After wading through the seemingly never ending supply of high stakes dramas and subversive comedies that TV has to offer, it’s always nice to find something that falls more in the realm of “normal.”
It may seem odd to say that about a show focused on a woman who gains the ability to turn into a huge green monster that could easily throw a sedan halfway around the world, but it’s also true. She-Hulk: Attorney at Law follows Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany) as she has to navigate her new powers as a Hulk alongside her career as a lawyer and the rest of her life in general. Instead of sending Jen on some big hero’s journey type quest, She-Hulk throws us back into her everyday life with her new identity in tow. Unlike her cousin Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), she doesn’t face the same challenging, raging alter-ego that took him 15 years to tame, and she doesn’t necessarily want to be in the business of saving the world either. Regardless of what she wants, Jen’s Hulk powers are outed to the public and she has to go about her life with She-Hulk as her new normal, and that makes for a great watch.
The first 4 episodes of She-Hulk feel like a classic half-hour comedy that just happens to be set in a universe where superheroes are real. Instead of a world-spanning, complex, dramatic plot similar to Moon Knight or Loki, we get to watch a bubbly case-of-the-week lawyer show that is reminiscent of the very short-lived Powerless. Any world that contains superheroes and all the things that come with them will eventually have audiences wondering about how regular people live their lives among the mess, and She-Hulk gives us a look at that from a different angle than other Marvel properties. In a more general sense, it’s nice to have a break from the really big, world-ending consequences so much of the MCU burdens its content with. Jennifer Walters might have some heavyhitting clients and enemies, but none of their plans involve mass murder or universal destruction. In a world where some sort of massive disaster is always around the corner, it’s nice to see even the most minor consequences play out. The hardest part of creating a universe with over 30 linked movies and TV shows is making the trickle-down effects of aliens and gods and enhanced people feel real, and She-Hulk succeeds in its quest to boost the MCU’s authenticity. The franchise has always sought to be reasonably grounded, and a show that splits its time between legal drama and a superhero coming into her own is the perfect way to reinforce an already strong foundation.
As expected, Tatiana Maslany does a wonderful job, especially as she navigates the non-Hulk parts of Jen’s personal life. Orphan Black proved that she has an incredible range, and her performance reads well even when she’s fully CGI here. Outside of the whole superhero thing, Jennifer Walters comes off as super relatable, and where sometimes in these stories it can feel like you’re watching it all happen from the sidelines, She-Hulk has you fully in step with Jen. The fourth-wall breaks are a key component to this, and while they’re a consistent presence in the show, they aren’t overused at all. It’s a gimmick for sure, but Jen’s short conversations with the viewers aren’t treated as something that happens outside of everything else. She can miss something going on if she’s talking to the audience, and that just makes the bit more fun. The rest of the cast does a great job—especially Ginger Gonzaga as Nikki, Jen’s paralegal and best friend—and gives those who think that comic book shows should take a turn down the comedic route more often some ground to stand on. Not only is it great to stay out of the doom and gloom Ms. Marvel so nicely freed us from, it’s just nice to have a show with some joy in it for once.
To swerve away from that joy for a moment, there is the widely discussed and debated topic of the CGI model used for She-Hulk in this show. To be frank, the first trailer didn’t give people a lot to look forward to, but there are many things that go into making CGI modeling happen and plenty that can stop it from looking “perfect” to the audience. The effects in trailers for TV shows and movies usually aren’t the finished product, and that is clear when it comes to She-Hulk. The She-Hulk model might not be as refined as the Hulk’s is, but it is objectively an impressive technological feat. If you put these effects next to something from The Flash or Supergirl, She-Hulk easily crushes them when it comes to quality.
There are a few moments where the uncanny valley kicks in and She-Hulk’s body looks like it’s out of place, but the reality is that Marvel dug that hole for themselves long ago. VFX artists have been coming out of the woodwork recently to speak about why some of Marvel’s visual effects feel like they aren’t up to snuff, and it is a problem that can only be solved by Marvel Studios itself. The MCU created a certain standard of visual effects for itself (and the rest of cinema) over the last decade, and the studios they outsource their work to can’t always meet these expectations when they’re consistently lowballing work contracts to stay in business. She-Hulk looking as good as it does is a testament to the skill and hard work these artists are able to provide even with budget constraints and tight deadlines.
What really matters is that She-Hulk is poised to become a new MCU fan-favorite character in a show that absolutely deserves a second season. Phase 4 hasn’t given us a lot of lighthearted stories to work with, so having this and Ms. Marvel back-to-back is a real treat. While the final 5 episodes of the series weren’t available for review, it’s clear that the 9 episode season length will allow She-Hulk to evenly pace itself in a way that other shows set in the MCU haven’t been able to. The series may take place in an extraordinary world, but it’s as close to normal TV as we’re ever going to get from Marvel, and that’s what makes it incredible.
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law premieres Thursday, August 18th on Disney+.
Kathryn Porter is a freelance writer who will talk endlessly about anything entertainment given the chance. You can find her @kaechops on Twitter.
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