Of the many superheroes to populate the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Hulk is far from the most objectively polished, with mayhem typically surrounding the temperamental green giant. After multiple recastings, however, Marvel Studios has found the perfect fit in Mark Ruffalo, who brings a real humanity to the character, and it’s hard not to like Smart Hulk, the much more controlled and intellectual blend of Banner and Hulk introduced in Avengers: Endgame. That character and his generally affable demeanor set up the proper expectations for the MCU’s latest TV series: She-Hulk, Attorney at Law.
This is a show that knows exactly what it is and wants to own that. Its protagonist, Jennifer Walters (Emmy Award winner Tatiana Maslany), addresses the audience directly in its opening moments, acknowledging that viewers won’t be able to “enjoy this fun lawyer show” until they know how she became a Hulk. Ruffalo is on hand in episode one to play Banner, who trains his cousin Walters after her blood becomes contaminated following an accident. Though her origin story differs from the comics, her ability to exist in a Smart Hulk-like state right away remains, making it easier for her to blend into an unsuspecting society. The life of a superhero isn’t what Walters wants, but, when the opportunity to save a courtroom of innocent people presents itself, she has to transform and save the day.
This “fun lawyer show” is indeed far less serious than Netflix’s Daredevil, tapping into more playful – and sometimes overly silly – elements of the MCU, like shapeshifters with the power to deceive gullible idiots. Many of the characters Walters interacts with, particularly the men, aren’t too bright. But there are a few exceptions, namely her first major client after her She-Hulk identity is made public: Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), also known as Abomination, who previously tried to kill Banner in The Incredible Hulk and appeared again in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Blonsky claims to have reformed his ways, but Walters is initially dubious of the one-time supervillain’s intentions.
She-Hulk is well aware of the massive fanbase the MCU attracts that will tune into anything universe-related, and it uses that to its advantage. When Wong (Benedict Wong) is first mentioned, Walters turns again to the camera and says “I know you can’t wait to see Wong, but don’t forget whose show this is!” She undercuts her own point that this isn’t a cameo-every-week show by noting the character appearances that have come in each of the first four episodes provided for review, but that’s all part of the joke. For those MCU fans with no specific interest in the adventures of She-Hulk, this show will appeal because it’s so tied in to the movies. And Wong, to his credit, is hilarious, seen binging old TV classics and getting very angry when decades-old twists are spoiled for him.
Maslany, whose role on Orphan Black has endeared her forever to avid genre television fans, is the show’s most appealing factor. While she’s only playing two roles rather than the numerous clones she portrayed on that series, she is witty and quick, and effortlessly shifts into the personality and grandeur of her much larger green form. The part doesn’t ask all that much of her but she still delivers, particularly in how she casually references and relates to the audience experience. Deeming a late development in one episode a “bummer way to end,” she still notes the likelihood of a “fun tag” after the credits, which this show offers dependably in each episode so far.
What this show offers in those first four half-hours, out of a total of nine that will debut weekly, is an enjoyable return to lighthearted MCU fare, closest to Hawkeye from the TV offerings that have come before it. A brief glimpse of Titania (Jameela Jamil, The Good Place), a super-powered influencer, is far too fleeting, and her return in later episodes will be very welcome, and Tony winner Renée Elise Goldsberry is also sorely underused as a fellow lawyer. She-Hulk offers the makings of something truly entertaining, and a focus on its best assets, namely its cast and cleverness, will enhance the rest of its first season.
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law premieres August 19 exclusively on Disney+ with new episodes of the nine-episode series dropping weekly on Thursdays.
Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios