Inside She-Hulk: Lawyer, Marvel’s Modern Legal Comedy
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law — premiering August 18 on Disney+ and Disney+ Hotstar — is more of a modern comedy about struggles with self-acceptance than a standard superhero movie. While most characters love the idea of harboring powers, attorney Jennifer Walters is quite the opposite. Put yourself in his situation: you have a car accident and wake up transformed into a tall, muscular, green-tinged monster. It sounds cool at first, but imagine being like that all the time. Maintaining public appearances and sporting a fake smile are hallmark traits of an average celebrity, or in this case, a superhero — examples we’ve been covered in Amazon’s The Boys and Zack Snyder’s Watchmen.
Each of the nine episodes of She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is set to have a distinct flavor, which isn’t limited to a specific genre. “The easy answer is that it’s a half-hour legal comedy. But it also has huge cinematic reach and elements of drama, action, suspense,” co-director Kat Coiro said Friday during a global Zoom press conference. “It’s really a little glimpse behind the curtain of the everyday – sometimes even mundane – life of a superhero, that we experience in this long-running series.”
Walters, played by Emmy-winning actress Tatiana Maslany, never volunteered to be a superhero. It was all part of a big accident, causing his cousin Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) to transfuse him with his gamma-irradiated blood. But unlike the Hulk – who is unaware of his actions in monster form – She-Hulk is fully aware and retains all of Walters’ personality, adding to the inner conflict and spicing up the self-aware drama to wait from Show.
“The beauty of television is – unlike the movies – that we actually have the time and the space to really sit down with the character and learn more about him, and really get to know him as a fully fleshed out person” , said editor-in-chief Jessica Gao. “-she [Maslany] was immediately able to make it look like a real human being. You feel like she is [She-Hulk] lived a life, she has life experiences, she has relationships, she has family and friends. Moreover, it changes. Like, she might feel different in the morning than in the evening.
Break the fourth wall
Gao, who shares writing credits with HBO’s Silicon Valley and the iconic “Pickle Rick” episode of Rick and Morty, was rejected three times by Marvel Studios before landing a She-Hulk ground. Taking inspiration from comic book writer John Byrne’s “Sensational She-Hulk” series, fans will quickly notice the groundbreaking sense of humor in the upcoming Disney+ series. The meta-writing went through several evolutionary stages, including a version where square speech bubbles appeared on screen. Similar to the fashion for the 2013 Deadpool video game and Ryan Reynolds-directed movies, but aimed more at the series’ editors.
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“At one point there was an iteration in scripts where instead of really speaking directly to the camera, there were, sort of, text boxes that were editor’s notes. Like the notes of the publisher in the comics. And she [She-Hulk] was actually interacting with the editor’s notes that would be on screen,” Gao said, stating that the idea was ultimately scrapped. “How much is she talking to the camera? Is she talking directly to the audience? Is there another meta element? Is she talking to someone else, like, c What’s more behind the scenes? These were the questions that arose in the writers’ room at Marvel.
“Ultimately it was about finding the balance, you know, where breaking the fourth wall connects to the audience and draws us in, but not so much that we don’t connect to its history and the world that we have . built,” Coiro added. According to Maslany, She-Hulk has a level of hyper-consciousness, where she is able to seamlessly transition between Jenn and monster form while fully conscious. The fourth wall break is not limited to its carcass form, but rather exposed at both ends. “It’s like an extension of his superpower,” she said.
Family dynamics and relationships
The first trailer for She-Hulk touched on some of the pros and cons of becoming a hulk. Ruffalo (Zodiac), reprising his role as Professor Banner – albeit for brief moments – gathers years of information to pass on to his cousin. But after witnessing how becoming a superhero ruined her personal life and prospects, Walters balks at the idea of becoming one herself. “What’s so great about the show is that it has all these huge Marvel elements, like big sets. However, we also take care of She-Hulk encounters and help her dad carry stuff around the garage,” Maslany said.
Following Avengers: Endgame, Banner moved to a remote part of Mexico, having created the peaceful, zen lifestyle he always wanted. He quickly becomes an unwanted mentor/life coach for Walters, so she has no trouble with his new powers – teaching him how to control and how best to use them in a given situation. But they realize Walters’ She-Hulk is different from his own, remaining fully conscious and retaining all of his personality traits – something he can’t fathom. “They have a great relationship and Bruce is just thrilled to have someone who can relate to him on a Hulk level,” Ruffalo said in a prepared press release.
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“Mark and I really found that dynamic between the Hulk and She-Hulk and Jen and Bruce. The scripts lean into that kind of lovingly antagonistic sibling relationship – they obviously grew up really close. She always takes it down a notch; he always takes it down a notch,” added Maslany.
It wasn’t just the off-screen chemistry, but the fact that the two stars were put together in mocap jumpsuits with dots on their faces, that created a special moment for Ruffalo – who did it alone during the entire MCU. “Other actors usually want to run away from me in these scenes: I’m on a box, covered in stitches with a front-facing camera right in the center of my face,” he notes in the statement. “It’s not a natural experience for them. For the first time, I did scenes with another actor who is in the same position. We see that Bruce/Hulk is distressed and lonely, but free in a way he’s never been before. It was exciting.
Another key figure in Walters’ life is her best friend and fellow lawyer Nikki Ramos, providing constant support and guidance in personal and professional matters. Ginger Gonzaga portrays the character to try and remind Walters of a life outside of his job and to embrace his newfound She-Hulk powers. “Shamefully, I feel like I’m cheating on this show. I feel like Nikki is a lot like me,” Gonzaga said. “She’s very free. She’s the person you want, the one who can get away with anything, you know, and encourage you to do anything.
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“I like most of all that they’re friends who really care and love each other and have, you know, a certain sense of emotional maturity in their lives. But also , it’s a really good balance, because Jenn is sort of “by the books. She’s safe, she knows what she’s doing with her life, and she has all these goals. Nikki is just very reckless and free but in a fun way. I can kind of start fires and encourage Jenn to become She-Hulk.
Above all, what intrigued Coiro to achieve She-Hulk was his own personal story surrounding the character. “I vividly remember being a little girl and seeing the cover of a She-Hulk comic in the middle of this sea of male comics. And not knowing who she was or what it was, but knowing that I was moved by it – the idea of being big and in charge and, you know, taking control, taking up space was something something that really touched me. And I remember buying this comic. So when this show happened, it was really the culmination of a real dream.
Of the nine episodes of She-Hulk, Coiro directed episodes 1–4 and 8–9. The remaining 5, 6, and 7 episodes are directed by Anu Valia, best known for writing and directing the 2017 Sundance Film Festival award-winning short “Lucia, Before and After.”
Gao added, “I love that she’s [She-Hulk] funny. I love that she breaks the fourth wall. I love that she’s super confident with a great attitude and in later runs has a realistic relationship to the idea of being a superhero. She has a sense of humor about her powers and has come to really appreciate the benefits. There is one aspect that is very ambitious.
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Marvel’s She-Hulk: Attorney at Law brings a lot more to the table, with compelling characters such as Titania, played by Jameela Jamil – a super-powered social media influencer obsessed with Walters. Then there’s a couple reunions, starting with Tim Roth’s Emil Blonsky aka Abomination, where he reprises his role as The Incredible Hulk directed by Edward Norton in 2008. Benedict Wong as The Sorcerer Supreme also makes an appearance, at the sequel to the cage fight in Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings.
The original Disney+ Hotstar show also stars Josh Segarra, Jon Bass, and Renée Elise Goldsberry. Charlie Cox is also set to star as Matt Murdock aka Daredevil. Following Netflix’s cancellation, a new show has been greenlit at Disney called Daredevil: Born Again, slated for release in early 2024.
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law premieres August 18 on Disney+ and Disney+ Hotstar. New episodes air every Thursday through October 13. In India, She-Hulk will be available to stream in English, Hindi, Tamil, Telegu, and Malayalam.