Harley Quinn Valentine’s Day Special Review: A Riotously Funny Return
Feb 7, 2023
Home TV Reviews ‘Harley Quinn: A Very Problematic Valentine’s Day Special’ Review: A Riotously Funny and Heartwarming Return
Harley, Ivy, Clayface, and more are back in an extra-fun-sized special that wreaks a very different kind of chaos on Gotham.
Image via HBO
For those of us who have been counting down the days until a new season of Harley Quinn hits HBO Max (and perhaps fretting over its status on the streamer in light of recent cancellations), the release of the series’ first holiday special should prove reassuring in more ways than one. With a premiere date for the upcoming fourth season still TBD, it’s great to know that Harley Quinn (Kaley Cuoco), Poison Ivy (Lake Bell), Clayface (Alan Tudyk), and many more of our Gotham-based favorites are still kicking around — especially of the romantic and/or horny variety (although truth be told those two things should be more of an “and” than an “or” more often). Although the extra-fun-sized special (clocking in at 44 minutes) can sometimes overstay its welcome compared to the show’s typical 23-minute format, the utter mayhem that results from the story will leave you a little overwhelmed by everything you’ve just been witness to while simultaneously praising the animation gods for this delightful gift in the lull between seasons.
Now that they’ve officially become BFFs-now-GFFs (Best Friends Forever-now-Girlfriends Forever), the biggest dilemma hovering over this special for Harley herself is how to ensure that Ivy is treated to the best Valentine’s Day she’s ever had. For Ivy, an evening spent in comfy PJs binge-watching any number of shows before capping it off with some nighttime loving is the ideal scenario — but Harley manages to convince herself that what Ivy really wants is something big and grand and over-the-top, and, in spite of her girlfriend’s insistence to the contrary, goes to great lengths to enact a scenario that would probably fall under the dictionary as the definition of extra. But it’s the chaos that results from Harley’s good, if misguided intentions that lead to some of the show’s most ridiculous elements — including one character who, inadvertently having grown themselves to kaiju-size, begins destroying Gotham in a lust-filled, horny rampage.
Image via HBO
RELATED: ‘Harley Quinn’ Season 3 Review: Still a Hilarious Antidote to Serious Superheroes
What already made the series refreshing was showrunners Justin Halpern and Patrick Schumacker’s insistence that, in spite of the relationship grenades that might be lobbed in their direction from time to time, Harley and Ivy won’t be breaking up, likely ever. It’s a choice that differentiates the series not just from others of a live-action variety, but the comics medium itself. When the odds are that a new creator will step in and take over writing characters for a particular story arc, some established relationships might be completely changed, reversed from where they were, or simply wiped off the board entirely to start narrative arcs off with a clean slate. It makes big, bolder storytelling decisions — like Batman and Catwoman finally tying the knot — only remain that way for as long as they’re in that writer’s hands. By the time someone else picks up the baton, who knows if divorce will be in the cards — or if the marriage ever existed, to begin with?
Choosing to keep characters in a lasting relationship has been considered a bold move on television in the past, especially when you need to infuse a certain level of drama into a long-form narrative to keep your audience’s interest. But I’ve been a firm believer in the fact that you can still put your committed couple through the wringer here and there without needing to split them up, and Harley Quinn’s Valentine’s Day Special demonstrates the perfect example of how to do just that. Compared to Harley’s previous relationship with the Joker, her commitment to Ivy is still in its early stages, and that means there are going to be some growing pains as they figure out not only how to acknowledge each other’s differences, but make sure they’re not bulldozing over each other’s wishes because they think they know what the other person really wants. From a longtime fan’s perspective, the reassurance that these two women are still going to remain committed to each other even when things go very, very hornily awry means that it’s even more fun to just sit back and watch the shenanigans play out.
Image via HBO Max
Granted, not everyone else is as lucky in love this time of year as our main twosome; Clayface winds up being catfished by someone using Jason Momoa as their profile picture who turns out to be… not Jason Momoa, while Bane (James Adomian) finds himself trying to barge in on the Riddler (Jim Rash) and Clock King (Adomian)’s date night simply because he doesn’t have anything else to do — or anyone to spend the holiday with. These storylines play out somewhat in the background of Harley’s increasingly unhinged plot to engineer Ivy’s Best Valentine’s Day Ever, but in typical Harley Quinn fashion, these characters’ paths all inevitably converge by the time things have devolved into mass destruction (and orgies!) all across the city of Gotham. In some respects, these sideplots are not the most interesting piece of the overall episode, although watching a clueless Bane stumble his way into a meet-cute with a dominatrix sets up an unexpectedly sweet romantic arc that could hopefully continue once the show returns for a fourth season.
Beyond the mayhem, Harley Quinn’s Valentine’s Day special is packed to the brim with references that any superfan of classic rom-coms will appreciate — like the When Harry Met Sally-esque segments interspersed throughout featuring both classic and unexpected DC couples — as well as so many more good gags that haven’t been mentioned out of a desire not to spoil their impact. (Oh, and since it’s out there now: yes, the Brett Goldstein cameo is as delightful as you’ve imagined.) However, what Harley Quinn always succeeds at coming back to, throughout all the pandemonium, is that its leading ladies fell for each other because of their hearts, the truest parts of each other that exist beneath the outer layers of toughness. Cuoco and Bell have always been truly excellent at capturing those moments when their characters finally drop everything and engage with each other from a place of real honesty. As Harley and Ivy fall in love with each other all over again, this special will remind you why you fell in love with this show, too.
Harley Quinn: A Very Problematic Valentine’s Day Special premieres February 9 on HBO Max.
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