-comedy. The project will also feature Poison Ivy and a cast of heroes and villains — old and new — from the DC universe.
This should seem like good news, but, tell me, did you like Powerless? More to the point, did you even watch Powerless? If not, here’s a taste of what the show had to offer:
That was NBC’s live-action workplace sitcom about the employees of a WayneCorps subsidiary security company specializing in protecting ordinary citizens from superhero battles and related fallout. It was DC’s first live-action sitcom, and it was pulled off the air after 9 low-rated episodes. With a stellar cast headlined by Vanessa Hudgens, Danny Pudi, Ron Funches, and, of course, Alan Tudyk, the show constantly seemed like a good idea in search of better execution or at least more consistent jokes. It was rarely outright horrible, but never quite properly balanced, although the AVClub seemed to love it.
Well, the dudes (Halpern, Schumacker, Lorey) responsible for Powerless (as well as, regrettably, Shit My Dad Says) are the ones who now get to make Harley Quinn:
The charitable view is Powerless’ failure can’t be blamed on them. The original showrunner was fired and the entire premise and related pilot reworked and reshot, leaving them to figure everything out on the run. As a result, while Powerless came out of the gate deeply flawed it mostly improved as it went along and wasn’t really given a chance to grow into something great. Giving them a second shot with Harley might be exactly what they need to get it right, and even if you don’t like Powerless Halpern and Schumacker previously consulted on the far superior iZombie and Lorey worked on Arrested Development.
The negative view is Powerless is a hackneyed sitcom with a quirky tone that’s arguably too light and not nearly anarchic enough for Harley Quinn. Moreover, what do these guys know about animation? Plus, they couldn’t have at least hired one woman to help produce DC’s second most popular female character behind Wonder Woman? On top of that, they expect me to pay for their streaming service to see this?
Of course, Harley is one of DC’s hottest properties, yet WB usually has no idea what to do with her.
Put her in booty shorts and make her lifelong ambition to someday have lots and lots of Joker babies? Suicide Squad tried that.
Turn her into an “Idiot Meat Skank” who literally shakes her tits and ass to distract the bad guys at one point? Batman and Harley Quinn did that, and people weren’t happy about it.
To be fair, Harley has long been a problematic character thanks to her toxic and emotionally abusive relationship with the Joker. Her obsession with him is a central component of her origin story, making it far too easy to simply cast her aside as the crazy girlfriend with a kooky accent. Her immense popularity has thus almost been a nuisance for WB. How do you commercialize a character with such a troubling past?
Option one: Sexualize the hell out of her and romanticize her “mad love” for Mistah J. See: Suicide Squad, Batman and Harley Quinn, the various Arkham and Injustice: Gods Among Us video games.
Option two: Just ignore all the troubling parts of her DNA and simply make her a kid-friendly clown. See: The Lego Batman Movie, DC Superhero Girls.
Option three: Lean into her potential to be a lovably independent, hilarious, sexually liberated, and often a quite meta-fictional figure by having her finally kick the Joker’s ass to the curb and take her mantle as DC’s Deadpool.
Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner, whose various best-selling Harley comic books have been integral to the character’s recent pop culture surge, wrote the rulebook for option 3. In their premise, Harley moves to Coney Island where she inherits an apartment building and immediately identifies with and befriends nearby freak show performers. While there, she’s fought zombies and saved the neighborhood multiple times all while palling around with various freaks, geeks and guest-starring DC superstars like Wonder Woman.
It’s not all shits and giggles and slinging literal (dog) shit at DC headquarters (as Harley accidentally does in one memorable meta-moment), though. Sometimes Palmiotti and Conner take a serious turn, such as when Harley finally stands up to the Joker in one of her most empowering panels of all time:
That this animated series is starting from a similar place of removing Harley from Joker’s psychological grasp and focusing on her efforts to strike out on her own is a step in the right direction. Whether Justin Halpern, Patrick Schumacker and Dean Lorey are the right guys for the job remains to be seen.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments.