Harley Quinn Season 4 Review – Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: July 27, 2023 (Last updated: April 6, 2024)
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Harley Quinn Season 4 Review
Harley Quinn Season 4 (Credit - Max)
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Summary

With the violence and the comedy very much intact despite some – arguably necessary – changes to the status quo, Harley Quinn continues to carve out a really distinct space in the adult animation market.

Harley Quinn has had a fascinating trajectory since its debut on the now-defunct DC Universe streaming platform back in 2019. And I don’t mean the show’s inevitable transition to Max with the rest of DC’s small-screen superhero efforts, either.

For one thing, Harley has survived the move with her brand of anarchic, self-referential, strictly adult humor intact and has managed to embrace a sense of deliberate “wokeness” entirely without compromise. This is an animated superhero show on a major streaming platform that is explicitly about sexuality, relationships, identity, and in a roundabout way, acceptance, and it makes both itself and the storied lineage of its beloved comic book underpinnings the butt of the joke.

Season 4, while perhaps easing off on some of the best dynamics to better explore new ideas, not all of which work as well, still maintains the most essential aspects of the character and her show. It’s funny, daring, and unpredictable. And there’s no other contemporary mainstream superhero media like it.

Harley Quinn Season 4 is Really Unique in the Animation Market

The fourth season picks up right after the end of the third, with Harley (Kaley Cuoco) joining the Bat-family to leave her villain ways behind. But that also means leaving her girlfriend Poison Ivy (Lake Bell) behind, at least professionally, since she has taken on a new role as the leader of the Legion of Doom.

This sets up the two major conflicts of this season. The first is Harley’s innate anarchist and penchant for murder, which makes it difficult for her to fit in with the very square Batgirl (Briana Cuoco), Nightwing (Harvey Guillén), and Robin (Jacob Tremblay). The second is how the sudden change in circumstances causes problems for Harley and Ivy’s relationship.

Luckily, this isn’t as maudlin or as serious as it sounds. It’s mostly just an excuse for jokes or elaborate scenarios, most of which rope in recurring characters like The Joker (Alan Tudyk), Clayface (also Tudyk), and King Shark (Ron Funches) so that the dynamics can be shifted slightly around the change in circumstances.

The only lamentable consequence of this approach is that it keeps Harley and Ivy separate for longer than the show usually does, and it’s notably better when they’re together.

In many ways, though, this is the logical progression of a show in its fourth season. Yes, this group started out as an ensemble in what was essentially a break-up comedy, but the show has moved beyond that, and the characters must follow suit. This, and the fact that many of the individual storylines are very enjoyable on their own terms, makes the inevitable trade-off in more cozy, intimate moments more worth it.

And no concessions have been made in the humor, which continues to take jubilant aim at the very nature of itself and its DC and Marvel contemporaries. But Harley’s refusal to forget she’s in a comedy show first and foremost also sets up fun interactions with new characters like Nightwing and Batgirl, and the sometimes-ludicrous take on established characters elsewhere occasionally amounts to some of the season’s overall highlights. Bane, for instance, is the best part of Ivy’s girl-boss sexism-in-the-workplace story arc by a country mile.

Is Harley Quinn Season 4 good?

Look, it’s still really good. While I’m on the subject, it’s often impressive and surprisingly good, even after all this time. While the separation of the leads will be a bone of contention for some, the upsides are well worth it in the long run.

And, crucially, none of the changes detract from the core experience. It’s still just as funny, daring, and violent.

Fans of the show who have made it this far are unlikely to find anything particularly off-putting about this latest season, the temporary physical separation of Harley and Ivy perhaps notwithstanding.

Since it has a history of aggravating the right people, Harley Quinn certainly won’t be enjoyed by everyone, but much like how every character has a place in the show, the series has its own, very specific space in the market.


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