Batman: The Animated Series, Epsiode 081: “Harley’s Holiday”
Written by: Paul Dini
Directed by: Kevin Altieri
Originally Aired: October 15, 1994
DVD: Batman TAS, Volume 3
Summary: Finally declared sane and released from Arkham, Harleen Quinziel tries to put her criminal past behind her, and is actually successful… for ten minutes.
Batman: The Animated Series added several new characters to the mythos, such as Lock-Up and Officer / Sgt. / Detective Montoya. But the undoubted breakout star was Harley Quinn. Paul Dini originally came up with an idea for a female sidekick of the Joker for use in Joker’s Favor because, well, he needed someone to pop out of a cake and it would be weird if Joker himself did that (of course, Timm then turned around and realised that it was funnier if Joker himself was in the cake anyway).
When Paul mentioned the idea to me, I thought “Okay, that’s kind of clever.” We put her in Joker’s Favor but it wasn’t until we got the footage back from overseas and put it on the screen that everyone instantly fell in love with her.
Bruce Timm, Modern Masters, page 41.
The issue with Harley quickly became apparent: her performance, enhanced and inspired by former Days of Our Lives star Arleen Sorkin (a friend of Dini’s), was actually too good, as she was undercutting the hard-boiler drama the creators were going for.
As much as I didn’t want to keep using her, because I had this gut feeling… We kept trying to make the Joker scary, and scary, and scary, and by having his wacky girlfriend there it brings out his goofier side. I was really cocerned about that, but we all loved the character, so Paul kept sticking her in every Joker show.
Bruce Timm, ibid.
If you listen to the Return of the Joker commentary track, you learn just how attached Dini was to Harley – a couple of the other crew members jokingly refer to her as Paul’s daughter. In the end, though, the team was able to figure out how to work Harley into both types of stories – one of which became legendary after the fact.
Eventually we were able to pull off some really dark stories with her, as well as some fun and light ones, like “Harlequinade” and “Harley’s Holiday.” But certainly “Mad Love”, which we did in the re-vamp(sic) Batman, was one of the darkest shows we ever did.
Bruce Timm, ibid.
Thoughts on the Episode:
Some episodes of Batman were gritty crime fiction.
Some episodes were prime superhero action.
This episode… this episode is Batman-as-screwball-comedy, complete with a female lead, an insane setup and a tank. And, of course… it works.
So by this point in the series (well into Batman: TAS season 2, after the name change), Harley was well-established as a character. Heck, she’d already featured in her own episode (Harlequinade), but was some ways off from her origin getting animated treatment. This, however, was an entirely Joker-free episode, which if not providing a lot of insights into Harley’s character, proved that she could carry an episode all by herself without a certain clown interfering.
The plot of a con given a chance to go straight and screwing things up isn’t exactly original, as the same themes were even explored in several other B:TAS episodes, such as “Riddler’s Reform”. Unlike that episode, however, the main character thrust of this episode is that Harley genuinely wants to get better. By the end of the story, it’s actually gained a rather hard edge – Harley obviously hasn’t done much of anything wrong besides stealing a car and taking Ronnie for a joyride (… NOT LIKE THAT!!!…), but the world is conspring against her. Her last few lines in the fight with Batman are genuinely tragic; the script builds up a ton of sympathy for a nominal villain in about 10 minutes’ worth of writing, which is pretty remarkable.
Of course, even with the sobering final act, the main point of this episode is that it brings the funny in a big way. Virtually all the gags are a lot of fun, from Harley’s flirty behaviour with Bruce (and nearly figuring out his secret) to Ronnie’s crazed father to the comical animation used throughout the episode. Check out Harley and Bullock’s poses when she first steals the car – it’s very much like something out of Looney Tunes.
The only real down point of the episode is that the whole Boxie plotline just seems like an unnecessary diversion away from the main plot. It works as a way to break up the chase sequences, but it’s a bit extraneous, as well as being an almost purely action scene in an episode that doesn’t really care about such things. Thankfully, things get better soon afterwards, as General Vreeland shows up in the Tank and we’re quickly dragged back into the screwball comedy we started with. Which, really, is all that matters in the end. Harley would enjoy a more poignant showcase the next season, but this balance of humour and pathos is really what defines the character in my eyes.
Grade: B+. Very much a madcap farce in style, executed successfully, with a nice edge at the end.
- Holy crud, Ronnie looks like an anime chick for her last couple of scenes. She practically grows Lisa Hayes‘ mullet in that screencap above.
- Sure, that “SANE” gag is a lift from The Simpsons, but it’s still awesome.
- I once again cite Ronnie as one of my favourite supporting characters from this show. She’s a little bit more interested in him than in later appearances here, but it’s still pretty obvious their relationship isn’t much more than friends. Since Bruce doesn’t really have any friends, this slots her into a pretty unique place.
- Only 10% off? Harley has low standards for clothing sales…
- Geez, this episode is like a shipper’s heaven. Harley’s around Ivy, throws herself at both Bruce and Batman, and the fact that Ronnie’s got the same hair colour as her ‘friend’ Ivy doesn’t go unnoticed.
- This is exactly the type of episode that Robin wouldn’t have appeared in if it wasn’t for the network mandate that he feature in the new season as a regular. He’s basically extraneous to the entire story.
- Notice how I avoided any shots of Harley in the bootie shorts? No inflation of the viewership count on this one with creepy people looking for… images.
Line of the Episode: “Good evening, child… WORSHIP ME, FOOLS!!!” It’s not really in character for Crane (more Maxie Zeus), but it’s a funny start to a very funny episode.
Next Justice League: Harley gets to play girl reporter in “Wild Cards.”
Next Time: The second half of our Harley double-bill… and the more famous of the two. Based on the Eisner-award winning story, it’s “Mad Love.”