We Have Improv To Thank For Batman And Commissioner Gordon's Hilarious Harley Quinn Scenes

In a time when it seems like every comic book character out there is being adapted for film or TV (and I mean every one of them), it's not enough for superhero movies and shows to merely coast by on the popularity of their IPs or the talent involved in bringing them to life. This is especially the case when it comes to Batman and his various allies and enemies, the likes of which have already been turned into live-action and animated projects many, many times over the decades, dating back to the live-action theatrical "Batman" serials from the 1940s.

The beloved Clown Queen of Crime herself, Harley Quinn, is no exception, having long left her days of living in the Joker's shadow behind her and carved out an identity all her own separate from her abusive ex-boyfriend. She's currently played in the DC Extended Universe by Margot Robbie, giving the "Wolf of Wall Street" and "I, Tonya" star the chance to flex her action, comedy, and drama acting muscles something fierce. Of course, as terrific as Robbie is in the role, it's the animated "Harley Quinn" TV show that's been able to fully dive beneath the surface of the rogue-turned-antihero and examine what makes her tick.

As much as "Harley Quinn" centers on Harley and her efforts to have a healthy relationship with her friend (and, in time, lover) Poison Ivy, in a broader sense, it's a show about the emotional problems of both the heroes and super-villains who call Gotham City their home. In fact, much of the conflict in the series (which, to be clear, is very funny and very adult) comes from characters not having their emotional needs satisfied by those in their orbit. Similarly, a lot of the humor stems from those same interactions, some of which (such as Batman and James Gordon's) are partly improvised to wickedly entertaining results.

Turns out, being work-friends with Batman isn't so great

No stranger to the world of DC animation, voice actor Diedrich Bader lent his vocals to Batman and other characters on the squeaky-clean cartoon series "Batman: The Brave and the Bold" for three seasons from 2008-2011, later reprising this iteration of the Caped Crusader for the animated movie "Scooby-Doo! & Batman: The Brave and the Bold" in 2018. He's since gone on to voice Bats on "Harley Quinn," joking to DC Universe (via Harley Quinn TV) that it's a show for "big kids" prior to its premiere in November 2019:

"Yeah, just everything about ['Harley Quinn'] is different [from 'The Brave and the Bold'], and that's what's cool about it. It's kind of a reimagining of the whole world. I think it's a really good opportunity for comedy. What are these people's lives really like? Wait until you see. The stuff with me and Christopher Meloni [who voices Commissioner Gordon]..."

Indeed, since its very first episode, "Harley Quinn" has played up the idea that being Commissioner of Gotham City has taken a heavy toll on James Gordon's mental health and personal life. Not helping matters, it seems he only has Batman — who, let us not forget, dealt with the trauma from seeing his parents murdered right in front of him by dressing up like a bat and pummeling criminals with his fists —to confide in as a work-friend, be it about his faltering marriage or just how exhausting it is to try and keep Gotham's rogues gallery in line. But what's great is that "Harley Quinn" doesn't merely play their scenes for laughs, it also gives both characters room to actually grow and mature as people (as predictably and hilariously chaotic as that process turns out to be).

Harley Quinn is about 'blowing up the DC Universe in a weird way'

Confirming that he and Meloni improvise parts of their scenes as Batman and Gordon, Bader went on to briefly talk about "Harley Quinn" and the way it flips the larger DC Universe on its head:

"Yeah, [Meloni and I] were brought in together a lot, which was really fun. The sessions are incredibly fun. For the pilot, I even worked with Alan Tudyk, who plays the Joker. That was mostly what we recorded together. But for the rest of them, it was mostly me and Chris. He's really great. He's a great improviser, and he's really fun to work with. I think we went into some really interesting areas. Yeah, the idea [behind this show] is sort of about blowing up the DC Universe in a weird way."

Like Bader indicated, "Harley Quinn" is really about digging into the messy feelings and desires of Gotham's eccentric citizens, in a way that other DC movies and TV shows rarely have. Combine it with the show's comically R-rated violence, foul language, and sexual content, and the result is a series that, shockingly, is somehow emotionally-sensitive, sex-positive, and utterly irreverent all at once. Without a doubt, the writing is key to what makes "Harley Quinn" so special. But at the same time, as Bader's comments remind everyone, it's the show's voice actors that bring that extra oomph (be it via improv or just their scripted line delivery) that pushes it over the edge and makes the animated series work as remarkably well as it does.