HARLEY QUINN 2×02 “Riddle U” review

Harley Quinn (DC Universe)

Harley Quinn airs new episodes Friday’s via DC Universe, the series will air in the UK on E4.

Synopsis

Harley and Ivy (LAKE BELL) go undercover as college students to take down Riddler, who’s made himself the dean of the local university, where he has sinister plans for the students – including Barbara Gordon, Commissioner Gordon’s daughter!

Review

If previous episode, “New Gotham” (reviewed here), set the scene for this new landscape of the destroyed city, then “Riddle U” is all about the format this new batch of episode is going to take.

With Penguin cold and in the ground, Harley (Kaley Cuoco) has set herself up a kill board and is going after the rest of the Injustice League. Like episodes in season one, “Riddle U” wastes no time in getting to the action as Harley and Ivy (Lake Bell) go undercover to take down Riddler (Jim Rash) who has taken over Gotham University.

This is much more a “business as usual” episode which features plenty of the crazy action we’ve come to expect from the series. It’s no small feat that the writers take these incredibly simple plots like Riddler holding all the power in Gotham and wrap them up in some incredibly complex narratives.

There’s a lot in play during “Riddle U” with Harley and Ivy undercover, the introduction of Barbara Gordon (played by Kaley’s younger sister Briana Cuoco), Clayface (Alan Tudyk) undercover as student Stephanie plus appearances by Commissioner Gordon and a sub-plot for King Shark (Ron Funches) and Dr. Psycho (Tony Hale).

”Riddle U” has much more comedy than the previous episode. Between Jimmy Riddler the mascot, Clayface’s best character performance yet as the aforementioned Stephanie and jokes about Acapella groups and the merits of art history degrees. Totally it’s more in line with classic episodes of Harley than last week but overall it pushes the aesthetic from last week forwards well.

I’m still not feeling Christopher Meloni’s Jim Gordon. It’s not his performance at all, it’s they way the character is written. Clearly down on his luck following his wife asking for a divorce he’s now moved in with Barbara on campus but instead of working to take down Riddler he’s crying in the shower and being a general drag.

Given his previous appearances I did wonder how Harley Quinn would be able to introduce a more contemporary, empowered Barbara Gordon without her having a very odd dynamic with her father. Funnily enough barely share screen time so I wonder if the writers are still trying to work that dynamic out.

As Harley, Ivy and Clayface-Stephanie work their way through the Riddle U campus, King Shark and Dr. Psycho steal a water filter from Two-Face to try and get clean water in to their mall hideout. It only makes up a handful of scenes but marks a storytelling shift for the series. It’s rarely put members of the gang in their own subplots in the past but certainly makes Harley Quinn feel more like an ensemble piece rather than a vehicle for the titular character alone.

Alan Tudyk as Clayface as Stephanie absolutely steals the show bringing so many laughs to the episode. His longing to take up a relationship with college stud Chad is the source of plenty of laughs, particularly as it completely distracts him from the mission as he gets lost in character.

With Tudyk pulling multiple roles in the show it’s mind boggling how he keeps all these voices separate and original. You can hear hints of his Clayface in Stephanie and it only serves to add more to the comedy.

Underneath the layers of comedy there was still a worthwhile story to be told, one which once again pitches Harley as more of an anti-hero. Though she had selfish means for going after Riddler her actions free the students at Gotham University including those being held hostage of hamster wheels to generate power.

Perhaps more importantly, although potentially not great for her, she also inspired Barbara Gordon towards her future vigilante career. Her characterisation feels perfectly matched to the show without diverging too far from the source material. Her glee at taking down Riddler feels like its ripped from the pages of DC Comics and I’m intrigued to see whether she appears more given where we leave her in this episode.

This new villain-of-the-week format feels fresh for the series after the much more serialised season one. For fear of repeating myself: I went in to Harley Quinn expecting a series which would bring the laughs, the crazy characters and the violence, colour me impressed that it has such strong storytelling too.

Verdict

“Riddle U” functions on so many levels as a classic episode of Harley Quinn. It made me laugh, it’s got some sickening violence and works as a brilliant introduction to the character of Barbara Gordon.

8/10

Harley Quinn stars Kaley Cuoco as the voice of Harley, and she’ll be joined by Lake Bell, Alan Tudyk, Ron Funches, JB Smoove, Jason Alexander, Wanda Sykes, Giancarlo Esposito, Natalie Morales, Jim Rash, Diedrich Bader, Tony Hale and Chris Meloni.


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By Neil Vagg

Neil is the GYCO Editorial Chief. He has a BA in Film & TV and an MA in Scriptwriting; he currently works 9-5 as an office manager and 5-9 as a reviewer/web designer. He has been subscribing to comics for around nine years but has been reading them as long as he can remember. Favourite comics: Batman; Nightwing, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and All New X-Men Favourite films: Batman (any apart from & Robin); Star Trek Generations, Underworld, Beetlejuice Favourite TV shows: Fringe; Buffy, Arrow, TBBT, Being Human UK and Star Trek TNG