Why Marvel's "Fun Lawyer Show" Started with a She-Hulk Origin

Warning: this story contains details for She-Hulk: Attorney at Law Episode 1, “A Normal Amount of Rage.” “It’s true. I am a Hulk,” Los Angeles attorney Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany) tells the audience in the fourth-wall-breaking opening minutes of She-Hulk. “I’m guessing you won’t be able to focus on this fun lawyer show until you know all about that.” What follows is a half-hour origin story recounting how, months earlier, Jen was exposed to a dose of cousin Bruce Banner’s (Mark Ruffalo) gamma-irradiated blood. As the fully-integrated Smart Hulk, Jen’s superhero cousin teaches her how to Hulk — permitting Thursday’s She-Hulk Episode 2 to rest the case on the superhero origin story and motion for a fun lawyer show.

“[The origin story] actually moved around quite a bit because, when we first wrote it in the writers’ room, it was episode four. I always wanted to start the show in situ, where we get right into it,” executive producer and head writer Jessica Gao explained to Collider. “I thought, ‘Let’s just get to know her and what her life is now, and then, once you spend a couple of episodes getting to know her, we’ll reveal all the backstory and that’ll put a lot of the things you were watching about her in context, as far as why she was so reluctant and why she was at this point in her life and why we were meeting her at this point in her life.'”

In “A Normal Amount of Rage,” Jen tells Bruce she’s not going to follow in his superhero footsteps as an Avenger. Instead, the 30-something attorney intends to return to the career she spent years building and “use my law degree that I’m still paying off a fortune in student loans for.” Despite her resistance to superheroics— “The only Hulking out I’m gonna do is in the legal sense,” she tells best friend Nikki (Ginger Gonzaga) — Episode 1 ends with Jen hulking out in court to thwart Titania (Jameela Jamil). 

But in one version, what became the She-Hulk series premiere was once envisioned as the penultimate episode of the season. 

“It was during production that we decided to push [the origin] to episode eight. I remember there was a lot of discussion. Honestly, I was probably in a fugue state. I don’t actually remember what the catalyst was of moving it to episode eight, but we did, and that’s what it was for a very long time, until we were in post-production,” Gao said. “Months into post-production, [producer] Kevin [Feige] and everybody at Kevin’s level, wanted to move it to the first episode, and I fought them tooth and nail. But, I understand it. I think it’s just because we underestimated, or at least I did, people’s familiarity with this character.”

An admirer of the comics, Gao realized fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe might not share her knowledge of the character — a mainstay of the comic book Marvel universe since the ’80s, but who had only appeared on-screen before in animated television.

“Because I knew this character, inside and out, and she was always my favorite in the comics, I really took for granted that everybody would know who she was, how she got these powers, and her relationship to Bruce. I just took for granted that everybody would know this, but not a lot of people are familiar with her,” Gao explained. “People who watched it, test audiences, really wanted to know more about her. They were having trouble. It was the elephant in the room, and they couldn’t get past it. So, I lost the argument.” 

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Ultimately, Gao added, “I’m totally happy to have a premise pilot and start with an origin story. I just wish I could have designed it that way.”

Starring Tatiana Maslany as Jennifer Walters/She-Hulk, Jameela Jamil as Titania, Ginger Gonzaga as Nikki Ramos, Josh Segarra as Augustus “Pug” Pugliese, Jon Bass as Todd, RenĂ©e Elise Goldsberry as Mallory Book, Tim Roth as the Abomination, and Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/Smart Hulk, new episodes of Marvel Studios’ She-Hulk: Attorney at Law are streaming Thursdays on Disney+. 

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