She-Hulk: Attorney at Law Review – Super Sitcom Seeks a Tone

Marvel Studios movies typically contain such significant amounts of humor that it’s weird to try to think of She-Hulk: Attorney at Law as, ostensibly, the MCU’s first half-hour comedy show. Early episodes of WandaVision almost count, but those were more like tributes to classic sitcoms than sitcoms themselves. Marvel’s She-Hulk seems to be trying for a broader tone than usual, and in some areas, that needs work. Tatiana Maslany, however, does not. Her Jennifer Walters/She-Hulk is a wonderful addition to the Marvel ensemble. She offers a welcome perspective as an adult female protagonist who is trying to navigate her old life and the same career despite her obvious changes. she-hulk: attorney at law review.

Fans love Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark because he had typically sardonic reactions to all of the super-heroic weirdness. Tony questioned it in the same way most of us would, albeit more articulately. Maslany gets the best of both worlds on that score. In character, she’s an L.A. lawyer who just got handed a massive curveball by life. That’s why her reactions feel very real. But Jennifer periodically steps out of the moment to narrate to the audience, which also allows her a more reflective perspective that’s fully knowledgeable about the Marvel Cinematic Universe and everything in it.

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At one point, Jennifer insists the series isn’t going to be a celebrity guest-of-the-week show. Then she counts them up and realizes that it actually is. However, she insists, we had better not forget who the star is. There’s no danger of that. In Orphan Black, Maslany honed her expertise at playing multiple versions of the same person. But that was different minds in identical bodies. She-Hulk is one mind in two bodies. With a big difference in confidence between them.

Be forewarned that the show’s format, such as it is, doesn’t quite kick in until the second episode. The first episode is a big info dump. Essentially, it’s a lengthier version of the Hulk training scenes you may have seen in trailers. It’s always fun to see Mark Ruffalo, but considering the whole thing is a flashback, it could have been portioned out a bit more. As for the digital effects, they’re not quite perfect, because our brains inherently know the She-Hulk body is being digitally composited in, and naturally seek out the edges. It’s good enough though, because what matters most is that the eye lines match and we believe the characters are interacting in person. That part, they always get right. Without even more time and money to finish, it’s not going to look like Avatar.

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The initial joke of the premise is that Jennifer Walters manages to take charge of her Hulk identity pretty quickly, because a modern single woman has to constantly control her anger and anxiety. She would rather it go away entirely, but before long, career circumstances force Jennifer to go green in court, as a firm representing super-criminals is the only one that will hire her under the circumstances. But only if she stays She-Hulk on the job.

Maslany has her tone perfectly calibrated, but the show’s still working on it. Even though this is a comedy, it doesn’t have much sense of stakes yet. Every court case feels frivolous, with the actors playing the judges mugging and overplaying. It would be nice to see Jennifer’s intellect — and by extension, ours — actually challenged by one of her cases. There’s no need to go as dark as Daredevil, but even Harry Anderson on Night Court occasionally had a difficult case before him. Speaking of Matt Murdock, he’s not in the first four episodes, so have patience.

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Marvel usually garners humor simply by having grounded characters react to insane situations, but on She-Hulk, many of the “normal” characters are equally ridiculous, and Maslany’s Jen seems to be the only one really bothered by how crazy the MCU is. Part of that is by design, as she doesn’t want to be in the superhero world — particularly the absurd part dealing with everyday-type, power-based legal infractions rather than global Sokovia Accords — but she finds herself there anyway. The first four episodes briefly hint at a secret villain once. But for the most part, Jennifer faces small-time jerks messing with powers they can’t handle responsibly.

As always, Benedict Wong’s Wong nails it, with his stone-faced, all-too-serious reactions to everything from world-altering events to hearing TV show spoilers. He’s given an enjoyable new foil, too, in Patty Guggenheim’s Madisynn, a drunk-girl hot mess who ends up in his life by circumstance and is mildly smarter than she appears. Like Darcy before her, Madisynn stands a good chance of becoming a fan favorite with show crossover potential.

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With more than half of the series to go, there’s a decent chance of sticking the superhero landing. Especially since the four episodes shared so far seem like they are progressively finding the right spot with a bit of (literal) trial and error. In the big plus column, the show fills in some lingering questions left from Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and really offers the first ground-level look at what adult life is like for regular folks in the MCU. (We love Spider-Man and Ms. Marvel, but they’re still basically kids.) Aside from the blatant fourth-wall breaks, there are also several meta-jokes involving fan-theories and online misogyny, among other topics. Be sure to watch the courtroom-sketch style end credits for hints of what happened after each episode ended. There are also amusing Rick and Morty-style mid-credit stingers every week.

If She-Hulk the character feels a lot more likable than She-Hulk: Attorney at Law the show, at least it’s because the series is trying something different. It doesn’t always work, but it would hardly be the first of these shows to take a moment to find the right balance.

Grade: 3/5

She-Hulk: Attorney at Law debuts at midnight on Disney+.

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