Much like being able to turn into a giant, green bodybuilder, being given a Marvel series is both a powerful blessing and a terrible curse. (That’s a fine metaphor, right?) While many shows struggle to find an audience in their early seasons, allowing the writers and actors to find their voices (should they not get canceled), all eyes are on the MCU machine’s output straight out of the gate. And it’s sort of a shame for the middling sitcom that is She-Hulk: Attorney at Law. Because the first episode of She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is, to its credit and its fault, sure is both a pilot for a half-hour single-camera sitcom and a terribly Marvel product.
To the credit part, we’ll defer to The Boys showrunner Eric Kripke. In a recent interview with Vulture, Kripke said:
“The downside of streaming is that a lot of filmmakers who work in streaming didn’t necessarily come out of that network grind. They’re more comfortable with the idea that they could give you ten hours where nothing happens until the eighth hour. That drives me fucking nuts, personally. As a network guy who had to get you people interested for 22 fucking hours a year, I didn’t get the benefit of, ‘Oh, just hang in there and don’t worry. The critics will tell you that by episode eight, shit really hits the fan.’ Or anyone who says, ‘Well, what I’m really making is a ten-hour movie.’ Fuck you! No you’re not! Make a TV show. You’re in the entertainment business.”
She-Hulk series creator and head writer Jessica Gao comes from the trenches of the likes of Silicon Valley, Rick and Morty, and Robot Chicken. She knows how to make An Episode of Television instead of Hours of Wheel-Spinning Before the Big Climax. And she indeed made a TV show.
Unfortunately, the “Pickle Rick” Emmy-winner’s writing is also some of the most wretchedly Marvel-endemic joke-speak heard since, well, last week—when this painful video game trailer came out:
For those who haven’t watched, that is basically the tone of She-Hulk. But here’s the thing: star Tatiana Maslany is so effortlessly charming, she nearly pulls it off. She was already set up to be huge after her acclaimed run on Orphan Black, yet somehow she’s still not a major feature film actor today. Hopefully selling shit lines like saying “up top!” in this major Disney production will get her on the A-list, because she’s sure earning it doing this dreck.
Meanwhile, Mark Ruffalo, reprising his role as Bruce “The Hulk” Banner, is basically—and, at times, perhaps literally—phoning it in. Honestly, it’s probably all a superhero role in a streaming series that looks like a 2006 video game cutscene deserves anyway, so good on him for joining the VFX staff in giving exactly enough to collect a paycheck.
Anyway, this is meant to be a recap as much as a review, so let’s get to it.
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law’s opener opens in medias res, introducing us to fourth-wall-breaking sitcom lawyer Jessica Walters—who is, at this point, already a Hulk. As we’re soon to learn, “a few months” prior, she and cousin Bruce Banner were involved in a car accident involving a spaceship. She ends up getting some of a wounded Bruce’s blood in her own wound, and lo and behold, she becomes She-Hulk. Which is to say, she becomes a female Hulk who, in addition to growing into a big, green superhuman, also grows luxurious, straightened hair for some reason.
She(-Hulk) briefly goes into a fugue state, ends up in a Road House locale that basically amounts to a one-off gag, and finally awakens in her cousin’s Mexican compound.
From here, about two-thirds of the episode is spent establishing how—in contrast to Bruce—Jessica is completely in control of being a Hulk and it’s not really a big deal. In lesser contrast, Disney+ finds yet another way to make a series look flat by backgrounding these viridescent characters with the chlorophyll-hued flora of a Mexican beachside. The question of how to make bright green characters somehow not pop on-screen has been answered: just put them on more bright green. Brilliant. But not visually, obviously.
Finally, for its last two minutes, the show jumps back to the present for its promised “lawyer show” courtroom scene.
Jessica begins her closing argument—but suddenly someone bursts through the wall behind her. It’s The Good Place’s Jameela Jamil, looking rightfully confused about why she looks like a transition between ‘80s wrestlers The Million-Dollar Man and The Ultimate Warrior.
The two have a horribly-shot but at least mercifully-brief battle, and She-Hulk emerges the victor. The end!
Yeah, presumably the alien spaceship and the WWF character will come up again later, but not really a lot to dissect story-wise this week. Probably a good thing! It’s fine to make a largely-episodic lawyer comedy! But why did they also make a weirdly-fetishistic giantess/foot-fetish thing? Was this created by a DeviantArt algorithm?
Hope to find out next week!