Mild Spoilers for Harley Quinn Season 3 Follow!
Harley Quinn has quickly risen to the top as one of the most treasured shows in the massive landscape of DC television, and this is no small part thanks to showrunners Patrick Schumacker and Justin Halpern. The two showrunners have now gone through thick and thin with Harley Quinn, seeing it through its original run on DC Universe to its current new life on HBO Max with its third season. Schumacker and Halpern took on full creative control on Harley Quinn Season 3, with fellow co-creator Dean Lorey stepping aside to focus on the Kite Man-led Noonan’s animated series for HBO Max, and as the showrunners tell us in our exclusive interview, they’ve got plenty more in store for this twisted, self-deprecating version of Gotham City… some of their plans even stretching to a potential fourth season!
Harley Quinn Season 3 finally sees its titular anti-hero and the famed Poison Ivy fully take a chance on their unfiltered love. Being one of the more popular ships in the DC fandom, there was a heavy amount of pressure when it came to the depiction of the #Harlivy romance from the comics, yet Harley Quinn showrunners Patrick Schumacker and Justin Halpern rose to the challenge. “Their queerness is not amplified for brownie points; instead, the writing of Harley Quinn Season 3 treats the Harlivy duo with respect and dignity but is wrapped in an off-kilter, raunchy animated comedy series, with extra emphasis on raunchy.”
In sitting down with showrunners Patrick Schumacker and Justin Halpern, we were able to discuss how Harley Quinn Season 3 challenges Harlivy and how the two lovers might be in for more of a rollercoaster than they expected. The showrunners also cover how crucial Batman and the Bat Family are this season, with the introduction of Nightwing, and where the caped crusaders can go if Harley Quinn were to continue for Season 4. As a bonus treat, the writers also detail their new favorite meta jokes and how that special James Gunn cameo came to be.
So you two ended last season by finally making #Harlivy happen, which is something that fans were dying to see. Heading into Season 3, how do you keep the audience on the edge of their seats and continue to challenge Harley and Ivy as characters even though you’ve finally given them what they want?
Justin Halpern: Just because two people get together doesn’t mean that they aren’t going to struggle. You know, one of the things we talked about was the fact that Harley has a lot of bad habits from her previous terrible relationship. When you’ve been in a shitty relationship, it sometimes takes a while, but you don’t really know how to be in a good relationship after the breakup.
This season, especially, is a lot about these two people who kind of want two different things in life. How do they reconcile that with wanting to also be together? Harley doesn’t understand that because when she was with the Joker, she just did whatever he wanted – she was literally his sidekick. And that’s not the case now that she’s more of a fully fleshed-out person, with her own wants and desires. So, how does that translate into being with someone [like Poison Ivy] who might want something different than you?
I’m really curious as to how involved Kaley Cuoco and Lake Bell are when it comes to fleshing out Harley and Ivy’s romance, whether that be in the writing phase or during recording sessions?
Patrick Schumacker: Kaley is an executive producer on the show, so she and her team at Yes, Norman, which is her production company, are privy to everything during the script phase. When the writer’s draft comes in, it’ll get sent to them and they have the opportunity to weigh in. I would say Kaley has been very hands-off in a great way, you know, she trusts us and we’ve never had issues or anything that’s majorly bumped her this whole time. She’s just been really enthusiastic.
Lake isn’t a producer on the show, so our time with her is unfortunately limited. But I think over this over the past 3 seasons, the way that they have been able to inform the characters is just like immediately once they get in the booth, you know? Both Lake and Kaley are just fantastically gifted in terms of range and in terms of improvising at times. Like I’ve said before, Lake is a prodigious cursor; there are so many little Ivyisms, like expletives, that she’s just invented on the fly.
It’s that kind of “on the fly” nature that I think informs Ivy’s bumbling nature when she’s coming out. She’s trying to come up with these badass one-liners like a Steven Seagal movie but she can’t, she’s always failing at that and that really plays into this season big time just in terms of building her confidence as she tries to pull off this master plan of hers that Harley is trying to support. It’s been the “Harley show” in the relationship, and this season we get to deviate into another subject. I thought that was an important point to talk about this season.
Like you just said, the show is not just about Harley. In those regards, you’ve been introducing more of the Bat Family each season, and we’re now getting to meet Nightwing. Can you talk about utilizing more of Batman and the Bat Family in this version of Gotham City while still keeping a focus on Harley Quinn?
Patrick Schumacker: The Bat Family is instrumental in Season 3 in terms of Harley’s discovery of where she lands on the moral compass of things. Harley, throughout Season 3, finds herself either inadvertently or by spending a lot of time with Batgirl and seeing how things are on the heroic side of the spectrum, let’s say.
We also wanted to introduce Nightwing, played by Harvey Guillen from What We Do in the Shadows. He became really instrumental in Batgirl’s journey, and as this character who we wanted to portray as this sort of emo brooding version who comes back from Bludhaven, really fronting on how much of a badass he is. But really, it’s covering Nightwing’s deep insecurity that he no longer has a place firmly cemented in the Bat Family. So we just really wanted to expand that. You know, if we’re lucky enough to get another season after this, I think the Bat Family will continue to hopefully play a pretty instrumental part.
Another thing you two pull off very well is making the DC fans in on the humor. Everyone took notice when you took a friendly jab at the Snyder Cut last season. Now Season 3 even has a James Gunn cameo as himself. Can you talk about how James Gunn got involved and how you balance that meta element in the series?
Patrick Schumacker: Specifically with James Gunn, we knew he was a fan. He and I follow each other on Twitter, and just like a shot in the dark, I DM’d him and was like, “Would you have any interest in playing yourself?” I pitched him the whole thing in like a paragraph, and he got back very promptly and was like “I’m in love with the show, this sounds great. Call my reps, here’s their info.” And within a few weeks, we were recording with him while he was up in Vancouver doing Peacemaker. So we had him for like an hour and just knocked out all of his scenes.
Justin Halpern: We try to never be meta just for meta’s sake. You know, it feels like an easy trap to fall into, just like eating sugar. But if we’re doing something meta, we try to ask ourselves, “Would it actually exist in the universe?” Like, would this character actually do this? So, like, would there be a Thomas Wayne movie in this universe? Yeah, Bruce is a billionaire and his dad was this famous guy, there would be that movie. James Gunn might be the one to direct that movie, you know?
We do a joke in the premiere on Superman complaining about having used his free trial for HBO Max. And it’s like, yeah, Superman probably has streamers. He watches some and with others, he has free trials, he’s not sure if he wants to pay for them yet. And he would be fucking pissed that somebody signed him up for a streamer that maybe he wasn’t ready to sign up for. So we’ll be meta in that way. But we’ll never try to reference something just for the sake of it because I think that’s when your show becomes like an arcade game. Like, “I just want to add one more!”
Patrick Schumacker: We also have easter eggs as just little background jokes and things like that. Where we do sort of break our own rules and get a little bit more meta, it’s a blink and you miss it kind of thing. In the first handful of episodes in Season 3 when we’re in the Batcave looking at the Bat Computer, we’re looking at the desktop and there are all these folders on it. One of those folders might have the Ayer Cut in it.
That’s pretty bold of you two, to say the least!
Patrick Schumacker: Yeah, but It’s a blink and you miss it kind of thing!
Justin Halpern: It’s also not being released, I mean, as of yet (laughs).
Since we’re talking about the DC Universe and its fans, I’m not sure if you two noticed but when they released the first images from James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad, I know so many people who quickly associated that version of King Shark with the one from Harley Quinn since they’re both on the thicker side. Obviously, Gunn didn’t try to copy Harley Quinn, but how does it feel knowing that you’re making a noticeable contribution to the current DC zeitgeist?
Patrick Schumacker: I mean, it’s great. I have I truly have no idea how that stuff kind of happens.
Justin Halpern: I’m not sure if James had even seen our show. I don’t think he was influenced by our King Shark but it was just one of those things where we both came to an idea at a similar time. It’s cool that people thought that though.
Patrick Schumacker: Yeah, I would love for them to do some kind of bonus feature or something where Ron [Funches] overdubs Sylvester Stallone!
To send us off, there was a time when a third season of Harley Quinn wasn’t always for certain given the transition to HBO Max. Now that you got the lucky chance to go back and continue the story, did you approach the end of Season 3 as a more definitive closing or purposefully leave space open for a possible fourth season?
Justin Halpern: I think we approached Season 3 similar to how we approached it before. I mean, we ended Season 3 in a way that it could just be the end of the season, but if we got to Season 4, it would be exciting to see how the show would keep going. I would say we left Season 3 a little more open-ended in hopes that we would get a season 4. I think we felt good about it, and so we wanted to have that energy going into a fourth season if we were so lucky to get one.
Patrick Schumacker: Season 3 definitively ends with what I would call a little bit of a tease of what could possibly come!