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'She-Hulk' Showrunner on How Marvel's New Show Smashes the Fourth Wall

In the comics, She-Hulk "was doing it long before Deadpool or Fleabag," says Jessica Gao, writer of the new MCU series starring Tatiana Maslany and Mark Ruffalo.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
Expertise Films, TV, Movies, Television, Technology
Richard Trenholm
3 min read
A green-skinned woman with long hair stands in front of the ocean.

Tatiana Maslany is She-Hulk.


She-Hulk may have superpowers, but perhaps her most extraordinary ability is that she knows she's a superhero -- and she talks about it with us, the viewers. Forthcoming Marvel TV show She-Hulk: Attorney at Law brings the big green hero to the screen for the first time, but she's been chatting with the audience for decades in the comics. "I like to say that she was doing it long before Deadpool or Fleabag," says Jessica Gao, showrunner of the new series.

Streaming from Aug. 18 on Disney Plus, the TV series stars Tatiana Maslany as Jen Walters, a lawyer nicknamed She-Hulk when she accidentally gains the superpowers of her cousin -- none other than Hulk alter ego Bruce Banner. At a press conference for the show on Thursday, Maslany and Gao were joined by co-star Ginger Gonzaga, plus director and executive producer Kat Coiro, who discussed the show's balance of comedy and Marvel action.

The series is designed to be the most comedic entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, coming in sitcom-style 30-minute episodes with a healthy dose of humor. Having previously written episodes of Robot Chicken and Silicon Valley, and having won an Emmy for Rick and Morty episode Pickle Rick, Gao highlights comics writer John Byrne's run on Sensational She-Hulk as inspiration for the show's comical tone. "First and foremost, the fourth-wall-breaking and meta humor and self awareness made me fall in love with this character," said Gao. "It was just so light-hearted and fun and refreshing."

Kat Coiro, a director of Modern Family and Brooklyn Nine-Nine who directed the bulk of the She-Hulk series, recalls the impact a female superhero had on her. "I remember very vividly being a little girl and seeing the cover of a She-Hulk comic in the midst of this sea of male comics," she said. "Not knowing who she was, but knowing I was moved by it. The idea of being large and in charge and taking control, taking up space, really resonated with me. I remember I bought that comic book, so when this show came along, it was really the culmination of a real dream."

Maslany stressed that the show has more challenging and thought-provoking aspects alongside the comedy, especially as the season progresses. "I'm curious about what kind of conversations people will have about this show," she said. "People can have a real visceral response to a woman superhero -- which we've already felt, online. And it's interesting to me that there is such a visceral response. I'm curious about why."

Six women from diverse backgrounds, the creators and stars of Marvel TV series She-Hulk, laughing on stage at Comic Con.

From left: She-Hulk head writer Jessica Gao with Renee Elise Goldsberry, Kat Coiro, Jameela Jamil, Ginger Gonzaga and Tatiana Maslany at Marvel's Hall H panel during San Diego Comic-Con 2022. 

Chris Delmas/Getty Images

Hulk smash fourth wall

Gao described how she and the show's creators approached Jen's signature chats to the audience (known as breaking the invisible "fourth wall" between the characters and the viewer). "It went through a lot of evolutionary steps," Gao explained. "How much does [Jen] talk to camera? Is she talking directly to the audience? Is there another meta element -- is she talking to somebody else?"

One version of the idea translated directly from comics. "At one point," Gao said, "there was an iteration in the scripts where instead of talking directly to camera there were text boxes [on the screen] like how there were editor's notes in comics, and she was actually interacting with the editor's notes." This idea was scrapped, however.

Gao also admits to being rejected by Marvel three times for other projects. "Fourth time's the charm!" she joked, saying She-Hulk is the perfect project for her. "I'm glad they rejected me so many times."

She-Hulk: Attorney at Law  is set to premiere on Disney Plus on Aug. 18. Maslany is joined by MCU mainstay Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, and Tim Roth, who played a rival green monster in 2008's The Incredible Hulk and belatedly returned for last year's Shang-Chi. The cast also includes Renée Elise Goldsberry and Jameela Jamil.

Check out the trailer for a taste of the show's comedic tone, with Jen worrying as much about her love life as her superpowers.

She-Hulk is part of Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, joining Moon Knight and Ms. Marvel in this year's calendar. Other upcoming Marvel shows include EchoWandaVision spinoff Agatha: House of Harkness and three new animated shows: Marvel Zombies, Spider-Man: Freshman Year and a revival of the much-loved 1990s X-Men cartoon. That'll be followed by Phase 5.

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