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I admit, I only kind of half pay attention to the new Star Wars and Marvel shows on Disney Plus. Both have so thoroughly over-saturated the market that there's just no excitement about either franchise anymore. A lot of the stories in Star Wars in particular feel like they're scraping the bottom of the barrel for any idea that some bean-counter feels is worth filming. Marvel at least has the advantage of progressing a continuous narrative forward, even if it's currently moving at a glacial pace. Star Wars is widely regarded as having shat the bed with the sequel trilogy (I still haven't bothered to watch Rise of Skywalker), so now it's completely fixated on just back-filling the details adjacent to the parts of the franchise that were actually good, while insisting that the same handful of characters have their hands in everything important that has ever happened in this universe. Anyway, sorry for the Star Wars tangent; I'm supposed to be talking about a Marvel show right now. I wonder how long it will be before Disney gets so desperate that they start crossing-over Marvel and Star Wars?

Anyway, the point is that I've been kind of "meh" about almost everything that Marvel has put out since Infinity War. So "meh" that I couldn't even be bothered to write reviews or impressions of most of it. So much of the content just feels like it's running in place from a narrative standpoint, or that it's just an elaborate setup and tease for bigger, more important future content. Just get to the Fantastic 4 and X-Men and Kang the Conqueror or Dr. Doom or whoever the next big bad Thanos-wannabe is going to be already!

Loki - Kang
Loki Episode 6, © Disney, Marvel.
WandaVision - witchcraft
WandaVision Episode 9, © Disney, Marvel.
Marvel's shows feel largely like teases for the good stuff that's still just over the horizon.

I went into She-Hulk expecting more of the same: a show that serves only to bridge the gap between Endgame and whatever is next, instead of really being a story in its own right. But after a couple episodes of only half watching, I found myself putting my laptop away and actually paying attention as we got further and further into the season. The reason is that She-Hulk doesn't feel like filler content; it feels like an actual TV show that exists for its own sake and is content to tell its own story.

Yeah, sure, it's still tied into what's going on in the broader Marvel universe. OG Hulk gets kid-napped by aliens and disappears for most of the series, which is definitely a tease for some bigger things happening out in the periphery. But while shows like Loki seemed to exist only to build some interest and intrigue about what's going to happen next, She-Hulk is just a show about Jennifer Walters coming to terms with her new, public identity as She-Hulk.

This leads to a more personal, intimate super hero story than I'm used to seeing from the never-ending parade of comic book movies that always have to have apocalyptic stakes. Yeah, sure, Spider-Man deals heavily with Peter Parker balancing his personal and social life with his hero duties, but the focus on teenage and high school drama isn't something that I relate to as much anymore. And yeah, both WandaVision and Loki get very personal, but neither of those allow us to see the heroes living their lives in real life. They both take place in highly exaggerated or outright fictional realities. So She-Hulk feels different. It's largely about Jennifer Walters' life now that she is a super hero. Not her life as a super hero; her normal, everyday life since becoming a super hero.

She-Hulk - work
She-Hulk Episode 4, © Disney, Marvel.
She-Hulk is focused on Jen Walters' everyday life now that she's a reluctant super hero.

In contrast to a character like Spider-Man, this is a mostly adult life. Yeah, she's single and still in the dating scene, so it skews some of the personal drama material a little younger. She isn't coming home from a 9-5 job to a spouse, kids, and a dog, and struggling to pay the mortgage, rush the kids off to soccer practice, and argue with her spouse about who's responsibility it is to take out the garbage. But she's also not a teenager, or even in her 20's. The actress, Tatiana Maslany, is 37 (same age as me), so this is closer to "middle-age dating drama", with a super hero twist.

She-Hulk also provides a distinctly female perspective. As I understand, the writers and director are mostly women, and most of the characters are also women. It's about the struggles and frustrations of a woman existing in a male-dominated field (whether it be lawyering or super-heroing), and how she has to work so much harder, and be so much more perfect in everything she does, in order to be taken seriously (at both lawyering and super-heroing).

I also enjoyed the show's willingness to directly confront criticisms of Marvel's style, including both legitimate criticisms, and also the toxic complaints of mostly right-wing neckbeard snowflakes who go on Twitter rants whenever a new movie or show is announced as having a woman, minority, gay, or trans lead. Jennifer gets her Hulk powers, and Bruce tries to teach her how to control her Hulk-ness. But right out of the gate, Jennifer is able to do basically everything that Bruce spent years learning. But the show immediately swats away any potential "Mary Sue" criticism by explaining that, as a woman in a male-dominated profession, Jennifer is always carefully managing her emotional demeanor (including anger and frustration), whether it's to avoid being labeled as "too emotional", or as a defense mechanism against harassment in the workplace. This skill of regulating her anger is already second-nature to her (and is implied to be second-nature to most women, and especially to women who happen to be working professionals).

She-Hulk -
She-Hulk Episode 1, © Disney, Marvel.
Jen has years of experience controlling her anger and frustration from sexual harassment and condescension.

As someone who knows several women in male-dominated professions, who have repeatedly vented and ranted to me about the unfair, sexualized, or condescending treatment that they receive from colleagues, customers, or clients, and having been personally called out by some of them for "man-splaining" on ... a few ... occasions, I'm like, "Hah. Yeah, that makes sense to me.". And that's coming from someone who is [somewhat begrudgingly] on the record as being in the "Rey is a 'Mary Sue'" camp.

I do have kind of mixed feelings about the meta finale, and um, you know ... spoiler alert for this coming paragraph. On the one hand, I like that Jennifer insists on forgoing the bombastic climactic CGI action spectacle battle in favor of basically going "The Ensigns of Command" on the villain. But on the other hand, the retcon of the ending that the whole season seemed to be building up to, and the resultant resolution ends up being rushed, unsatisfying, and confusing. Like, do the incels have her blood now, or not? Are we to now believe that obtaining her blood was never their motivation in the first place, even though the first alleyway assault scene clearly establishes that somebody wants her blood?

In any case, whether you liked the ending or not, it represents an explicit acknowledgement from Marvel that they both know that they have a problem with over-indulgent CGI spectacle climaxes, and they agree that it's a problem (or at least, the She-Hulk writers and producers agree that it's a problem). So now the question is: are they gonna fix it?

From a structural perspective, I also appreciate that the first season is much more episodic than most other streaming shows. It's very easy for the heavily serialized shows to have episodes that just blur together, as if it's a single, 8 or 10-hour movie. And since many of them also often feel like they were originally conceived as story ideas for a 2-hour movie, that 8 or 10-hour runtime often feels tedious and bloated, and the shows struggle with their pacing. This isn't the case with She-Hulk. Yes, the season does have an over-arching plot-line, but almost all of the episodes tell relatively self-contained stories with their own beginnings, middles, and ends, and their own distinct themes. The more episodic nature means that it's easier to like or dislike a specific episode, without necessarily having to like or dislike the entire series as a result. And they're all about 30 minutes long, so it all moves pretty quickly. It's basically exactly how I felt about Star Trek: Lower Decks.

She-Hulk - Abomination
She-Hulk Episode 9, © Disney, Marvel.
She-Hulk is more episodic than the other Marvel shows, but still has an over-arching narrative thread.

I mean, yeah, there is some iffy writing -- especially where some of the lawyering and courtroom stuff goes. And, in fact, the show's director even went on the record in an interview with Variety to say that the writers didn't have much experience at writing courtroom scenes. It really shows. But whatever, it's all stuff that I'm willing to look past and suspend my disbelief in a show that uses the courtroom stuff as a vehicle for telling a character story, instead of being about the trials. This is She-Hulk; not Law & Order.

That's especially true considering the 4th-wall-breaking, sort-of "unreliable narrator" thing that the show has going. It's not entirely clear how much of what is depicted is meant to be taken as an objective depiction of the events as they happened, and how much of it might be more akin to "the events as Jen Walters perceives / remembers them". No, it's not American Psycho or Fight Club levels of unreliable narrator, but it still doesn't necessarily have to be taken at literal face value all the time, and that really helps to make it a much more easy-going, casual watch.

She-Hulk is the first Marvel streaming show that actually got me to put away whatever city-building game I happened to be playing on my laptop at the time and actually pay attention and focus on the show. It's easily my favorite entry in Marvel's streaming catalogue to date, and the only one that I whole-heartedly recommend (I had previously recommended WandaVision, but only for the first half of the series or so, when it actually felt stylistically fresh and creative). I think it blows Loki, Falcon And Winter Soldier, Hawkeye, and Moon Knight out of the water (I haven't watched Ms. Marvel or What If...? yet).

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