The Marvel Cinematic Universe has taken the last few years to try out new spins, new characters, and most importantly, new thematic moods and styles. Such wheels have been spinning at least since the introduction of the Guardians of the Galaxy, which took a leap with characters few knew and leaned heavily into comedy. But, the last few films and series efforts like WandaVision, have tried to widely expand the kind of storytelling available. Normally a recipe for disaster, the juggernaut that is the MCU feels confident to attempt to widen its reach further, even at the expense of occasionally alienating fans. WandaVision, for one, shows just how well this can work out.
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is a bit of a different beast, mixing and updating television sensibilities from a variety of genres (and decades) and trying to get to a result that establishes a strong female lead who can reach a different level of cultural awareness. The first episodes, like our heroine, Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany), try to run as quickly as they can away from She-Hulk and get to the point where somehow our main focus (one presumes) becomes legal drama and angst.
In a normal series, the first two episodes might be the first half of the pilot, as we blitz through insane establishment requirements and hope to provide a glimmer of what might be coming, and that in itself is liable to turn off viewers. Those who stick around (and for whom there is any chance “Marvel Ally McBeal” means anything) may really have a treat in store as Maslaney eventually gets a chance to relay some character without the need to go through the five stages of “finding out you’re a superhero” in ten minutes… or the sloppy writing of the caricature extravaganza of having dinner with her family.
Ultimately, the series settles into its actual gimmick, exploring the day-to-day of a world with superheroes. Once Walters settles into a new job, which requires her to constantly confront her new life, the series dives into its often bewildering splice of theories, all screaming for attention. Sure, Jennifer is She-Hulk, but she breaks the fourth wall, has her bestie paralegal in tow when she gets her cushy new job at a huge law firm, has to deal with clients she doesn’t want, like Abomination (Tim Roth), and has to deal with her oddball family.
The series not only struggles to get through its establishment simply by way of the bare content involved in giving Jennifer powers and walking through how she “works” differently from The Hulk, but because the effort is often lazy and seemingly self-disinterested. Where a prequel movie establishing the character might let Jennifer have and express some emotions, or relay her motivations in refusing her “superheroine-ness,” here she just throws out a couple of sentences that would have been script notes and we charge on. It’s something of a fault by design, but that doesn’t remove the obligation to try to overcome it, and it doesn’t.
Fortunately, Maslany (who, if anything, is carrying Mark Ruffalo) does get some moments where she is able to effectively offer up some depth to a character flailing against circumstance, in order to get us to our shift out of the mad dash to set all the players in motion. Once at the turning point, which is more or less when Mark Linn-Baker, as Jennifer’s father, pulls her aside for an almost jarringly well-managed “It happened. You’re still here.” moment, the series focuses squarely on the law firm drama it will become. You can almost hear new theme music play as she walks through the law office.
That show is liable to really take over, but it’s just as likely to draw ire from some. It’s going to dip into nearly every trope bucket available, and a lot of it is going to be pretty goofy. Worst, for some, it’s constantly diving for comfort and distraction by heading for the most convenient genre norms. Jennifer is mugging for laughs talking to the audience, but the next thing you know she’s talking to Abomination about his parole hearing (which is itself nonsensical). The mix and fluidity is what gives the show its potential, in much the way that WandaVision used a decade blender to baffle audiences, but it’s slow to get its feet under itself.
While this kind of curiosity of a series might be a lot of things to a lot of people, it’s ultimately an effort at a throwback to a time when certain sub-genres were possible and were largely described as “comfort”-something. It’s flippant and dorky, and more closely related to the comic than many will assume, with an effort toward charisma over smashing things. Maslany will hook people, and focusing on friends and cases will give her the meat to pull her character apart, and it’s going to be a lot of fun.