REVIEW: “She-Hulk” is a bad sitcom (SPOILERS)

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Sea Gull
Sea Gull

Joined: 20 Dec 2018
Gender: Male
Posts: 237
Location: Santa Maria, CA

23 Oct 2022, 4:18 am

MINOR SPOILERS for "She-Hulk" -- Mostly the first episode.

The Disney+ series “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law” is “controversial” by design. It's a marketing tactic. Meanwhile, sensationalized reactions from the “Anti-Woke” critics of the internet – She-Hulk WORST FAILURE EVER!! ! WOKE Marvel hits ROCK BOTTOM!! ! and such like – bury legitimate criticism of the show.

People who enjoy “She-Hulk” often defend it by claiming that people just don't get what kind of show it is. It's a light-hearted, low-stakes, episodic sitcom, this defense claims, which is exactly what Marvel needs right now. It's just silly fluff with a quirky fourth-wall breaking main character. Any sort of “message” in the show is just imagined by the haters. This is the view of the show that I specifically want to address.

In fairness, I think there are some comic book fans out there who would prefer everything to be dark and gritty.

Personally, I like a good sitcom much more than I like anything in the MCU. Furthermore, I prefer my superhero material to have at least some light-heartedness and to embrace the inherent silliness of the genre.

“She-Hulk” is presented with a thin candy-gloss of upbeat sitcom wackiness, but that doesn't mean it can't be a poorly done show. Bad sitcoms have been a thing since sitcoms have been a thing.

Most sitcoms establish multiple characters in the very first episode and (unless they're canceled very quickly) they usually have many more episodes to work with than “She-Hulk's” mere 9.

For example, the first episode of “Cheers” establishes 6 major characters, plus minor recurring character Sumner Sloan and his ex-wife, Barbara. I feel like I know more about Barbara Sloan than I do any of the characters in “She-Hulk,” and she never even appears on camera.

The first episode of “She-Hulk” really only establishes Jennifer Walters/She-Hulk and she has two character traits: 1) she's a woman and 2) she greets all superhero genre conventions with a groan and an eye-roll.

Being a comedy, you might expect the show to open with a joke. “She-Hulk” opens with a speech about societal responsibility, given by our main character, Jen. Her supportive female co-worker thinks the speech is great and her sexist male co-worker thinks it's lousy. Before any further workplace character dynamics can be established, Jen breaks the fourth wall. She grudgingly acknowledges that we, the audience, won't be able to concentrate on her “fun lawyer show” until she explains what the whole “She-Hulk” thing is about.

We flash back to Jen driving with her cousin, Bruce Banner. They have only a few moments to establish their family dynamic. She spends it telling a joke about Captain America being a virgin. (And by “a joke about...” I mean the idea that he was a virgin is the entire joke.) A spaceship suddenly appears, stepping on the “punchline” and causing the car to crash. As Jen rescues Bruce, a little of his blood drips into hers and – BAM! She's instantly a Hulk, too, with virtually no buildup.

In the next scene, Jen (back in human form) stumbles into the bathroom of a sleazy bar. Here, we see the show's tonal confusion. It's a typical wacky sitcom misunderstanding: a group of stereotypical prostitutes see her torn clothes and assume she's the victim of domestic abuse, so they take it upon themselves to dress her up in stereotypical prostitute clothes. Outside the bar, some creepy men see how she's dressed and assume she's a prostitute. With that setup, the ensuing scene is too silly to be taken seriously, but too creepy to be funny. The men surround her menacingly, but when she turns into She-Hulk, they scream comically and run away. She-Hulk lunges at them, but before she can, presumably, kill them with her Hulk strength, she's tackled by Bruce in Hulk form.

Do you remember the first episode of “Friends?” Remember when Rachel runs into Central Perk in her wedding dress, having left her fiancee at the altar? Then, do you remember the part where she's immediately surrounded by a gang of menacing guys who assume she's a mail-order bride and then Rachel nearly murders them? No, of course you don't remember that second part, because that wouldn't fit the tone of a light-hearted sitcom.

Conversely, I can imagine the “She-Hulk” scene being funny in an all-out black comedy. You could make the guys really creepy and then have the powerful heroine kill them in humorous ways, but clearly a Disney+ show can't go there.

Anyway, Jen wakes up at Bruce's safe house in Mexico and the previous scene is practically forgotten. Bruce wants Jen to be a superhero and tries to train her, while she wants to stay a lawyer. This causes some animosity between them. As mentioned, we don't know much about how these two got along before, so we don't know how Jen becoming a Hulk has changed that relationship. She enjoys showing up Bruce at using Hulk powers that she otherwise hates and never wants to use.

As to why Jen can instantly control powers that it took Bruce years to master, that brings us to centerpiece of the episode: Jen explains to Bruce that she can control her anger because she does it “infinitely more” than he does in daily life, based solely on their respective genders. This is not a moment between Jennifer Walters, established character and Bruce Banner, established character, who are related and have known each other for years. This is a scene between A Woman and A Man. The way it's written, you could swap them out for virtually any male and female characters and it would play out the same. That's extremely poor character development.

And how about this exchange?

BRUCE: “The triggers are anger and fear.”

JEN: “Those are, like, the baseline of any woman just existing!”

On “I Love Lucy,” when Lucy Ricardo gets in a wacky situation, she's sometimes told, “Oh, Lucy! This could only happen to you!” Jen Walters would not be told that. She is “any woman.”

Furthermore, I'm no expert on Hulk lore, but isn't the whole idea of The Hulk that it's a Jekyll and Hyde story? That Bruce's regular mild-mannered personality contrasts sharply with the rage-fueled Hulk? Apparently not?

To recap, Jen now has superpowers that she can instantly control, making her super strong and practically invincible, with virtually none of the downsides that plagued her cousin when he got these powers. She's not happy about this.

After a harmless Hulk vs. Hulk fight, Jen returns to being a lawyer and we cut back to the present.

Her speech in court is interrupted by a supervillainess randomly bursting in (for never-established reasons) and nearly killing the jury. Jen is forced to reveal her Hulk powers and saves the day...with, like, two punches.

The action in the show is deliberately downplayed, trolling the audience that comes to a superhero show expecting epic battles. In a more genuinely subversive show, I can imagine this being funny. However, a show can be primarily a comedy and still have good action: the animated shows on Disney+ do it all the time.

In the next episode, Jen's heroics will get her fired from her job and blackballed as a lawyer.

If I continue this, I will further explore how the main character of this “light-hearted” show lives in a mean-spirited world and is constantly miserable about everything.

I acknowledge a lot of people enjoy the show and of course, that's fine. This is just one person's opinion. I just think the different perspectives on what constitutes “light-hearted” are interesting.