Landing between the live-action movies “Joker” and “Birds of Prey,” the timing of “Harley Quinn” — an animated series for the streaming service DC Universe — could hardly be better. But the result of this very adult comedy (seriously, not for kids) feels very inside baseball — skewed as it is toward the kind of fanboys who’ll appreciate the way-inside jokes and savour the overall naughtiness.
Granted, DC has enjoyed considerable success within that niche with grown-up animation, particularly with its direct-to-DVD movies, which have generally been more satisfying than the higher-profile cohort unleashed in theatres, including “Suicide Squad,” a pretty lousy movie enlivened by Margot Robbie’s take on the bat-wielding psychotic sidekick.
Still, the Adult Swim sensibility of “Harley Quinn” — focusing on the Joker’s sadistic gal pal, while charting an unexpected rift in their decidedly unorthodox relationship — is an acquired taste, one best consumed in bites rather than a wholesale binge.
Dropping F-bombs when she’s not bludgeoning her foes, the hyper-sexualized Harley (voiced by “The Big Bang Theory’s” Kaley Cuoco) winds up doing a stint in Arkham Asylum. There, she meets Poison Ivory (Lake Bell), a level-headed villain who seeks to impress upon Harley that Joker (Alan Tudyk) is more enamoured with the Batman (Diedrich Bader), in his twisted way, than he is her.
There is a fair share of clever lines buried within the mayhem, from Harley derisively being called a “porn clown” to the question of whether their celebrity couple name is “JoQuinn” to Harley telling Joker at one point, “Even for you, that’s a lot of maniacal giggling.” The whole thing, in fact, plays like an extended Mad magazine spoof of the DC galaxy, one that obviously works best for those who can grasp the complexities of jokes about Clayface and King Shark.
Perhaps that’s why the series plays like a carnival ride — something that’s fun and exciting the first time, and tiring and a little nausea-inducing by the time you reach the 13th, which happens to be how many episodes were made for the first season.
Of course, something like DC Universe’s whole reason for being is to hyper-focus on the comic-book fan and give them the kind of content they can’t find anywhere else, the better to separate them from their money. That includes a number of basically R-rated versions of familiar characters, including the live-action “Titans” and “Doom Patrol.” (Like CNN, DC Entertainment is part of WarnerMedia.)
Seen that way, “Harley Quinn” should connect with that hard-core audience. Beyond that, the series — with apologies to Harley’s preferred choice of weapon — beats you over the head with everything there is to like about it, while killing time until DC’s next heavy hitter arrives.