The idea of a vulgar, adult-oriented Harley Quinn animated series initially seemed like a limited premise, but over the course of three seasons, the show has proved that it has far more to offer than shock value. Harley Quinn‘s fourth season continues to deliver rewarding character development, clever world-building, and an appealing cast of offbeat heroes and villains, along with plenty of naughty humor. While other superhero shows and movies often push darkness and tragedy, Harley Quinn goes in the other direction, and the result is one of the best and most consistently entertaining superhero shows on TV.
Harley Quinn has its own version of darkness and tragedy, but it’s always delivered with a smile and a chipper attitude, both by the show and the title character. The fourth season features its share of shocking deaths and gruesome developments, but nothing fazes Gotham City supervillain Harley Quinn (Kaley Cuoco). Actually, make that Gotham City superhero Harley Quinn, because the fourth season continues Harley’s hero arc after she saved the city from a zombie infestation at the end of the third season.
One great thing about Harley Quinn‘s standalone status is that it isn’t beholden to existing DC Comics continuity or continuity from any other DC shows or movies, so it can do radical things like put Bruce Wayne in prison and keep him there. Thanks to his role in inadvertently bringing about the zombie apocalypse — so he could resurrect his dead parents — Bruce is behind bars, and his Bat-Family cohorts are working to keep Gotham safe. Harley has joined up with Nightwing (What We Do in the Shadows‘ Harvey Guillen), Batgirl (Briana Cuoco), and Robin (Jacob Tremblay), and she even has a new superhero costume with a bat logo on it.
While Harley is perhaps a little too excited to become a superhero, her girlfriend Poison Ivy (Lake Bell) has taken her supervillainy to another level as the new CEO of the Legion of Doom. Harley and Ivy commit to keeping their personal and professional lives separate now that they’re on opposite sides of the hero/villain divide, but of course, that doesn’t exactly work out as planned. Still, their relationship remains strong, and Harley Quinn continues to give the Harley/Ivy romance the showcase it deserves.
With Harley’s shift to superheroism, some of Harley Quinn‘s former supporting cast falls by the wayside, and Harley’s former villain teammates Clayface (Alan Tudyk) and Doctor Psycho (Tony Hale) barely appear in the fourth season. Harley Quinn has developed such a delightful and varied supporting cast that there are plenty of new and returning faces to make up for it, though, including a welcome expanded role for the snarky Nora Fries (Rachel Dratch), ex-wife of Mr. Freeze, who becomes Ivy’s ineffectual executive assistant.
Christopher Meloni returns as the hilariously pathetic former police commissioner James Gordon, and Giancarlo Esposito’s vain Lex Luthor becomes the season’s primary antagonist, thwarting Ivy’s efforts to run the Legion of Doom her own way. After growing to literal giant proportions in the slightly underwhelming holiday special “A Very Problematic Valentine’s Day Special,” James Adomian’s Bane is back to his insecure, regular-sized self, with a very funny subplot that involves him going on a journey of self-discovery to Italy.
Harley and Ivy spend much of Harley Quinn‘s fourth season dealing with separate issues, not sharing as much screen time as in the past, but that allows for genuine character growth amid the silly humor. There are plenty of jokes about Nightwing’s notoriously glorious backside, but Harley also has much to learn from the Bat-Family, especially via her burgeoning friendship with Batgirl. It’s a common peril of breakout villain characters like Harley, Deadpool, and Venom that they become sanitized heroes as they get more popular, but Harley Quinn‘s writers don’t tone down the character’s penchant for violence even as she attempts to do the right thing.
Heroes and villains aren’t that far apart in Harley Quinn, even mingling at parties and funerals, and Ivy pioneers an initiative she calls “socially conscious evil” in keeping with her longstanding interest in environmentalism. Harley Quinn isn’t a show about delivering serious messages, but there is plenty of pointed social commentary in the way that Ivy is treated as the Legion of Doom’s first female CEO, from the disrespect from her underlings to the emphasis on crafting a PR image that someone like Lex doesn’t have to care about. She finds an unlikely mentor in fellow female villain Talia al Ghul (Aline Elasmar), who arrives to take charge of Wayne Enterprises following Bruce’s incarceration.
Harley Quinn‘s animation style remains bright and colorful, contrasting with the often graphic violence and adult subject matter. Even the most titillating elements serve a purpose, though, and the humor is more effective because it comes from characters the audience has gotten to know over the course of four seasons. Far from a one-joke concept, Harley Quinn remains a sophisticated, funny, creative series about the absurd world of superheroes.
The first three episodes of Harley Quinn’s fourth season premiere Thursday, July 27, on Max, with subsequent episodes debuting each Thursday.