A smorgasbord of Valentine’s Day shenanigans allows viewers to appreciate all the show’s humor and heart.
The Harley Quinn animated TV series has always been about subverting expectations. The basic DNA of the show initially seemed so formulaic (a raunchy take on DC Comics superheroes, scandalous!) before morphing into something much more fun and emotionally resonant. Potentially one-joke characters like Bane have become so delightfully nuanced and messy.
Even better, in its second season, the series embraced the kind of touching queer romance that most comic book adaptations only tiptoe around. Set up bowling pins of expectations. Harley Quinn is all too happy to knock them down, time and again.
The show’s latest confounding of the status quo is dropping a Valentine’s Day special in between its third and fourth seasons. While most streaming programs are all too happy to blow through entire seasons in a single day, Harley Quinn isn’t about to let a holiday like Valentine’s Day go by without exploiting it for some comic mayhem. Thus, fans get an extra 45-minute-long treat that encapsulates much of what makes Harley Quinn terrific: A Very Problematic Valentine’s Day Special.
Unsurprisingly for such a gooey romantic, Harley Quinn (Kaley Cuoco) loves Valentine’s Day. She’s especially excited to share it with her partner, Poison Ivy (Lake Bell). The more reserved Ivy wants to stay in and cuddle while watching TV, but Quinn insists on going all out. She’s going to make sure her lover has the most perfect holiday imaginable. This desire, though rooted in affection, inevitably causes mayhem. Turns out asking Entrigan the Demon (John Stamos) for help giving Ivy as much pleasure as possible in the bedroom isn’t a consequence-free choice.
Simultaneously, a pair of subplots see two other denizens of Gotham City dealing with Valentine’s Day heartaches. First, Clayface (Alan Tudyk) finds himself lonelier than ever after an internet date goes wrong. Thankfully, he gets another chance at romance after discovering a potential partner in the most unexpected places.
Meanwhile, Bane (James Adomian) is isolating, overwhelmed by his anxiety. Love may be in the air after he hits it off with Betty (Casey Wilson). Unfortunately, he may end up derailing the whole thing before it even starts moving down the tracks.
A Very Problematic Valentine’s Day Special is a terrifically fun outing.
Part of what’s made Harley Quinn so good, beyond just being undeniably funny, is balance. The show’s writing has consistently demonstrated a keen ability to juggle volatile elements that seemingly shouldn’t co-exist so well. In particular, it’s nearly always been spot-on at figuring out how to deliver extremely zany cartoon antics straight out of Rocko’s Modern Life one minute before shifting gears. Then, the next scene, the series will have you genuinely invested in these violent psychopaths. Happily, A Very Problematic Valentine’s Day Special keeps that trait alive and well.
Maintaining that quality means the special delivers plenty of ribald humor, with the biggest laughs coming from reliable scene-stealer Bane. The juxtaposition of such an intimidating figure speaking such mundane lines in a voice inspired by his Dark Knight Rises incarnation never gets old. Similarly, Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy being able to dish out the most graphic violence on billionaires and other foes while also engaging in vulnerable discussions isn’t new but continues to be as amusing as ever.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the relationship-based conflict between Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn is genuinely endearing. Writers Dean Lorey, Justin Halpern, and Patrick Schumacker resist the urge to go too big with the duo’s issues. Nobody believes these two characters will experience an Earth-shattering breakup within a between-seasons holiday special, after all.
The script for A Very Problematic Valentine’s Day Special centers points of conflict around relatable relationship stumbles. We see characters needing to listen to their partners more or still processing the bad habits of past toxic relationships. These low-key details are where the Harley Quinn universe has always thrived.
The only major downside comes in the big action-packed climax. It tries to tie together all the disparate storylines while heavily incorporating guest star Brett Goldstein. There are some amusing visuals in this set piece, certainly. The cues it takes from classic Kaiju movies happily echo the finale of another high-quality animated DC production, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. Still, the eventual resolution to all this conflict isn’t as packed with humor as the rest of the special. More damning, it briefly sidelines both Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy. Much like with Poochie, whenever those two aren’t on-screen, I can’t help but ask myself, “Where are Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy?”
Thankfully, aside from the finale going too big for its own good, A Very Problematic Valentine’s Day Special is a terrifically fun outing. It provides a dynamite showcase for what makes Harley Quinn such an unexpectedly great show. Of course, it has the lively voice acting and intoxicating romance fans have come to expect. It also brings in a welcome cameo from Michael Ironside as Darkseid and surprisingly loving nods to a wide array of DC Comics adaptations from the 2016 Suicide Squad movie to the 1970s Wonder Woman show. By living up to its reputation, A Very Problematic Valentine’s Day Special has its cake and eats it, too. It’s refreshingly different than most television while being unsurprisingly enjoyable.
Harley Quinn: A Very Problematic Valentine’s Day Special is stealing hearts on HBO Max as we speak!