Marvel’s TV output, in my opinion, has been somewhat less than stellar. Not quite “bad”— except perhaps for the lamentable Moon Knight, which starts out “promising” and slowly devolves into “unwatchable”— but certainly not at the level of what was once called, in The Before Times, “appointment TV.” Even the best of their shows— arguably Wandavision and Loki— start strong but fail to stick the landing. With this in mind, it was with some trepidation that I turned on Disney+ to stream the pilot episode of the latest MCU series, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law.

I think the show is… okay. There are likable actors in it, playing likable characters in likable locations saying likably witty— and often surprisingly insightful— things. And while the CGI still hasn’t managed to completely claw its way out of the uncanny valley, it’s still very good— much, much better than what was featured in that widely derided first trailer. (Well, “widely derided” by the hardcore fans. Then again, they’re always complaining about something, so maybe it’s best to just ignore them.) 

The show itself is not groundbreaking or spectacular, but it’s quite a fun watch, largely driven by the charming performances of Mark Ruffalo (or, more accurately, his CGI model) and the amazingly talented Tatiana Maslany, who, for some unfathomable reason, is not the biggest goddamn star in Hollywood. (I mean, seriously, people. Did no one see Orphan Black?) 

The story of the pilot is fairly straightforward: When up-and-coming attorney Jennifer Walters (Maslany) and her cousin Bruce “The Hulk” Banner (Ruffalo) get into a car accident, she suffers a wound that becomes infected by a drop or two of his gamma-irradiated blood. Because of a unique genetic marker they share, Jen becomes a female version of the Hulk— a “She-Hulk,” if you will— and Bruce takes it upon himself to teach her how to control her powers. Too bad all she wants to do is go back to being a lawyer…

There’s a lot to like here. The subtle (and not-so-subtle) nods to the larger Marvel universe, for example, are quite fun, as is the simple idea that, hey, maybe not everyone wants superpowers. Another enjoyable element is the occasional breaking of the fourth wall, a conceit that could’ve been an eye-rolling disaster if not handled as well as Maslany and the writers manage to do here. It was also a pleasant surprise— especially in a show not particularly grounded in reality— how She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is able to deal with real-world gender issues in a fresh and genuinely thought-provoking way. A good example of this is when Bruce marvels at how Jen is able to control her transformations, and she explains that it’s because women are constantly dealing with anger and fear in their everyday lives. (This insight is so compelling it could be the basis of an entire other series!)

The show does have its flaws, though. The script seems rushed, for example, with a whole season’s worth of plot and character development crammed into one short episode. There are problems with the training scenes, too: Bruce stresses to Jen, over and over, that she must stay with him to learn how to be a superhero… but he doesn’t really teach her anything besides how to control her emotions (which, as we mentioned above, she pretty much learns to do on her own), how to do yoga (which she is apparently already very good at), and how to fling boulders across long distances (which is— let’s face it— a skill rarely required in superhero adventures). He doesn’t even teach her how to fight… so how does she already know how to do it? (Okay, maybe she takes weekly kickboxing classes or something; but wouldn’t it have been better to have established that early on? After all, being super-strong doesn’t automatically mean you know how to throw a punch.) 

And speaking of fight scenes: Although the main one between the two Hulks— arguably the set piece of the pilot— is well executed, it offers nothing in the way of tension or stakes. Not just because it’s played mostly for laughs; not just because Jen and Bruce are clearly in a loving, familial relationship and are thus unlikely to really want to hurt each other. The fight scene in question is not compelling because both characters are— hello!— fricking invulnerable. (Remember how boring the Superman vs Zod fight was in MAN OF STEEL? And those two were definitely not in any kind of loving relationship.)

Still, it’s only the pilot. Who knows where She-Hulk: Attorney at Law can go from this point? And as it stands, there’s already more than enough here to make a viewer— especially a Marvel fan— want to come back for more. (I know I will.)

(3 out of 5 stars)

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