Harley Quinn Season 3 Review: Another Grand Slam for DC Animation

The chaotic collective of Dr. Harleen Quinzel, Poison Ivy, and company are back for more R-rated adventures in Harley Quinn Season 3. Following two seasons on the now-dormant DC Universe, Harley Quinn and the rest of the streamer's original content migrated to HBO Max in the fall of 2020 and has not looked back. Titans Season 3 saw significant critical improvements from its first two installments, while Doom Patrol continued its strong momentum towards a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes for its third run. Fortunately for Harley Quinn, this series enters its tertiary chapter on a pedestal few shows have stood upon.

Season 3 picks up where Season 2 concluded: Harley and Ivy are officially an item and are embarking on what Joker's former mistress describes as the "Eat, Bang, Kill Tour." The power couple is reunited with their unlikely ensemble of King Shark (Ron Funches), Clayface (Alan Tudyk), and Frank the Plant (JB Smoove) as Ivy sets her sights on terraforming Gotham into an Eden paradise. Meanwhile, Jim Gordon and Joker find themselves locked in an A-list mayoral race, Batman and Catwoman pursue romantic relations, and James Gunn (yes, the real-life director) prepares for a mystery film with the help of Harley's crew.

For fans of the first two installments, Harley Quinn Season 3 is a grand slam. This run is full of the quick-witted dialogue that immortalized the series on timeless TikTok clips long after its episodes first aired. Kaley Cuoco's comedic timing as Quinn is as sharp as ever, and Lake Bell's low-key Ivy provides a welcomed balance to the frantic dynamic. Opposites attract, and Quinn's clingy nature combined with Ivy's career-oriented focus makes for a perfect pairing.

Harley Quinn's execution is particularly impressive. Smart writing can be present in any project, but it all comes down to how it is delivered. With ten 22-minute episodes that admittedly have a ton of filler, maintaining audiences' attention without slipping into the trap of becoming background noise is a tall order. Harley Quinn makes it look easy. The jokes are not punchlines for the sake of punchlines – they are naturally woven into the dialogue. The gags go beyond dialogue too, as there are numerous laugh-out-loud visual cues that borrow from the elite of animation (you'll know it when you see it). Much of that is thanks to the tone showrunners Patrick Schumacker (Abbot Elementary) and Justin Halpern (Powerless) established in the first two seasons. By Season 3 of any series, fans know what to expect, and it allows the creators to expand beyond exposition.

That is especially apparent in Season 3, as Harley Quinn begins to juggle multiple narratives at once. The titular antiheroine still commands the spotlight, but the driving force of the season's story revolves around Poison Ivy's plot to deindustrialize Gotham. Mix in side quests for Clayface, King Shark, and a lovesick Bruce Wayne and there's enough variety in this season to entertain all audiences.

That being said, those simultaneous storylines do come at the cost of proper pacing. Some episodes balance the numerous narratives exceptionally (particularly Episode 3 and Episode 4), but as Harley Quinn adds more side stories in the back half, it begins to stumble. Fortunately, the series stabilizes by the penultimate, which pays unexpected homage to an iconic horror film.

Beyond the humor, the best part of Harley Quinn is that it operates like both a Saturday morning cartoon and a comic book. With the modern superhero television scene often being criticized for being six-part movies, Harley Quinn embraces its episodic nature. Despite the aforementioned pacing woes, the filler installments are an appreciated change of pace from the modern streaming style of all plot, all the time. 

Just like how any player is on the table for a graphic novel, Harley Quinn makes amazing use of its DC Comics catalog of characters. Whether it be for blink-and-miss-it background appearances or one-off cameos (including one that left me genuinely speechless for a full five minutes) to help with that episode's mission, Harley Quinn brings in enough fan favorites that will appease both hardcore comic fans and casual audiences alike.

Harley Quinn Season 3 shows no signs of rust after its two-year hiatus. Making an audience feel invested is unfakeable, and the cast and crew behind Harley Quinn provide palpable enthusiasm with every line of dialogue. Couple that with beautiful tributes to DC's animated history, a jaw-dropping mid-season twist, and enough heart to create contagious smiles throughout, and Harley Quinn Season 3 is everything fans of the franchise could ask for.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Harley Quinn Season 3 begins streaming on HBO Max next Thursday, July 28th.