In a dark year, one of the few bright spots came from the unlikeliest of places — the definitely-not-for-kids Harley Quinn animated series that debuted on DC Universe and has now been folded into the HBO Max package.
The show's second season really leaned into the romance between Dr. Harleen Quinzel (Kaley Cuoco) and Dr. Pamela Isley (Lake Bell) that had been simmering through multiple forms of media since they teamed up in a 1993 episode of Batman: The Animated Series, although it often came in the form of subtext, hints and winks to LGBT audiences starved for representation. Now we've finally reached a point where their relationship can be explored head-on, and it became the overarching plot of the whole season.
This montage of important moments from the series shows the emotional baggage these damaged supervillains have had to sift through. Dr. Quinzel, despite being a trained psychiatrist, was nonetheless manipulated into a life of crime through an abusive relationship with the Joker (although she managed to free herself of her obsession with him, she still very much enjoys the "life of crime" part), while Dr. Isley's abusive family drove her to eschew all human contact and retreat into the world of horticulture as the eco-terrorist Poison Ivy.
A moment of kindness from Dr. Quinzel while Isley was imprisoned at Arkham Asylum leads to deep friendship between the two, but they are still supervillains with severe psychological issues, so it's an amazing balance between being blunt about following their desires and running from the risk of destroying that friendship. The fear of the latter is what drives Isley into a relationship with Kite-Man, a ridiculous villain (he glides around on a kite, and that's it) who nonetheless has such a likeable earnestness about him that we can easily see why his love would seem like a safe place for Ivy to hide from her true feelings for Harley.
It's not a thing she could hide from forever, though, as evidenced by the fact that when Harley overcompensates for being jilted for Kite-Man by going way overboard in trying to make Ivy's bachelorette party the best thing ever, Ivy is so touched by her devotion to their friendship that they wind up in bed together. That leads to another layer of angst and confusion.
It's a surprisingly engaging love triangle with as real an emotional connection as you can get in a cartoon where Ron Funches voices a talking shark-man.
Harley Quinn is now streaming on HBO Max.
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Andy Hunsaker has a head full of sitcom gags and nerd-genre lore, and can be followed @AndyHunsaker if you're into that sort of thing.