“I don’t want to be a Hulk. I just got my own office!”
As Los Angeles deputy district attorney Jennifer Walters, the unerring Tatiana Maslany aces that line like, well, like an ace in the new Disney+ series “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law,” premiering Thursday. Four episodes were made available for review. It’s quick-witted and engagingly randy — in one scene, Jennifer presses her cousin Bruce Banner for details regarding Captain America’s sexual resume — and in episode four our heroine sleeps with a hunky doctor who listens.
There’s a bittersweet morning-after coda to that scene, and it’s an exception to the generally quippy vibe of “She-Hulk.” Allow me to approach the bench with one advisory. The script’s self-referentiality and fourth-wall-Hulk-smashing, which comes straight from the original She-Hulk comics launched in 1980, can’t go much further than it does by episode four without becoming less fun.
Fun is what series creator and head writer Jessica Gao is going for here: She has Jennifer herself call it her “fun lawyer show” in episode one. The first two episodes, written by Gao and directed by Kat Coiro, fly by. Episodes three and four, interpolating more of Tim Roth’s returning character Emil Blonsky/Abomination, are less sure-footed.
It’s a challenging blend Gao and company strive for here. Larky, Taika Waititi-style messing-around; “Ally McBeal”-in-2022 interplay between narcissistic legal eagles; and familiar MCU favorites, notably Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner/Smart Hulk, now off the grid in Mexico. After a first-episode car crash, some of Bruce’s blood accidentally gets into his niece’s bloodstream. This transforms her into She-Hulk, 6-foot-7, green as needed, but a highly conflicted superhero.
In an early anger management training sequence, Bruce notes that one’s inner Hulk is “triggered by distressed emotional states. “Oooh!” Jennifer responds, brightly. “Put on a Pixar movie!” Later there’s a similar setup, with a better, less corporately pandering comeback. Remember, Bruce says, the triggers are “anger and fear.” The immediate answer: “Those are, like, the baseline of any woman, existing.”
At the DA’s office, Jessica has in her corner a quick-witted paralegal/dating counselor/bestie, Nikki Ramos (Ginger Gonzaga). After a particularly tough day in court and an eventual firing, Jessica brings Nikki along to her new gig at a private law firm. There Jessica runs the newly created “Superhuman Law Division,” the catch being she’s required to represent her clients not as her human self, but as She-Hulk. Her first client: Roth’s Blonsky, who was first introduced back in 2008 in the much-maligned but actually pretty good “The Incredible Hulk.” I believe I am alone on the planet in this opinion.
“She-Hulk” may not hold much appeal for those who went nertz for “WandaVision,” a show I found clever in theory and a slog in practice. This show rests largely on its star’s shoulders. Maslany has quicksilver timing, and a touch both light and, when verbally required, deadly. After her 17-character showcase in “Orphan Black,” two character iterations are a snap.
The roughly 30-minute episodes are tightly (even over-) packed, but the try-anything spirit works as a welcome solemnity antidote. Paradoxically, Benedict Wong’s solemn sorcerer supreme, Wong, comes off funnier than he ever has in the MCU movies, bringing a deadpan intensity to everything. As Jennifer tells the camera, “Everybody loves Wong; it’s like giving the show Twitter armor for a week.” That sounds like it came verbatim from a “She-Hulk” writing session, and if that’s not your preferred MCU mode, then this is not your preferred MCU show.
Creator Gao is fully aware of the show’s potential haters. In one throwaway bit, celebrity lawyer She-Hulk is getting dragged on social media, and the comments are sadly realistic (“No more female superhero plz … Why everything gotta be female now???”). Women can’t make a show like “She-Hulk” or a movie like “Captain Marvel” without grief from a million or 30 of the MCU’s most rabid male devotees who Just Want Things The Way They Were When They Were Young.
Me? I’m up to here with even the good Marvel movies favoring “dark,” “apocalyptic” and “solemn as a ‘50s Bible epic.” Therefore: “She-Hulk,” so far, so good.
'SHE-HULK: ATTORNEY AT LAW'
How to watch: Premieres Thursday on Disney+