Episode 10 of the Harley Quinn animated series is out this week (31 January). And anyone who has taken in the animated slice of madness that is Harley Quinn will be familiar with the quirky soundtrack that has brought the show to life. That’s all composer Jefferson Friedman’s doing. Here’s more about the man behind the madcap music.
With Birds of Prey hitting cinemas this week, Harley Quinn is back in the media spotlight. But it’s not just Margot Robbie’s portrayal that’s earned DC’s Clown Princess cult status. Her animated appearances in Batman: The Animated Series, Batman and Harley Quinn and, more recently, in the TV-MA rated Harley Quinn series starring The Big Bang Theory’s Kaley Cuoco as the titular character, have all helped elevate this quirky anti-heroine’s popularity to epic proportions and made her a mainstay at cosplay events and Halloween gatherings everywhere.
The Harley Quinn series takes an irreverent look at Harley’s life after her break-up with the Joker, which sees her trying to start her own crime empire so she can be admitted into the Legion of Doom — the DC Universe’s most vaunted team of supervillains and the antithesis of the mighty Justice League.
It’s a zany, four-letter-word-filled romp through Gotham with a motley crew of supporting characters, including a highly-strung and caffeine-addled Commissioner Gordon, Poison Ivy as Harley’s loyal voice of reason, and the terminally serious Batman, who makes several cameo appearances.
The eclectic and vibey soundtrack that brings the show to life is provided by Grammy-nominated composer Jefferson Friedman, in his second foray into the DC Universe, having also scored the DC sitcom, Powerless.
“I worked with Pat (Schumacker) and Justin (Halpern) on Powerless and that relationship led to them asking me to do Harley Quinn. I was like, ‘yeah, sign me up! They’re great to work with and I get a lot of freedom to explore the creative side of things”, says Jefferson.
Jefferson’s musical influences are diverse to say the least. He was nominated for a Grammy in 2011 for Best Contemporary Classical Composition. He’s a classical pianist and Julliard graduate, and he’s also a fan of punk rock.
So, Jefferson drew inspiration from a variety of genres and styles when scoring Harley Quinn. Each major character has their own specific soundtrack, and the themes range from the aforementioned (and slightly unexpected) punk rock to carnival music and classical to theatrical, with a touch of cinematic drama thrown in.
Episode 4, Finding Mr. Right, is one of Jefferson’s most impressive efforts. This installment of the show is probably the strongest example of the diverse influences that went into the score. Every villain needs a nemesis, and Finding Mr. Right sees Harley embarking on a mission to find hers.
It’s an episode that’s jam-packed with cameos and crazy scenarios that jump out of the screen, helped along in no small part by Jefferson’s score. There are guest appearances from Superman and Lois Lane, a homage to Jaws, and Batman even breaks out the ol’ shark repellant. Harley also crashes a talk show with some pretty chaotic results.
“The talk show scene was such fun”, says Jefferson. “There’s a little Ricki Lake and Oprah influence in the theme, mixed with classic drama for King Shark and Harley’s fight with Batman. There’s a lot going on”. And there’s a lot going on in just about every scene of Harley Quinn. But somehow, Jefferson stops just short of overwhelming the audience.
Jefferson adds, “I started learning classical piano when I was really young. But I grew up listening to an incredibly wide variety of music. I was a big fan of punk rock, too. Harley Quinn is a great fit because it gives me a chance to bring it all together — and it makes sense”.
“I was always a fan of the comics, and creating the character themes was great. Commissioner Gordon stands out for me. And anyone who’s watched episode 6 (You’re a Damn Good Cop, Jim Gordon) will see how interesting the character is.”
You’re a Damn Good Cop, Jim Gordon gets quite a lot closer to Jim Gordon’s unique, caffeine and stress-driven psychosis as he forms a relationship with Clayface’s hand. Yes, you read that right. When Clayface — another member of Harley’s rag-tag team — leaves a piece of himself behind at a crime scene, the leftover hand turns into a childlike version of the muddy villain, and a therapist for Commissioner Gordon.
Amid all the madness of a man forming a relationship with a disembodied talking hand, Jefferson’s score delivers the perfect amount of tongue in cheek tenderness. There’s even an 80s sitcom-style montage that sees Jim Gordon and the hand ride off into the sunset on a motorbike, set against the perfectly cheesy backdrop of an electric guitar and keyboards. On any other show, this all may have seemed ridiculous. Here, it just works.
Jefferson hasn’t only brought his creative flair to Harley Quinn. He’s currently working on high-stakes medical drama, New Amsterdam, for Fox. He’s worked on Netflix’s Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp and romantic comedy, They came Together, starring Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler.
To see (or hear) Jefferson’s idiosyncratic and energetic work in action, stream DC’s Harley Quinn on Amazon Prime (South Africa) or DC Universe (USA).