Josh Reviews She-Hulk: Attorney at Law
Marvel’s been on a heck of a run lately with their Disney+ TV series, and they’ve impressed me yet again with She-Hulk: Attorney at Law. I found this show to be a delight from start to finish. My biggest complaint is that, at nine half-hour episodes, the season is way too short!
As in the comics, She-Hulk is Jennifer Walters, the cousin of Bruce Banner. When she’s exposed to Bruce’s gamma-irradiated blood, she becomes a Hulk like him; however, unlike Bruce, Jen can control her transformations, and she’s able to maintain her normal personality even when Hulked up. (The show does a nice job maintaining the basic She-Hulk origin from the comics, albeit with a few tweaks to make it seem a little less implausible. Here it’s an accident that Bruce’s blood gets on Jen, as opposed to the original comic book origin in which Bruce is dumb enough to give Jen a blood transfusion.)
The character has a ridiculous name, but I’ve always loved She-Hulk. I was first introduced to the character on John Byrne’s run on the Fantastic Four in the eighties, when he made her a member of the team. I loved her right away. I continued to follow the character through the graphic novel Mr. Byrne wrote and illustrated, as well as her solo series that he wrote and drew. It was John Byrne who introduced the idea that She-Hulk was aware that she was a character in a comic book, and that she could use that to her advantage and break the fourth wall to chat with the reader. I was thrilled that they incorporated that idea into this She-Hulk series, allowing Jen Walters to be aware that she’s on a TV show!! That was wonderful. This really helped She-Hulk stand out, as both a character and as a show, and it led to some of the show’s most fun moments.
More recently, I quite enjoyed Dan Slott’s run the third volume of She-Hulk’s solo title in the aughts. This TV show draws hugely from Mr. Slott’s run. Jen has always been a lawyer, but it was Mr. Slott who developed the idea that Jen got involved in Superhuman Law, helping to defend various low-level heroes and villains from across the MCU. I love that the series adapted this concept, and that many of the supporting characters from Mr. Slott’s run (Pug, Mallory Book, Holden Holiday, etc.) were incorporated into the show. In the comic book series, Jen loves being She-Hulk and is bummed that the law firm only wants her to be Jen when working for them; the series made the clever decision to flip that. So we see that Jen at first wants to try to continue her life as it’s always been, but the law firm insists she be She-Hulk when working for them, so they can get the PR of having She-Hulk on their legal team.
This show was touted as Marvel’s first sitcom, though I didn’t find the approach to be all that different from previous Marvel shows. Marvel shows and movies have, for the most part, always been fun and funny! That’s part of their charm! She-Hulk definitely leans a little more into the silly aspects of the show, and it’s definitely a little less interested in plot than most other Marvel shows. (The series does sometimes use a playful TV-show approach to logic, skipping over messy plot details to get right to the fun stuff. See, for example, pretty much every legal case depicted on the show.) Overall I think the writers struck just the right approach with the show. She-Hulk is a half-hour comedy, which makes it closer in form to a sitcom than any other Marvel show, and like a sitcom there’s a goofy workplace setting and fun cast of characters. This helps the series to feel distinct among the Marvel shows. (I’ve never understood the go-to complaint that all MCU movies/shows are the same. She-Hulk is wildly different than Ms. Marvel, which was wildly different than Moon Knight… etc…) But at the same time, the series thankfully feels very much of a piece with the MCU. (So much so that I cannot wait to see She-Hulk get to meet other MCU characters in future shows and movies!!)
I must admit that when Tatiana Maslany was first announced as being cast as Jen Walters/She-Hulk, I was unsure. I hadn’t seen Orphan Black; and she didn’t seem to fit the picture I had in my mind for this character. Having seen the show, let me admit that I was 100% wrong. Ms. Maslany is spectacular in the show, to the point that I now cannot imagine another actress possibly playing this role. She owns this character. I was so impressed by how skillfully she’s able to play the nuance of the dramatic situations in which Jen finds herself. Ms. Maslany is always able to keep Jen feeling like a real, live human being who is having these experiences (even when things are getting zany and she’s chatting with us, the viewers, about her own TV show). She also demonstrates perfect comedic timing, absolutely nailing joke after joke. I was blown away. I love her in this role.
I was surprised by the show’s choice to depict She-Hulk as a CGI character (albeit based on Ms. Maslany’s performance, as the Hulk has been based on Mark Ruffalo’s performance for many movies now). It seemed like a complicated and expensive approach to bringing this character to life, and I wasn’t sure how they’d be able to pull that off on a TV budget. If the show has a weak spot, this might be it. I found the CGI on the She-Hulk character to be wildly inconsistent. In some shots she looks terrific, while other shots are painfully dodgy. Having seen the show, I will say that I love that She-Hulk feels very much like the Tatiana Maslany; it’s great to see her performance carry through all the She-Hulk scenes. I am sure that was why Marvel took this approach. But the seams of this CGI on a TV show budget are visible here…
The series has a tremendous supporting cast; great actors playing fun and interesting characters. Ginger Gonzaga is a hoot as Jen’s paralegal (and BFF) Nikki. Nikki is delightful; a smart, brave, resourceful, faithful friend to Jen who has her back throughout this wild journey. Josh Segarra (Orange is the New Black) is great as Pug, Jen’s good-natured and even-tempered fellow lawyer. Renée Elise Goldsberry (Hamilton, Girls5Eva) is perfect as Mallory Book, the fierce, take-no-prisoners top lawyer at Jen’s firm. Steve Coulter is one-note as Jen’s boss, Holden Holliway… but he plays that one note (arrogant disinterest) very well! Then there is Jen’s family, headlined by the great Mark Linn-Baker (Perfect Strangers, The Leftovers, and I will always love him for his role as Hysterium in the 1990’s Broadway revival of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) as her dad; Tess Malis Kincaid as her mom; and Nicholas Cirillo as her cousin Ched.
I just wish we’d gotten more time with all of these characters. (I was particularly surprised the show didn’t make more use of Mark Linn-Baker. I was so surprised when he appeared in episode two as Jen’s dad; after meeting the character in that episode, I’d expected to see a lot more of him in the episodes that follow.) Here’s a place where I actually wish this show had been a little MORE like a sitcom. Most sitcoms would have found some business for every member of the ensemble to do in each episode; and so I’d bet after nine episodes we’d have gotten to know these characters better. Here, many of them vanished for multiple episodes. I wish the show had found a way to give more time to this great ensemble in the nine episodes this season.
And here’s where I wish She-Hulk was a much longer-running show than just nine episodes! I feel very much as I did about Ms. Marvel. The supporting cast is so good, I wish we were getting a full old-school twenty-plus episode season of this show, so we could spend much more time with these characters. Failing that, I wish we knew a second season was coming next year. But for both these shows, I don’t know when we’ll see these characters again. (OK, I bet many of the Ms. Marvel supporting cast will pop up in The Marvels, but I doubt they’ll actually get much screen-time in that movie. Come on, Marvel, give us a second season of these great shows (and also of Hawkeye, while you’re at it)!!
I loved how deeply embedded She-Hulk was in the MCU. We’re so far into the MCU saga at this point that this show was able to bring in all sorts of fun cameos to help flesh out its world. These cameos are valuable — they help sell the idea that Jen and her law firm actually exist in the MCU; that the MCU is a real place with all these nutty heroes and villains bouncing around. I loved that Mark Ruffalo had such a substantial role in the first episode, reprising his role as Bruce Banner/The Hulk. I could see a lamer version of this show in which they talked about Bruce but he was never actually seen. I’m so glad that’s not what happened. It’s interesting to get to see where Bruce is at post-Endgame, and Mr. Ruffalo’s fun chemistry with Tatiana Maslany was a pleasure to watch. Benedict Wong is turning into the Nick Fury of the post-Endgame MCU, popping up all over the place (in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, in Spider-Man: No Way Home, in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness…), and I couldn’t be happier. He was fantastic in his two appearances in She-Hulk (and his pairing with Madisynn was spectacular). I love that Tim Roth has returned to the MCU as Emil Blonsky/the Abomination. (He first appeared in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, which for a long time felt like it was being ignored by the MCU, but now feels like it’s being embraced, especially with rumors that The Leader is going to return in a coming Marvel movie…) We got a taste of him in Shang-Chi, and it’s a joy to see him be so large a part of She-Hulk. Tim Roth is fantastic as this older, maybe-wiser, definitely mellower version of Blonsky. He’s extremely funny. I’d love to see more of him in the future.
That brings me, of course, to Daredevil. Just as I noted above that it makes me happy to see The Incredible Hulk being embraced, a decade-and-a-half later, by the MCU, so too does it make me thrilled to see Netflix’s Daredevil series brought into the fold. (Those Marvel TV series were launched under the premise as being part of the MCU, though while the series did refer to the pre-Avengers Marvel movies, the movies ignored the Marvel Netflix and ABC shows completely.) That changed with the blink-and-you’ll-miss-him cameo of James D’Arcy as Jarvis (from the Agent Carter TV series) in Avengers: Endgame… and then we got Vincent D’Onofrio back as The Kingpin in Hawkeye, and then Charlie Cox’s cameo as Matt Murdock in Spider-Man: No Way Home. All of those were great… and now they have all been topped topped by the substantial role that Charlie Cox had as Matt Murdock/Daredevil in She-Hulk’s penultimate episode. It made me so happy to see Mr. Cox back in this role. I loved how She-Hulk gave us a version of Matt Murdock/Daredevil that feels consistent with the Netflix Daredevil show… this is very much the same character… while at the same time, allowing us to see a much lighter, happier, funnier Matt/Daredevil. It’s just perfect. I really liked the Netflix Daredevil show (especially the terrific first season), but I love getting this lighter version of the character. Ms. Cox is terrific, and he has off-the-walls chemistry with Tatiana Maslany. (I loved that they brought him back in the season finale, and that they leaned into the idea that Matt and Jen were a couple! I really hope Marvel keeps them together in future shows/movies. Will Ms. Maslany appear in the upcoming Daredevil: Born Again MCU show?? I hope so!!) The Netflix show had a problem giving us a good version of Daredevil’s costume. Thankfully the MCU team on She-Hulk makes it look easy. I’ve never been a fan of the original yellow-and-red look from the comics; I was hoping for the (classic, to me) all-red suit from DD’s heyday in the eighties. But they made the yellow-and-red duds look so good here! (Even though She-Hulk makes fun, rightly so, of the ketchup-and-mustard color scheme.) I loved how they give us the start of a classic DD hallway fight (as seen in the Netflix show) which Jen interrupts by smashing through the ceiling. And was anything funnier on TV in recent memory than DD’s barefoot walk of shame away from Jen’s house after they hooked up? Genius!
- I was happy that this goofy show made good-use of mid-credits stingers… but was surprised when they stopped doing them in the middle of the season. Come on, if you do this for the first bunch of episodes, you’ve trained your audience to expect them and it’s a disappointment when they’re missing.
- I loved that the illustrations in the opening credits changed for each episode. And I loved the jokes in the various changes to the “Attorney-at-law” sub-title in the She-Hulk main title at the end of the credits.
- Right away in episode one I liked the slightly more adult edge to the humor on the show, as evidenced with Jen Walters’ focus on the much-asked fan question: is Captain American still a virgin? I laughed hard at her jubilant “Captain America f—s!” episode-ending declaration.
- I guessed correctly that the exterior view of the Damage Control prison seen in Ms. Marvel (that didn’t seem to match the interior sets) was connected to She-Hulk, where we see it as the prison where the Abomination is being held. Based on that, I’d thought Damage Control would be a bigger part of this series. (Seeing as I don’t like how Damage Control was depicted in Ms. Marvel, I’m happy it’s not.)
- I loved seeing The Good Place‘s Jameela Jamil as Titania, though I’d thought she’d have a more important role on the show. Still, any time spent with Ms. Jamil is appreciated. I quite enjoyed her spin on Titania as a social-media influencer. That worked very well.
- It was also fun to see classic Marvel comics goons the Wrecking Crew on the show.
- I was intrigued to see the Sakaraan spacecraft in the premiere; I’d guessed that we’d meet Hulk’s son son Skaar in the finale and I’m happy that happened. Is Marvel going to adapt World War Hulk in the coming years? I’m curious to see where the story of Hulk and his son continues next.
- I loved David Pasquesi (Veep)’s very funny guest-appearance as the sleazy Mr. Immortal.
- How fantastic was the note-perfect play on the classic opening titles of The Incredible Hulk TV show, seen in Jen’s dream at the start of the finale?? Brilliant!!
I liked the big swing in the finale, in which the big confrontation in Blonsky’s barn was interrupted by the meta twist of Jen’s jumping into the viewer’s actual Disney+ interface. I loved meeting K.E.V.I.N., and it was great to see the show be up-front in its wishes to not end in a CGI smash-’em-up like most Marvel movies and shows have. At the same time, I wish that so many of the story-threads we’d been following weren’t just tossed away in favor of the joke. I was looking forward to seeing an in-universe way in which Jen was going to get the better of the disgusting Intelligencia bro’s. I wanted to see Jen confronting Emil for his betrayal. (Was it a betrayal? Did Emil know who those Intelligencia guys really were and what they were up to? I wish the finale had clarified that important point.) By interrupting the story we’d been following, we didn’t get those payoffs, which was a bit of a bummer for me. On the other hand, bravo to the She-Hulk team for feeling brave enough to throw out the standard “season finale” playbook and take She-Hulk’s fourth-wall-breaking abilities to the logical next level.
I loved this series! I’m sad it’s over! I’m impressed by the strong work of show-runner Jessica Gan, directors Kat Coiro and Anu Valia, and the writing and production teams. Bring on season two!!!
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