If there was a concern going into Marvel’s TV show output on Disney+, it’s that each series would have the same bland “superhero” personality of the films. While that works on the big screen, when you’re asking viewers to commit to an episodic format, you have to offer something more. And Marvel has definitely done that. Starting with the classic TV style of WandaVision to the conspiracy thriller aspects of Falcon and the Winter Soldier, the cosmic Loki, and the coming-of-age story that was Ms. Marvel. But did anybody guess that Marvel could successfully pull off a legal drama series set in the world of superheroes? She-Hulk: Attorney at Law proves that they can.
At least, through the first four episodes I can say Marvel has definitely succeeded with the series. To be perfectly honest, I had to watch through them twice to really get a feel for what they were trying to do. This is the first Marvel show that is actually formatted like a genuine season of television, and not like a really long movie broken down into pieces. It’s paced like a season of TV, too, giving this charming, if lightweight, legal series a vibe that truly stands out.
Clearly getting its cues from John Byrne’s Sensational She-Hulk comic, with all the fourth-wall breaking (think Deadpool talking to the audience) asides that suggests, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law stars Tatiana Maslany as Jennifer Walters, cousin to the Bruce Banner aka the Hulk. Mark Ruffalo features heavily in the first couple of episodes, and is responsible for Jen gaining her powers. Cleverly, the show won’t even deal with Jen’s career as a district attorney until the whole issue of how she gained her Hulk powers is cleared up. Let’s just say it involves a spaceship, a lot of blood, and Jen freaking out when she realizes she now gets very tall and very green when angry. These are not qualities good for a practicing attorney. Fortunately for her, she doesn’t have the split personality problem that plagues her Avenger cousin. Jen might grow in height and strength, and obviously, turn green, but she remains herself. She also doesn’t buy into the idea of becoming a superhero, preferring to help people in the way she knows how and is still paying off her college loans for.
She-Hulk isn’t a show about fighting the supervillain du jour. In fact, there aren’t any superhero struggles at all, really. Well, maybe one very early on but it hardly counts as a struggle. The show is about Jen navigating life as a 30-something woman in a man’s world. And that encompasses both her profession as a lawyer, and the world of superheroes which is inherently masculine. There’s also the whole dating thing, which is bad enough but gets even worse when you throw certain fetishes into the mix. Jen must not only weed out the creeps, but deal with the issue that she might be more appealing as She-Hulk than just as herself.
It’s surprising how Jen Walters comes across as a genuinely modern woman, successful, career-driven, but full of vulnerabilities and insecurities. Even before she becomes a famous celebrity as She-Hulk, she’s already facing scrutiny just for being a woman: scrutiny over her appearance, her ambition, everything. Even her family does it. Yes, there is the requisite “family gathering” episode, and while it feels a bit forced, it comes with personal touches that hit home. Jen has sacrificed a personal life to move forward in her career, but this isn’t displayed in the stereotypical ABC drama kind of way. Becoming She-Hulk only exacerbates the issue.
As great as Maslany is as She-Hulk, what makes this show for me is the supporting cast around her. Ginger Gonzaga is a treat as Nikki, Jen’s best friend and paralegal who moves with her to a new job running a law firm’s superhero division. Ruffalo is interesting because he’s played Banner so long that he comes across as the most comfortable one in the whole show. He also gets the best CGI effects, and maybe that’s just a well-practiced VFX team, but She-Hulk can look kinda shoddy everywhere else. I do think people are making a bigger deal of the CGI than is necessary. They aren’t that much of a distraction.
Of the four episodes I’ve seen, each has had its own storyline and there’s only one overarching thread. Perhaps recognizing the easy comparisons to David E. Kelley’s legal dramedies Ally McBeal and The Practice, which were over-the-top cameo-filled spectacles, She-Hulk is quick to point out its own absurdities. That includes a wealth of guest appearances that threaten to steal the show away from She-Hulk. Tim Roth’s Abomination/Emil Blonsky is VERY different from the angry monster he was way back in 2008, playing into the disarming menace Roth brought recently to the film Resurrection. Benedict Wong’s Sorcerer Supreme Wong is a welcome arrival because the character is so often portrayed as a joke. They definitely lean into that here and Benedict Wong is such a natural comedian it’s a wonder he didn’t do more of it before Marvel came along. But the best supporting character doesn’t arrive until episode four and you’ll know it instantly. I’m not spoiling anything. While teasers suggest Jameela Jamil’s super-powered influencer Titania is a major recurring villain, so far she seems like more of a nuisance. We also get to see the MCU version of the bruising Wrecking Crew, albeit in a very different way than seen in the comics.
Speaking of which, one of the things She-Hulk does very well is use some of the ridiculous storylines in the MCU to craft its legal cases. Refusing to leave any ball dropped, the show picks up on threads from Shang-Chi and even teases a potentially huge storyline for the Hulk. There’s just so much that can be done to pick at this crazy world of superheroes and villains, which you know must be a legal nightmare for any lawyer to navigate.
Showrunner Jessica Gao and director Kat Coiro had a challenging job keeping She-Hulk from becoming so comedic that it slips into parody, but there’s enough emotional drama in Jen’s daily battles as a woman that prevent it from happening. The other problem the show faces is one of perception. It doesn’t present itself as being too integral to the MCU, and so people may feel it isn’t worth watching. I feel like that’s a problem Ms. Marvel had to cope with, too. But She-Hulk is worth watching for the way it makes hilarious light of the MCU, a place that can be overly serious with all of its multiversal, universe-destroying storylines. So while imperfect, especially when it comes to visual effects, She-Hulk is a show that puts on a winning case for itself.
She-Hulk: Attorney At Law hits Disney+ beginning August 18th.