On the one hand, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law playfully confronts the irradiated green elephant in the MCU’s room: its formulaic complacency. On the other, its adventurous, metafictional efforts to do so lead to erratic and not entirely satisfying results. There’s a fair amount to admire, but boy is it messy.
The pilot is basically a condensed origin story for Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany), a Los Angeles attorney who also happens to be the cousin of Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo). When the two of them are in a car crash together, an accidental blood transfusion turns the diminutive lawyer into a giant green female version of the Hulk. Amusingly, Bruce’s attempts to mentor Jennifer in how to control her rage reveal that, as a woman, she already knows how, making her transformations fairly easy to control. With that, she returns to her normal life, but when her secret identity is exposed, her career takes an abrupt left turn, as she becomes the reluctant face of powerful law firm’s superhero department.
She-Hulk comes out swinging with a colorful, funny pilot bolstered by terrific comic chemistry between Maslany and Ruffalo. Predictably, Maslany is delightful, a great choice for the show’s cheeky meta-aspects, as she breaks the fourth wall to address the audience, speaking directly to the fact that she’s the star of an episodic superhero legal comedy. Also predictably, the show imports MCU actors like Ruffalo, Benedict Wong, and—in a surprising reach back to the Edward Norton Hulk film—Tim Roth. Spoiler alert: The series also serves as the “crossover” introduction of Daredevil (Charlie Cox) from his grimdark Netflix days, in a charming, retconny way sure to infuriate the fandom dude bros that serve as the feminist butt of many of She-Hulk’s jokes. They’re all keen, fun moves, as are Jennifer’s case-of-the-week interactions, ably supported by Ginger Gonzaga as Jennifer’s paralegal bestie Nikki Ramos. The cases introduce an amusing roster of D-list Marvel villains like El Aguila, Leap Frog, Man-Bull, and Porcupine. The most inspired import, and certainly my favorite, was Mr. Immortal (Lodge 49’s David Pasquesi), reimagined here as a weak-kneed, conflict-averse man who, knowing he will come back to life, repeatedly commits suicide rather than face the wrath of his army of ex-wives. All these elements create a winning, playful vibe that had me rooting for the show.
But like many of the Disney+ MCU projects, it falls well short of compelling, and is riddled with flaws. While I appreciated the verve with which it throws ideas at the wall to see what sticks, the results are slapdash and inconsistent. This kitchen-sink zaniness reaches an apex in a finale that is at once an ambitious, laudable formula-buster and a spectacularly clumsy overreach. Perhaps most distractingly, by the standards of the franchise She-Hulk’s CGI renditions are really unimpressive, both flattening Maslany’s charm and eroding the suspension of disbelief. The legal elements of the show are similarly unconvincing, and the scripts don’t make great use of promising performers like Renée Elise Goldsberry, Jameela Jamil, and Josh Segarra. As a fan of Maslany, the show’s smart feminist subtexts, and its restless commitment to busting the MCU out of its rut, I found it easy enough to ignore most of these flaws in the moment. Unfortunately, the final verdict may be that it wasn’t so much that I liked She-Hulk: Attorney at Law as that I merely wanted to like it.