After telling the stories of armored superdudes, superdudes with shields and magical hammers – and even some superdudes named after insects – Marvel is finally tackling the personal and professional lives of a 30-something woman, who happens to be a 6-foot-7 muscular green powerhouse and one heck of a lawyer.
The new legal comedy series “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law” (premiering Aug. 17 on Disney+, then weekly) breaks the mold of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – as well as the fourth wall – with a female superhero who becomes famous due to her sudden (and unwanted) powers, but would rather just do her day job and find love. Tatiana Maslany stars as attorney Jennifer Walters and her emerald alter ego as She-Hulk hangs with friends, navigates the world of modern dating and punches people in a courtroom as needed.
“There’s something about the duality of a woman occupying two different bodies,” says Maslany, who played multiple clones during her Emmy-winning stint on “Orphan Black.” projection, ownership, aesthetic, all of this stuff. Exploring that feels very prescient, and (it’s) very rife with interesting nuance.”
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After accidentally being exposed to the blood of her cousin Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), aka the Hulk, Jen gains similar transformative abilities and becomes a bit of a celebrity. Her firm assigns She-Hulk to head up a new superhuman law division, representing colorful MCU clients including monstrous Hulk foe Abomination (Tim Roth) and magic man Wong (Benedict Wong).
Meanwhile, Bruce – who spent the early Marvel movies grappling with the Hulk for control of his body – believes Jen should answer the call to be a superhero, and provides a crash course on being an Avenger. (Or, as Maslany puts it, “mansplain to her how to be a Hulk.”)
“Her struggle is different than Bruce’s because hers is so much more internalized,” says creator and writer Jessica Gao (“Rick and Morty”). “It really is about her wrestling with her identity and what it means to see people change how they treat her vs. how they treat She-Hulk.”
To play Jen’s suit-ripping, computer-generated Hulk side, Maslany donned a motion-capture outfit akin to Ruffalo’s. “He and I talked about how bizarre that suit is,” she says. Wearing it, “nothing about you feels like a superhero so there’s also an outsider feeling, which is sort of what the Hulk’s place in (the Avengers) is.”
Maslany also enjoyed employing Jen’s “irreverent” sense of humor in the action scenes: “She-Hulk is not a trained fighter; ultimately, she’s Jen in a huge body that’s able to flick somebody and they go flying through a wall. She doesn’t fight cool.”
Anu Valia, who directed three of the show’s nine episodes, was impressed that Maslany “never for a moment forgot the body she was in. She was always just very aware of what She-Hulk’s frame would feel like and how she moves, (that) she is more confident and she’s funnier.”
The comic-book She-Hulk, whose first appearance in 1980 came on the heels of the hit ’70s show “The Incredible Hulk,” has undergone several evolutions, and Marvel spent months developing what she’d look like onscreen. “Yes, she has to be giant and green, but we also want her to still fit into the human world and be able to go to a restaurant on a date,” says executive producer/director Kat Coiro. “She stands out, but she doesn’t look like a monster who shouldn’t be there.”
She-Hulk definitely attracts male attention, and Maslany adored that: Dating “allows Jen to be a different person and to be seen differently. (Yet) at the same time, there’s a fraudulence to that, so Jen can’t ever totally enjoy it.”
While the show’s tone and vibe is influenced by “Ally McBeal,” “Legally Blonde” and “Seinfeld,” Gao went back to the She-Hulk comics she loved to find the right notes of meta commentary and pull in the title character’s archenemy, Titania. A super-strong villain with spikes and leather in Marvel mythology, the new TV Titania (Jameela Jamil) is a social-media influencer and “the antithesis of Jen,” Maslany says.
She’s also “fixated” on the superhero lawyer, Gao adds. “She-Hulk is this sore spot for her, and there’s this fertile ground for why.”
With so many women in front of the camera and behind the scenes, “this show definitely has a female gaze to it,” says Valia. Bringing in those different life experiences and perspectives – what Gao calls “this wonderful woven tapestry of femaleness” – has been “missing from this genre, and also from the MCU.”
And “She-Hulk” by design emphasizes a more grounded look at superhero life that audiences rarely see in the high-stakes Marvel movies.
“On a Tuesday when the universe isn’t about to end, what’s doing laundry like?” Gao says. “You can be world famous, but you still have to pay the mortgage. You still have to clean your kitchen. You still have to call your mom.”