Patrick Schumacker is taking television by storm with DC Universe’s Harley Quinn. Schumacker along with his writing and producing partners Justin Halpern and Dean Lorey are responsible for giving fandom a show well worth their buck. One of the last things audiences thought they needed was an R rated Harley Quinn series, yet now people could not be asking for more. It turns out that studios are more likely to hit the jackpot than failing when taking certain creative gambles, it only takes the right mix of bold voices.
Fans of Harley Quinn may have already seen some of Schumacker’s other work without even knowing it. The writer has been working in television for over a decade. People are sure to be familiar with shows such as iZombie and Cougar Town. Fans of DC Comics, in particular, will recognize Schumacker’s name attached to Powerless – NBC’s short-lived office sitcom that still proved to be super despite not featuring many superpowers. Out of the ashes of that show’s cancellation rose another DC gem. One that would go on to boast the talents of Kaley Cuoco (The Big Bang Theory), Lake Bell (In a World…), and Alan Tudyk (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story).
Harley Quinn just had its second season premiere on DC Universe. We were lucky enough to have showrunner Patrick Schumacker for an exclusive interview. We talk about new iconic DC characters joining the cast, Harley’s relationship with Poison Ivy, and the potential for a third season. Check it out below!
DF: How did you first get involved in the Harley Quinn series?
PS: All the way back in the summer of 2016, the project landed on our lap. Justin Halpern, my writing and producing partner for a long time, and I were in our office on the Warner Brothers lot. We got a very fortuitous call from Susan Rovner, an executive over at Warner Brothers now co-president of the television studio. She said to us, “How would you guys like to develop an R rated serialized Harley Quinn animated show?” and it was sort of a no brainer. I myself have been a very long time comic book enthusiast with DC and Marvel. I have an X-Men tattoo – I love them. My only experience working with DC had been on a live-action half-hour program called Powerless, which is kind of the next part of the story because Powerless was in development and then production in 2016. What happened was the original showrunner and creator of Powerless asked if we would come on board as consultants on the show. We did, one thing led to another and the network decided that they wanted to test the show. We actually had the show probably for about a year. It was sort of a bird in the hand situation with the studio because they had something on the air – something they wanted our help with. They promised us that we would be able to sort of reconvene on highways the next year, and to their credit we did.
We pitched the show and basically what happened was because of that extension or hiatus – because Powerless actually allowed time for the DC Universe network to form infrastructure, they said they would pick up Harley Quinn for two seasons immediately, or 26 episodes we probably put it. We always knew that we wanted to tell two discrete 13 episode arcs from very early on. It felt like a no brainer. Rather than taking it out wide and pitching the show to your Netflix, Amazons, etc. – we knew were going to do this and that this was real. It was too enticing to automatically produce 26 episodes with a show to even consider going anywhere else.
The writer’s room set up again in November of 2017 and we worked on the scripts all the way through about January of 2019. So to all the way now, we have a couple episodes from season two that we need to put finishing touches on. It’s in terms of post-production, just mixing and that sort of stuff. It’s been a very, very long process. If you count that year, if you count the original pitch – it’s almost a four-year process. If we get another season, you know that won’t be the case but here we are.
DF: The voice cast for the series is absolutely star-studded and for the second season, Catwoman, Batgirl, and Mr. Freeze are being introduced. Can you speak about who will be voicing these characters and why you chose those actors?
PS: I’ll start with Catwoman. Sanaa Lathan voices her. We went with Sanaa because she just nailed the accuracy of the character’s feel and apathy that we were going for. I think Michelle Pfeiffer’s portrayal of the character in Batman Returns was a heavy inspiration for what we wanted to do. The writer Sarah Peters, who was on our staff and wrote the episode with Catwoman’s introduction (episode three of season two), was obsessed with Pfeiffer’s portrayal. The way that she pitched the character: we all have a friend who wears outrageous outfits and then looks so cool but when we do it, we look like idiots. We keep doing this because we want to be them so badly. That was sort of the main component of Ivy’s relationship with Catwoman, that Catwoman is the one human being that can really make Ivy kind of just go looney. Sanaa is someone who can really capture that too cool for school attitude. She just felt perfect for us. She does fit the role, it was very obvious – but once we got to her tape we knew she was the one. We also wanted to do the most we can with the cast. With Eartha Kitt, an African American woman who portrayed Catwoman back in Batman ’66, we knew it’s been done in the past. This wasn’t breaking any ground or anything, but we still really wanted to go with a person of color and also portray a character visually as a person of color. That was our approach to the character.
Then we go to Batgirl, Barbara Gordon. Bri Cuoco voices her, that’s Kaley’s sister in real life. We thought it was cool! First off, she’s just bubbly, vivacious, and full of energy. Batgirl is like a big Batman stan. She’s this fangirl who has this innocent admiration for real heroes, which then inspired her to go out and act. When we introduce her (episode two of season two), she had just started as a boarding college student in Gotham, but the Riddler ends up taking over Gotham University, closing it off and putting all the students on lockdown. Seriously, it’s the only place in the city with power. That’s what Harley and Ivy want to break in there for – to figure out why they have power and also as a revenge plot against the Riddler. In that episode, which becomes a kind of a Batgirl origin story, Barbara starts to become a hero. She ends up meeting Harley on campus when Harley and Ivy disguise themselves as college students in the rebranded Riddler University. Bri obviously has a well-earned sister relationship with Kaley who plays Harley. We wanted to keep that going in the show, so she felt like a natural fit when those two get together. They sort of sound like sisters, Batgirl is almost like a little sister to Harley. She kind of really looks up to her even though Harley’s a villain. She sees the good in her and that she is capable of doing productive things, creative things rather than destructive things. Bri felt like a natural fit there.
Then Mr. Freeze is Alfred Molina, who is amazing. Our casting directors Ruth Lambert and Robert McGee had cast Molina in Rick and Morty. We called him through our casting directors and he was like “yeah, that sounds great”! I mean really at this point we were kind of spoiled. We had gotten messages from so many people for so many roles. Alfred came in and we didn’t talk a ton beforehand. He had read the material and we talked a little before he got in the booth. He kind of got the character immediately. We asked, “Hey you could be like Eastern European right? We’re thinking we want to move into more gothic horror with him”. He got into character, “Oh yeah, yeah, no problem” and immediately went into it. Oh my God, he could do anything. I mean, he’s Alfred Molina.
DF: So you mentioned a bit about Harley and Ivy because so many fans are invested in their dynamic. Can you talk about how that will progress in the second season?
PS: I haven’t been very tight-lipped on social media about this topic, but their relationship in season two definitely progresses romantically and has significant ramifications for what would be the third season – if we get it. Essentially, the big emotional arc between those two is the discovery of their feelings for each other outside of their friendships. That there is something more. It starts with Harley realizing midway through the season, after having a revelation. I don’t want to spoil, but there is a flashback. It deals with Harley meeting the Joker and Ivy for the first time when she shows up as a therapist in Arkham. That flashback recontextualizes a lot of what we know about Harley, Joker, and their relationship. Why she kind of fell for him and helps her understand that “Wow, Ivy is so much more to me and I think I might be in love with her”. But Ivy was in a relationship with Kite Man. Whether or not you know that relationship, understandably some people do some people don’t, it’s a pretty unexpected pairing – but everyone in that relationship is well-intentioned.
Kite Man as cheesy as he can be, does mean well and does love her. Ivy, who is someone who does not let many close to her, has kind of found safety in him. It’s kind of boring, but it’s safe and not that meaningful to her. Due to that relationship being quote-unquote good, it’s not perfect and it’s good, Harley is torn between expressing her real feelings to Ivy and letting the status quo be because she cares so deeply for her. The last thing she wants to do is sort of rip her life apart. She’s also been criticized by Ivy for being selfish, which she often is at times. This would be another example of that. So yeah, in season two their relationship grows into romantic territory.
DF: Gotham City is essentially in ruins and is no longer part of the United States in this second season. How will this affect the main characters, this new state of Gotham City?
PS: We love No Man’s Land, the comic book event that sort of inspired that. We really wanted to use it as a vehicle to fracture the city. Have it broken up into different areas – different realms that were run by various heavies from Batman’s rogue gallery. It’s really more of a function of allowing Harley to continue being pushed down by the powers that be. Those powers being Penguin, Two-Face, Bane, Mr. Freeze, and the remaining big bads in Gotham. We also used it as a vehicle for the first four or five episodes to be episodic in focusing on each of those villains. So we thought of which territories to explore.
PS: We open season two with Harley looking at this No Man’s Land as her playground. The rest of her career is saying to her, “Hey you did all of this stuff, you’ve achieved so much in the first season – why are you resting when you could be doing so much more?” It was a device to kickstart what becomes the Harley/ Ivy story because No Man’s Land doesn’t run throughout the whole season. Ivy sort of tells Harley, “Hey we were with you this whole time (season one), we essentially killed the Joker even though we know he’s alive, but he’s not himself. We defeated him and here you are, let’s do something more!”
That something more is: I’m going to take down all of these fascists that try to put me in a block of ice. Like Han Solo in carbonite essentially. However, the No Man’s Land scenario really affects Gordon the most because season two is really his redemption story. He’s the guy that eventually is in direct communication with the president, who basically towards the end of the second season is like, “If you stop Harley Quinn, if you take her down, we will reinstate Gotham back into The United States”. That has a direct influence on Gordon, who gets back on top by the end of the season after having these delusions of grandeur in trying to achieve greatness.
DF: You mentioned a couple of times about a potential third season because, as you sort of alluded to at the start, it was always planned to be a 26 episode sort of two-season run. However, the show has been massively beloved by fans. Would you like to see a third season of the show happen on DC Universe?
PS: Oh absolutely. We actually end the season with some closure for particularly Harley and Ivy’s relationship, but it also allows a clear entry point into what we’ll do in season three. When I said before that the plan was always to do 26 episodes, I really said that from the studio’s perspective. That’s how many episodes they felt they could give us that made financial sense because of animation. I’m used to working in live-action, which is very different for obvious reasons and perhaps not obvious reasons, but essentially if we did 26 straight through, it enabled us to save quite a bit in producing individual episodes. Just because we were able to keep the production crew, pre-production crew, storyboard artists, etc., and keep that infrastructure in place rather than essentially shutting down production so that we could write the second season or part of it and then bring everyone back. We don’t have to lose everyone and it just becomes much more cost-effective, but you also have to max out at a certain point if you’re the studio. So 26 was what they offered and then it was sort of obvious for us that we would be able to make that work into discrete arcs.
DF: What other projects of yours would you like to make our readers aware of?
PS: If you do like Harley Quinn, in terms of stuff that Justin Halpern, Dean Lorey, and I worked on together in the DC world – we did spend one season working on Powerless, another one of those live-action comedies. It’s much more of a general audience’s type of show. It’s definitely not like this, but I think that is something I would check out and look into.