You probably hear this every time a new Marvel TV show comes out and you break out in a rash of cynicism: “it’s the best Marvel series ever” or “it’s the best new Marvel series since…” It’s a rain of praise and deluge of enthusiasm every time a new Marvel series hits. Yet, the reality is, so far, Marvel’s had a wobbly time on television. “WandaVision” really captured the public’s imagination as it was a novel concept, but even that show—one of its strongest, so far—took time to gel and couldn’t stick the landing. Other series have been a mixed bag so far, making the mistake of trying to favor plot over character—a TV 101 no-no, with an overabundance of mystery-box, who’s-the-actual-bad-guy-pulling-the-strings plotting that has become incredibly tired. After the fifth or sixth go-round of the same narrative structure, many audiences were getting frustrated. Even “Moon Knight,” a series that enticed heavyweight actors like Oscar Isaac and Ethan Hawke is a mess, and perhaps the most muddled of them all.
“She-Hulk: Attorney At Law,” Marvel’s latest series, might be the studio’s best. So far, anyhow, four delightful episodes in, because more so than any other series, it understands it’s a television show. Created by head writer Jessica Gao and mainly directed so far by filmmaker and producer Kat Coiro, whereas Marvel’s previous efforts felt like film narratives chopped up into series form—all of them emphasizing plot to the detriment of TV structure—“She-Hulk: Attorney At Law” seems to understand the fundamentals of television: a medium that is about character first, plot second.
This means the ‘She-Hulk’ plot, or what we assume will be the plot, doesn’t even really start until Episode 4, even then, a rather vague, something about some nefarious force, trying to get her DNA, likely for evil, clandestine purposes.
Up until that moment, ‘She-Hulk’ is content to hang out, using Episode 1 to basically fast forward through her origin story and not spend too much on it. The gist of it though, as you’ve seen in the trailers and likely know from the comics, is Jennifer Walters (a charming Tatiana Maslany) is the cousin of one Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), and when they are in a car accident thanks to a random flying spaceship (of Sakaarian design mind you)— as the Hulk points out later, when you’re as weird as the Hulk, weird always finds you—his blood, gets mixed up with hers. Given his blood has been infected with gamma radiation, and given that Walters has DNA matchings with Banner, this plasma intermingling turns the young attorney into a green giant, similar to the Hulk.
But unlike Banner, who spent five years in a lab after “Avengers: Infinity War” merging his warring psyches into Smart Hulk, the so-called She-Hulk, which the media quickly dubs her, is essentially the same consciousness as Jennifer Walters, one and the same outside of the huge hulking green appearance and strength. Episode 1 lays down the show’s guidelines: an amusing comedic tone, a light sitcom-ish touch without being too silly, a fourth-wall-breaking protagonist who occasionally addresses the audience with irreverent witty quips, and a unique flavor to the MCU, which is in many ways identifies with its audiences a little more than usual.
Instead of a superhero show, ‘She-Hulk’ is more about a character who isn’t really interested in being a hero, having powers and wanting to just return to her normal life. The audience identification comes in with empathizing with someone having to grapple with a new identity that’s akin to the fame and celebrity she has no interest in.
Jennifer Walters just wants to be a good lawyer, and perhaps more importantly, pay off that six-figure student loan she used to get through law school. And while there is a lot of Marvel Cinematic Universe-ing to ‘She-Hulk,’ there’s a little Smart Hulk/Banner, then Sorcerer Supreme Wong (Benedict Wong), Abomination/Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), and later on in the series, at some point Matt Murdock/Daredevil (Charlie Cox), the series still feel very much about Walters and her new dilemma.
Part of that quandary is being fired—too much publicity for her current firm—but she’s soon tasked by a new firm that enjoys the circus freak aspect of it all, employing her to lead up their super-beings division and taking on cases and clients that mostly include super-powered beings (this leads her to Blonsky, a client up for parole that she must defend despite her many reservations).
“She-Hulk” is also arguably Marvel’s horniest show. One episode is basically dedicated to Walter’s dating life and the difficulties of dating as a woman in your 30s during the dating-app era. Tinder is at the center of the episode and Walters even hooks up with someone, though sadly, dudes are really only into She-Hulk. Jennifer Walters? Not so much. There’s also a whole thread where Walters is obsessed with finding out whether Steve Rogers (Captain America) was a virgin; her theory being that he very likely never had time to date and then, of course, was frozen in ice for 60 years.
To that end, “She-Hulk” feels self-deprecating in an interesting way. Instead of female empowerment, which often makes stories bland because they’re working so hard to overcorrect sexism or try too hard with a character that’s far too competent and has no flaws, ‘Attorney At Law’ is more just about the female perspective. Walters is far from perfect and doesn’t really have her life or her shit together. She’s just figuring it out day by day like the rest of us.
Though it must be said, some of the lines, are all too cutting. When Bruce tries to train She-Hulk, he warns her that she’ll have to navigate stress, and various triggers of frustration and anger that may hit her, and Walters basically says, “Oh you mean, like the bullshit woman have to put up with every day? Yeah, I’m used to that.”
As per usual, we don’t know if “She-Hulk: Attorney At Law” will stick the landing and or if it’ll be overcome by plot in the second half of the series, but four episodes in, it’s a breezy, effortless watch, with refreshing low stakes. Wasn’t this the promise of Marvel TV anyhow? Watching them save the planet one day, and then the next, have to deal with laundry, an eccentric family, and the annoying rigors of the day job? “She-Hulk: Attorney At Law” won’t be for all audiences, but for those sick of Marvel’s mystery box plotting, is a very big breath of fresh air. [B+]
“She-Hulk: Attorney at law” debuts on Disney+ on August 18.