The Disney+ debut “A Normal Amount of Rage” has plenty of feats of strength but little superheroics.
Thanks to all the pre-release press with show creator and head writer Jessica Gao, viewers already know what She-Hulk: Attorney At Law won’t be: a courtroom dramedy. Unfortunately, after the first episode, “A Normal Amount of Rage,” it isn’t clear what kind of show it will be either.
The decision to frontload Jennifer Walters’ (Tatiana Maslany) MCU origin story certainly plays a part in that. Evidently, the origin bits were initially set farther back in the series, but the fear was viewers would be too distracted by questions about it. So “Rage” gives us the skinny right away. It harkens back to the comics—Bruce’s (Mark Ruffalo) blood is the culprit—while being a bit silly—it isn’t a transfusion but rather a few drops of his blood dripping into her open wound. Oh well, I suppose the one drop thing isn’t without precedence for Hulk.
Regardless of how one might feel about what it says to think an audience can’t handle a delayed reveal, it makes the entire first episode feel like prologue. Ruffalo and Maslany do have excellent chemistry. They nail the “so-close cousins they feel more like siblings” vibe. It’s fun when they’re together, with Bruce’s self-seriousness bouncing nicely off Jen’s more grounded desire just to get back to life. And for this intensively trained in Dialectical Behavior Therapy, the shout-out to the clinically proven approach was nice.
However, knowing this is likely Jen’s only trip to Bruce’s training camp/bar/lab gave it the air of the inessential. A midseason flashback when viewers know the lay of the land and get the stakes can be a great way to deepen characterization. In episode one, it is a roadblock between people and the show they’re going to be watching for the rest of the season.
The episode’s climax, a coming out for Jen in the real world, feels rushed and undercooked due to all that island time. Titania (Jameela Jamil) arrives without explanation—or name for that matter—and is easily dispatched in an action sequence perhaps best described as, well, “inexpensive looking.” It gives off the distinct impression the series is just as interested in avoiding She-Hulk shenanigans as Jen herself.
If Gao and her team can capture the vibe of [Hulk] and [She-Hulk’s] interactions for the entirety of the show, She-Hulk will at least be an enjoyable time.
So if it isn’t a courtroom dramedy and it isn’t a superhero sitcom, what is it?
Of course, She-Hulk will provide more superheroics as the season goes on. Still, everything about this first fight—the staging, the lack of danger, the rush to end it—does not make that prospect feel especially inviting. If the series feels this unengaged with the punching and kicking in episode 1, why would one want to stick with it for eight more installments? Not every viewer has the benefit of screeners for the first four episodes to give them a more well-rounded perspective on what’s to come.
On the comedy front, while the show is fun, it isn’t always as funny as it’s striving to be. It invests a lot of effort in a “Captain America is a virgin” joke that finally pays off in the post-credits scene, but oof, it is a long walk to get there. An interoffice rivalry with another lawyer, Dennis Bukowski (Drew Matthews), could be intended as playful barbs or full-blown misogyny. Unfortunately, neither the dialogue nor the performances make it clear. It feels too light to be the latter, too chuckle-less to be the former.
If Gao and her team can capture the vibe of Bruce and Jen’s interactions for the entirety of the show, She-Hulk will at least be an enjoyable time. Again, those scenes have a wonderful sense of chemistry and delight to them. If it gives Maslany those kinds of opportunities throughout series, it may not end up the best of the MCU series, but it’ll still be a good time in front of the screen.
It also may do well digging deeper into the background radiation of sexism and threat that She-Hulk—and indeed, the world—presents. The overly aggressive men dressing up not taking no for an answer as “I just want to talk to you,” attorney Dennis even if he’s supposed to be funny, and the callouts of mansplaining may all feel a bit heavy-handed. At times, it feels like a flashback to the dramedy She-Hulk has often been compared to before release, Ally McBeal. On the other hand, things in life feel a bit more heavy-handed as well. Perhaps a bit of bluntness isn’t the worst thing.
Whatever series She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is going to be, though, it needs to figure it out quickly. Defining a show by what it isn’t only goes so far. The faster it figures out what it wants to do, the more quickly viewers will commit.
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is growing large and green now on Disney+.