Melissa Rosenberg just helped redefine what we expect from superheroes on screen with the new Jessica Jones Netflix series. But let’s not forget her previous foray into superheroics: the 2002-2003 Birds of Prey TV show, which featured a ridiculously creepy Harley Quinn.
Harley Quinn is the demented ex-therapist who’s in love with the Joker (or “Mr. J”) and often dresses in some kind of sexy harlequin outfit. She’s got a starring role in the upcoming Suicide Squad movie, and also has her own sexy comic book. But the 2002 live-action version of Harley Quinn wasn’t a young kewpie doll, and she wasn’t particularly cute. Instead, she was still working as a therapist. In fact, for most of the first (and only) season of Birds of Prey, she’s providing therapy to Helena aka the Huntress.
Here’s a scene where she has way too much fun telling the Huntress you can’t just go around murdering people, wink wink:
Maybe it’s just me, but there’s something intrinsically creepy about an evil therapist. Someone who knows way too many of your secrets and has no moral compass. Usually, in most versions of Harley Quinn, she’s long since stopped providing therapy after she turned evil, but not in this version. She and Huntress don’t figure out each other’s secret identities until pretty late in the game.
From that same episode, for which Rosenberg shared a story credit with creator Laeta Kalogridis, here’s a scene where Harley is taking a shower and then a supervillain who can turn himself into water comes up her drain. Is she freaked out that there’s suddenly a creepy murderer in the shower with her? And they’re both naked? See for yourself:
As you’re probably getting at this point, the Birds of Prey TV show was pretty camptastic and silly, in the mold of the Schumacher Batman films. But it did also have really interesting female characters, with real friendships, and I like the fact that Harley Quinn is played by Mia Sara, who was in her mid-30s, as a kind of snarky professional woman. Birds of Prey is definitely an example of a show that didn’t quite have time to find its footing, since it lasted only 13 episodes.
As you can see from the clip up top, in the series finale, Harley Quinn gets mind-control powers, much like what Kilgrave has in Jessica Jones. She mind-controls Huntress and sends her after her friends. And she also takes over both the love interests, plus Alfred the Butler, and winds up taking over the Birds’ clock tower, before plotting to mind-wipe everyone in New Gotham:
You have to love her supervillain outfit, which is relatively comfortable-looking, and just has a slight “harlequin” thing going on over its boob window.
Besides Rosenberg and Kalogridis (who worked on Avatar and Shutter Island and also co-wrote Terminator Genisys), Birds of Prey also featured a lot of writing from Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, who are now in charge of Once Upon a Time.