A key part of comedy, some believe, is saying what others are thinking. I’m not sure everyone who says that really understands why that’s a thing, but Harley Quinn, Max’s adult animated comedy about DC’s irreverent antihero, absolutely does. It is, among other things, a show dedicated to shouting what many people think about when they read Batman comic books. And what are they thinking about? Nightwing’s ass.
The notorious Booty of Blüdhaven is one of the series’ best new running gags in a show that has found a way to work in the Bat-family without becoming a Batman show. After a third season that was a little too focused on Batman, Harley Quinn season 4 puts Harley (Kaley Cuoco) and Poison Ivy (Lake Bell) back in the spotlight. In the new season, their relationship is still going strong, but their professional lives are at odds. Ivy is now the CEO of the Legion of Doom, Lex Luthor’s (Giancarlo Esposito) team of villains. Harley, meanwhile, has joined the Bat-family, trying her hand at hero work and helping Robin (Jacob Tremblay), Nightwing (Harvey Guillén), and Batgirl (Briana Cuoco) out while Batman is out of commission.
In the first half of the season, this is mostly played for jokes: Harley and Ivy rooting for and flirting with each other across enemy lines, trying to coordinate busy schedules with oppositional goals, and dealing with their individual difficulties on the job. Ivy, for one, is finding that Lex Luthor isn’t really interested in having a woman run things; turns out even the Legion of Doom can see the value of a DEI PR win. Harley’s new Bat-gig is also coming with a steep learning curve — being a good guy is kind of a buzzkill when you can’t murder supervillains willy-nilly.
Harley Quinn, in other words, is doubling down on its characters, focusing on their journeys and desires above all, no matter how ridiculous. After some slow scope creep that saw the series focus a little too much on lambasting the Bat-universe, the show’s DC setting is now back to its rightful place as a spicy seasoning, not the main course. The result is two parallel workplace comedies with slightly different comedic flavor: Ivy dealing with things like a boss worried she will upstage him at a supervillain conference, and Harley dealing with the whiplash that comes with hunting down the criminals that used to idolize her for bashing people’s heads in.
This means that Harley Quinn’s jokes are funny without the DC context (cheering your partner on as she does crimes you and your colleagues are supposed to be stopping, a reliably fun bit) and even funnier if you do have the DC comics knowledge to know that losing it over Nightwing’s ass (a running gag this season) is very much A Thing. Harley Quinn, in turn, has a field day with this: Putting him in a magazine about Gotham’s Hottest Hotties, having the villainous Professor Pyg attempt to steal it, and generally finding any excuse to show it off.
If there’s a shortcoming to this, it’s that five episodes in, the show seems a little too light. Harley Quinn doesn’t need to have a Bojack Horseman-style stand-alone tear-jerker episode (though the show’s writers would probably kill a parody of one), but in the past it’s done a pretty great job at giving its character arcs some stakes. It’s possible Harley’s and Ivy’s opposing career paths will start to cause more personal conflict as we get to the back half of the season, but currently, the show’s writers don’t seem that interested in that, and they’re having enough fun that it’s no big deal if they never do.
Or maybe Nightwing’s ass will turn out to be the real threat. He should have a license for that thing.
The first five episodes of Harley Quinn season 4 are now streaming on Max, with new episodes on Thursdays.