After years of legal battles, false starts, and test photo shoots with Bridgette Nielsen, She-Hulk has finally gotten her live-action debut. It took forty-four years to see the sensational jade giantess in live-action form. Was it worth the wait?
I guess it depends on what you were waiting for. For me? The answer is no, but it wasn’t a chore to watch. It was weird and shallow but not the worst thing on TV.
Before I critique, She-Hulk, I do want to say the casting and production value was top notch. Tatiana Maslany was a great casting choice for She-Hulk. She’s funny, charismatic, and captures the light-hearted personality of Jennifer Walters / She-Hulk.
She-Hulk Attorney at Law is at its heart, a low stakes light-hearted romp.
The show is unlike any other Marvel show. She-Hulk constantly breaks the fourth wall, and both her parents are still alive and supportive of her. She also has a best friend Nikki, played by the immensely talented and fun to watch Ginger Gonzaga. There is not a single drop of angst in this show even when it introduces some of its darker characters. Jen’s life is, for the most part, normal. None of what happens to her in the show causes any long-lasting damage.
Boredom is not an issue She-Hulk needs to contend with. Writing, however, is a different story.
Let’s start with the humor. She-Hulk’s Gags are lame.
In the comics, She-Hulk shares a similar ability with Deadpool.
She can see and talk to the audience. Therefore, She-Hulk Attorney at Law stays true to the source material but becomes entirely too dependent on the gag.
At the beginning of the show, we see Jen prepping herself for a case. Before she enters the courtroom, she stops and talks to you. “My name is Jen, and yes I’m a hulk, but this is going to be a lawyer show.”
The show establishes the fragility of the fourth wall and the numerous times it will break. This is fine, I don’t mind fourth wall breaking gags here and there. I even find the humor entertaining (to an extent.) However, there is a limit and She-Hulk Attorney at Law crosses it. You cannot break the fourth wall if it means breaking the stakes as well. She-Hulk’s over reliance on fourth wall breaking dialogue ultimately harms the audience’s ability to care about Jen and her problems.
The writing is so scattered and wacky it feels written by a middle schooler with a bully vendetta.
The jokes are forgettable and only work when another superhero character makes a surprise cameo. If you don’t know who this is, spoiler warning below.
*Spoiler* Daredevil *Spoiler*
Their interaction is the only scene I can remember with actual, funny dialogue. If you point a gun to my head and ask me to remember a joke, I’d be dead.
If She-Hulk had a don’t laugh challenge, all of you could pass.
I know comedy is difficult to write. I make no claims to be an expert. However, I do know a little bit about writing and She-Hulk’s story is lame with a capital L.
Regardless of genre, a story always needs high stakes.
In Superbad, two high-school seniors want to go off to college with a bang. They need to get alcohol for a party so they could get laid before going their own separate ways. Things quickly go awry when the police get involved.
In Happy Gilmore, Happy is an unsuccessful ice-hockey player with a great slap shot. After another failed tryout Happy finds out his mother owes the IRS $270,000 in back taxes. He has to temporarily put her in a retirement home until he can pay off the debt.
Both of these movies are comedies, and both of these movies have stakes that matter to the characters. Superbad’s may sound superficial, but when you put it in the context of best friends having to say goodbye. The story takes on a much deeper meaning.
She-Hulk doesn’t have -any- of these emotionally upsetting attachments. The show is so desperate to stay light-hearted it doesn’t even explore the biggest problem of all. This is a woman who unwilling grows into a musclebound green giant.
One of the most compelling elements of The Incredible Hulk is his conflict with the monster. If he loses his cool, there’s no telling what the monster inside him will do or who it will hurt. The original Hulk live-action TV show worked because the character wanted to help people. Unfortunately, his anger prevented him from getting close to anyone. The monster consistently ruined his life which forced him to stay on the run.
She-Hulk avoids the rampaging and rage in favor of going on dates and online trolls trying to slut shame her.
Okay . . .
Throughout She-Hulk Attorney at Law you couldn’t help but feel an agenda from the writers of the show. A distinct, “I’m talking to you male trolls” vibe as Jen suffers scrutiny from pathetic man-children. Instead of putting She-Hulk against super villains, Jen’s battle was with nerds, incels (men who are unwillingly celibate), and losers who want her to fail.
Rather than stick with the much more interesting narrative of Jen feeling unwanted in her human form. The writers went on their own “na-na-na-na boo boo” tangent to make a statement against online trolls.
Titania (She-Hulk’s nemesis) is a wasted as a villain. Not that Titania was interesting in the comics, but in this show she’s a social media influencer. We get it, people hate social media influencers, shut up about it.
Jen hits the dating pool as She-Hulk and meets all the creeps you’d expect. The narcissists, the weirdos, and the guys not interested in her smaller, less-muscular human form.
Since Jen doesn’t rampage when she hulks out, I thought for sure the stakes would be about Jen struggling with people liking She-Hulk more than her human self. The show looked like it was going to tackle her identity issue head-on and implied that maybe she should stay as Jen full-time and forget about her new gigantic self.
But then in the very next episode, Jen goes to a wedding as She-Hulk. She said she wanted to impress everyone as her green alter ego rather than her normal sized self. The writers ignore a narrative with great potential in favor of Jen brawling with Titania. Therefore, being a She-Hulk isn’t a problem. It doesn’t affect her career (not really) and it doesn’t affect her life in any negative way. If anything, being She-Hulk is a great thing and sometimes a minor inconvenience.
A minor inconvenience does not make for a compelling story.
Something eventually happens that causes her to lose control. Watching her destroy screens and lose control like her cousin Bruce was immensely satisfying. Some of the best CG moments in the show take place in this episode and you can really see the confusion in She-Hulk’s face as everyone runs away from her in fear. She had finally exploded, and it was fun to watch.
Unfortunately, the consequences carry no weight. Jen loses her job at the law firm, sure, but she’s not THAT upset about it. Her friends are still her friends and despite destroying a theater everything’s cool. If Hulk lost control like Jen, the military would have chased him out of town.
But the worst crime committed by She-Hulk Attorney at Law is the finale. This episode is a must-watch for all aspiring writers because it demonstrates why constantly breaking the fourth wall can harm or destroy your story.
If a character has the power to break the fourth wall, it is a writer’s responsibility to ensure they cannot remove or change their stakes.
We’re going deep into spoiler territory here so if you don’t want to know what happens in the finale, turn back now. There will be spoilers from this point forward and lessons for all students of the craft.
Jen finds out one of the creeps she dated made the video. He also paid some dude to sleep with her and steal a vial of her blood to create a serum that could transform anyone into a Hulk.
During the finale, She-Hulk also discovers that Emil Blonsky a.k.a. The Abomination (Tim Roth) has been secretly doing public speaking events as the Abomination in violation of his parole restrictions. Then the Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) shows up and brawls with Abomination. Jen stands there wondering what the heck is going on.
If this sounds random and chaotic, it is exactly as the writer’s intended.
In order to “fix this chaos,” She-Hulk crashes the Disney app, climbs out of her show, and enters the real world to talk to the writers of She-Hulk.
We meet the showrunner of She-Hulk Jessica Gao and her writing staff. She tells Jen all creative decisions are made by K.E.V.I.N. Kevin is an AI robot responsible for the creation of the Marvel formula. It’s also a representation of Kevin Feige who is the creative head of the Marvel cinematic universe.
Jen talks to Kevin, and Kevin tells her to change back into her human form because She-Hulk’s VFX are too expensive. So, she reverts back to Tatiana Maslany and they have a meta conversation about the direction of the show and the season finale. It is as wacky as it sounds and is actually very on-brand for what a She-Hulk comic would be.
However, there is a big problem with this finale.
Jen breaks the fourth wall so hard she can rewrite the outcome of the episode and what happens to her.
Don’t like the male creep transforming into a Hulk? Jen tells Kevin to remove the serum.
Don’t think the Incredible Hulk should show up into the battle? Gone.
Jen rewrites the ending to her liking, and it works. She creates her own happily ever after which includes another fling with Daredevil.
There’s nothing wrong with a character having the agency to affect events in their lives. There is a problem when the character can erase the stakes that make her life difficult. Imagine if Forrest Gump could break the fourth wall and prevent Jenny from dying. Imagine if Jack could rewrite the ending so he and Rose could both float on the debris, or if they somehow warned the captain to avoid the iceberg. The movies would lose their stakes and the characters would have an unearned ending.
She-Hulk’s ability to break the fourth wall also sets a dangerous precedent that would prevent her from participating in bigger Marvel projects. She-Hulk can technically use her fourth wall breaking power to stop Thanos before he triggers the snap. She could change the ending and prevent catastrophic events from happening.
A character who can erase their conflict also erases the audience’s ability to care.
My problem with She-Hulk wasn’t with its entertainment value, the acting, or the quality of the CGI effects. My issue was with the story feeling weightless and unfocused. She-Hulk Attorney at Law, felt like a story that haphazardly put together and rushed for time. The episodes were extremely short and made shorter with end credits that took up most of the running time.
I thought She-Hulk was a refreshing, contrarian take on the Marvel formula. However, I don’t think the meta humor with Kevin, the focus on male toxicity, or Jen’s transformation gelled with the story. The Hulk is a curse. Jen’s mutation into a Hulk should have had a more dramatic effect on Jen’s psyche. Those who have anger issues, I’m sure wouldn’t want the additional baggage of transforming into a monster added onto it. Jen should not have been able to control her transformations so easily and she shouldn’t have been so quick to accept her new status quo. She needed to have monster muscles instead of the body of a fit, tall, volleyball player. The body she has as She-Hulk is a body most women wouldn’t mind having. So there really isn’t a downside to the change and that’s a problem.
The show felt like it was a soap box for writers who wanted their toxic fanbase to shut up.
An interview with Jessica Gao revealed she picked on Kevin Feige so much he said, “Okay, this is starting to sound a little mean.” What does picking on Kevin have to do with She-Hulk’s story and character arc? What growth did we see from Jen asides from the literal growing? This story had no character arc and most importantly, no consequences. She-Hulk is a fluff piece of mindless entertainment, fun but pointless.
I liked the show enough to want to see another season, I just wish it had more substance with the character. Tatiana Maslany has the talent to carry the show but the writer’s need to give her some real stakes to battle. In my opinion, if World War Hulk becomes a thing and the Hulk becomes a rampaging beast. It would be much more interesting to see how Jen would react when faced between choosing to side with her cousin the Incredible Hulk or the world who wants him gone.
She-Hulk Attorney at Law is a solid three out of five stars. Not bad, not great, totally skippable.