Law and Order
The Disney+ series for Marvel have ranged in their enjoyability since they started in early 2021. Some have adopted the format of splitting a movie into six 45-minute long episodes, while others have tried doing short 20-minutes shorts. The results of these attempts mix, with no one show standing out amongst the pack in franchise that arguably has too much content running at one time. She-Hulk: Attorney at Law goes down the legal sitcom pathway, opting for more of a “problem of the week” as opposed to a consistent through narrative. This hurts the show in its early episodes, but when it starts to find a rhythm it feels a little too late with an ending that is equally parts brilliant yet disappointing with the show’s scope and ambition.
Jennifer Walters is the cousin of Bruce Banner and after an unfortunate car accident results in their blood mixing, Jennifer gains the powers of the “Hulk”. However, she is able to control her powers much sooner than Bruce was and go on living her normal daily life as a lawyer. With her new found powers, it draws the attention of legal representatives to have her be the head of a “superhero law” division to represent those with powers. With this new job, Jennifer must balance her new powers and feelings towards them with everyday legal drama.
The show embraces a traditional legal sitcom format at every turn which can be at the shows strength but also a glaring weakness. It shakes up the MCU formula in a fun way, allowing for strange new characters to pop in and out for some enjoyable one-off appearances. It also keeps the show from getting too bogged down in complicated storytelling or need for connective tissue to the larger “Multiverse” storyline that is currently happening. However, this does make episodes feel inconsequential, mundane, and slow particularly in the first 6 episodes of the 9 episode season. More time is spent on the legal drama and the drawn out conflict about society accepting She-Hulk as opposed to a personal story of Jennifer wrestling with her new found identity. The teases we get into this psyche are rich, but most of it is thrown out for gags, forced commentary, and inconsequential conflicts that ultimately don’t pay off in the long run.
Tatiana Maslany’s performance as Jennifer Walters is another welcome introduction into the MCU. She is able to provide a youthful optimism, determined competence, and conflicted torment extremely well throughout the show especially in the back half of the season. She has a fun presence to herself making her enjoyable to watch as the lead, even if her personal story doesn’t always hit all of the right beats. As alike to her character in the comics, there are fourth-wall breaks (similar to Deadpool) that attempt to have a fun meta-commentary on the show. These are used quite mundanely in the first half of the show, but starts to have more fun with it in the back half (particularly in the finale). The show could have used more of these to help it feel more fresh and unique, but is more concerned with other stories that are far less interesting.
Jennifer’s struggle with her identity as She-Hulk is the show at its best. The moments where Jennifer is forced to be She-Hulk to fit in, conflicts with her own opinion of herself as Jennifer and seeing that conflict pan out is the show at its most rewarding particularly in episode 7. Society tells Jennifer she must be a certain way to fit, but Jennifer just wants to be herself without having lofty expectations and criticisms levied at her because she’s a woman. Seeing Jennifer wrestle with this, particularly in fun and novel ways with a counseling session with The Abomination to Matt Murdock/Daredevil’s highly anticipated appearance, makes the show even out. It culminates in a penultimate episodes that ends with Jennifer feeling utterly violated as a human that sets up a darker thematic finale.
However, the show avoids any relevant and impactful resolution to this conflict and opts to go full meta and smash the fourth wall resulting in an entertaining and hilarious diversion from typical finales but comes at the expense of Jennifer’s story. The show comments on the traditional MCU formula, the rush of VFX artists to ensure deadlines are met, and the supreme overlord of “Kevin” Feige that manages it all. It’s entertaining and I enjoyed it all, however this is where the sitcom format was the show’s downfall. Each episode is approximately 30 minutes in length, and with the finale running at the same time length there was not remotely enough time to see Jennifer wrestle with and handle the consequences of her violation in a satisfying manner. It rushes to a conclusion, that makes the overall journey feel choppy, lazy, and without direction. The show tries to comment on generic and underwhelming finales, but then delivers that which it makes fun of. The character of Jennifer/She-Hulk deserved better then this show was given, and ultimately leaves me feeling un-satisfied with its conclusion.
The mix of the sitcom format with more serious storytelling could have worked if the episodes were longer and had time to dedicate to both sides. She-Hulk more than any other MCU property is more concerned with the gags and gimmicks than delivering any meaningful story conclusions and outcomes for its characters. Episodes 7 and 8 in particular shows what the show could be in balancing fun and mature themes well, but it comes far too late for the audience to care and feels underwhelming by the time it reaches its conclusion. While the tie-ins to the larger MCU are welcome, they come as forced cameos (something the show comments on) rather than something that has an impact on the story. The only one that does have an impact is Matt Murdock/Daredevil and Charlie Cox’s highly anticipated introduction into the MCU shows how well the show could have panned out, particularly as it intersects with Jennifer’s story. It’s handled all too briefly without sticking the landing for Jennifer’s character that deserved better.
Shoddy visual effects and CGI are not the only troubles that plague this latest MCU show, as its balance of sitcom and mature storytelling don’t balance all too well. Tatiana Maslany is a great addition to the MCU’s growing roster of characters, but the story she was given deserved better especially given all of the criticism levied against the show. Unsure of whether this show is worth a watch in the long-run (if you are interested in Daredevil’s appearance, its episode 8 and can be watched without context), but at least there are some fun cameos along the way.