Sunday, September 6, 2015

WHY ISN'T THERE A SHE-HULK TV SERIES?

As the new television season gears up, I find myself wondering about this. It's a weirdly specific question, maybe, but I think it's a reasonable thing to consider. Most iterations of SHE-HULK are tailor-made for TV.

First off, I should say that NetFlix's DAREDEVIL proved to me something I had long suspected: Unencumbered by dumb network "input", a television series really is the best way to do superheroes. I love Marvel's movies, but they're really just snapshots in the characters' lives once every few years. A serialized, episodic TV series is much more in keeping with the nature of superhero comics as they have existed for decades, and that concept really serves the characters best.

But we live in a world where the A-list Marvel heroes will always be on the big screen, leaving TV for the lesser known or more obscure characters -- and I submit that, perhaps after the already announced stable of NetFlix characters -- Daredevil, Power Man, Iron Fist, and Jessica Jones -- no Marvel character is a better fit for TV than She-Hulk. I'll even take that a step further and declare that no Marvel character is a better fit specifically for network TV than She-Hulk.

Yes, I just noted above that networks are dumb, and I believe that they frequently devolve TV series far below their potential with stupid, borderline insulting pandering to the broadest possible audience. But -- She-Hulk's premise is practically cast from the network mold: Jennifer Walters is a prosecuting attorney by day, party girl by night, involved in all manner of interpersonal conflicts both in and out of her workplace. The only thing that separates this from a dozen other legal "dramedies" is that the protagonist in this case happens to be six feet tall and green. She's not a superhero by trade, but of course does occasionally get into situations where she must exercise her strength. But at its core, this should be a funny, sexy, primetime TV soap opera which takes place in the Marvel Universe.

You'd have to dedicate the pilot episode to setting all this up, of course. Fortunately, SAVAGE SHE-HULK #1, by Stan Lee and John Buscema, is essentially a TV pilot in comic book form. It has no supervillains; the bad guys are simple gangsters who shoot attorney Jen Walters, leading to a blood transfusion from her visiting cousin, Bruce Banner (would Mark Ruffalo be up for a short guest appearance in a TV pilot?) which turns her into the She-Hulk, who then beats up the mobsters. I would propose fleshing the story out a bit by introducing some supporting characters, and concluding it with Jen permanently in She-Hulk mode, attempting to continue her normal life. Mind you, this idea could conflict with the ultimate tone of the series, so some tweaks and changes would be required to lighten it up, but it could be done.

We'd set the series in Southern California, the site of She-Hulk's original comic book series, to give it an identity unique from Marvel's NetFlix series, all of which take place in New York. In regular practice the series should be lighthearted and, while grounded mostly in reality, played often for laughs; the main thrust would always be the interplay between the cast members, the legal cases, etc. The fact that NBC recently greenlit a workplace sitcom set in the DC Universe proves that this sort of thing could be viable. That "broadest possible audience" I mentioned earlier would be covered pretty easily as the show could rope in female viewers, fans of procedural court shows, younger Marvel fans, and probably a few other groups I'm leaving out.

Without delving too far into it, I'd draw the cast from various iterations of She-Hulk's published life:
  • Jennifer Walters/She-Hulk: She would be She-Hulk 24/7, as in most of her comics, suddenly brimming with self-confidence she never had before her transformation, and working as a prosecuting attorney for Los Angeles County. The best way to play her would be a mix of the John Byrne and Dan Slott iterations, maybe even including Byrne's "breaking the third wall" schtick, which has traditionally played well on TV. Physically, She-Hulk doesn't need to be a huge, expensive CGI character -- cast a tall enough actress, put her on a women's version of the transformative Marvel fitness regimen which worked wonders on Chrises Evans, Hemsworth, and Pratt, and let some platform shoes and creative photography do the rest. I trust a talented makeup department could easily turn her green on a weekly TV budget.
  • District Attorney Blake Tower: Jen's dashing boss as seen in John Byrne's SENSATIONAL SHE-HULK, transplanted for the purposes of this series from New York to Los Angeles
  • Dan Ridge: Jen's platonic childhood friend who now carries an unrequited torch for her transformed self. Also from the original series. (Yes, he was nicknamed "Zapper" in the comics. Not sure if something so dopey would play to a modern TV audience.)
  • Mallory Book: Another attorney and the primary antagonist in Jen's life; she could either be set up as a criminal defense attorney or a rival working with Jen, as in the comics. From Dan Slott's ongoing SHE-HULK series.
  • Sheriff William Walters: Jen's father, a Los Angeles County Sheriff, a character from her original ongoing series.
  • To this I would add one more female character; a confidante and friend of Jen's. In the comics this has traditionally been Janet "Wasp" Van Dyne, but the Wasp's story is being told on the big screen right now, so a character might need to be created or repurposed from the printed page -- perhaps Jen is friends with someone like Patsy Walker or Millie the Model?
And beyond the above you would of course have revolving love interests such as Jen's occasional boyfriend Wyatt Wingfoot (even if his rights are stuck at Fox right now, I suspect that after recent events we may see the FANTASTIC FOUR return to Marvel sooner rather than later), and perhaps appearances from certain Marvel super-characters such as Hercules or Titania (her eventual husband, the Absorbing Man, has already factored into AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D., opening the door to a crossover.)

Like I said, this seems like a no-brainer to me, and a series I would gladly watch. If Jeph Loeb is reading this, Jeph: You're welcome. Give me a "developed for television by" credit and we'll call it even.


Art credits top to bottom: Mike Mayhew, Mike Mayhew, Joe Jusko. Photoshopped ads by yours truly.

10 comments:

  1. Awesome idea, rendered impossible by Robert Downey jr.'s earlier attachment to Ally McBeal, the female-targeting courtroom dramedy and the obvious comparison. "Marvel dragged back Downey, they even did it to Peter MacNichol... at least let the series' essence itself rest in peace, Marvel!"

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    1. I have to admit that I never saw a single episode of ALLY McBEAL, so I was unaware Robert Downey Jr. was on it (though I did know Peter MacNicol was). So I plead ignorance to any coincidental connections between my above pitch and that previous series!

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  2. I agree with your initial premise that superheroes, especially B-list ones, work better as episodic television, but I don't really agree with any of your other premises. I don't watch Agents of SHIELD, but I think that show's a good example of why the prestige TV format works better than 24 episodes of episodic storytelling. Beyond that, while She-Hulk is a fun twist in superhero comics, what separates it from a lawyer dramedy if it's mostly about a green lawyer in Los Angeles, other than the massive budget it's spending on special effects? If the season finale is a big fight, then the courtroom stuff feels like filler, and if it's a big case, why are we paying to turn somebody green?

    Beyond that, I don't know that it's that easy to just put green paint on a tall actress and call it a day. Hulk *is* a massive CGI creation, and She-Hulk would look especially cheap and derivative if she was just a green-painted version of X-Men's Mystique. Beyond that there's the problem of being a knock-off version in the first place, which becomes an issue when you've got Supergirl coming to a major network near you already.

    In short I agree Marvel stuff could work well in television, but 1) network television's needs to fill TV time means a lot of filler, so prestige TV works better, and 2) She-Hulk works better as a comic semi-parody of TV rather than the other way around.

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    1. Dobson -- "If the season finale is a big fight, then the courtroom stuff feels like filler, and if it's a big case, why are we paying to turn somebody green?"

      Personally, part of what I like about this idea is the absurdity of it. I think there's something inherently funny about setting a courtroom dramedy in the Marvel Universe with a Marvel character, but not doing any superhero stuff with it.

      That said, there's no reason why this couldn't be a combination courtroom/action-adventure series. I'm just trying to come up with something doable on a network budget.

      As for the makeup thing, I still think it would work. I look at pictures of Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk, and he had a few prosthetics as well, but overall, even by today's standards, I think he was a convincing Hulk. And personally, I just don't think a CGI She-Hulk would work in the same way a CGI Hulk does. Hulk works in CGI because he's supposed to be a huge, imposing, impossibly bulky and muscular monster. The majority of She-Hulk comics have presented her as simply a taller than average, exceptionally fit and very attractive woman, and I don't think CGI can accomplish that (nor should it need to).

      The knockoff thing I get though, especially with that Supergirl series starting up, as you mentioned.

      I do definitely agree with you that "prestige" style TV is a better fit for Marvel -- I'd love to see a 13-episode-per-season X-MEN series on a channel like FX or something -- but for some reason She-Hulk, more than a lot of other Marvel creations, just strikes me as a very network-friendly character.

      But what it comes down to is mainly just that I'm a fan of She-Hulk and I'd love to see her get a shot at Marvel's onscreen universe. She's different enough from her cousin that I don't think she'd be seen as a knockoff for very long.

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    2. @Dobson: I don't watch Agents of SHIELD, but I think that show's a good example of why the prestige TV format works better than 24 episodes of episodic storytelling.

      Well, SHIELD is now really two 10-12 episode seasons that just happen to be released within one traditional TV season, so its much closer in line with the prestige TV format than the first season. Pretty much all even mildly-serialized network shows these days, aside from what airs on CBS, are becoming closer and closer to the cable model, putting on, essentially, two seasons within one traditional season, with something different entirely running between the halves and the show itself never getting re-run in the traditional way.

      But that said, both ARROW and FLASH run in fairly traditional 22-24 episode seasons, and they make the most of the format. There's definitely some filler sprinkled throughout, but not 10+ episodes worth.

      The traditional TV model CAN be applied to superhero shows, it just has to be done smartly (which, of course, is apparently difficult to do consistently).

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    3. Huh. I somehow never registered what you're talking about, but it's true: the few network shows I watch these days do tend to break their seasons down into two "half-season" arcs. I feel like this started, or at least I first became aware of it, with 24, which would usually have one villain for the first twelve hours, followed by the "real" villain for the second twelve. I just never caught that other series had started following that model as well. Crazy!

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    4. I'd have to go back and look at the seasons' again (they all kind of blur together), but I think 24 usually had a three-tiered villain structure - the first one, the one he was working for, then the big twist one towards the end of the season, which, especially in later seasons, was usually someone we already knew (obviously, there were exceptions - season 4's Marwan was pretty much the villain start to finish, which is part of why that season was so tedious).

      The current TV trend that 24 really kicked off is the notion of airing new episodes consistently, without skipping weeks and inserting reruns. Which, of course, led to the split season model, since while 24 would start in January and run until it ended in May, the networks still wanted to have marquee shows to debut in the fall, so they'd split seasons up to allow for both the consistency of new episodes and the longevity of the traditional network TV season. And, of course, plenty of shows are still trying to find the right balance between "taking a break in the winter" and "taking too long a break in the winter".

      Except, of course, at CBS, where the current tastes of the 18-49 demographic haven't aged into CBS' bread-and-butter demo of "older people" yet to effect that kind of change across the board. :)

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    5. Good point about 24's three-act structure. It's been off the air so long, aside from last year's miniseries, that I forgot.

      Also, funny you mention Marwan -- season four was my first year watching 24, so I was surprised to learn that one bad guy all the way through was actually abnormal for the series! Personally I have a soft spot for Marwan, though -- he's pretty much the only villain to constantly elude Jack Bauer for basically the full twenty-four hours! He had like five backup plans for that one day's work.

      As I understand, season four was also the first time 24 did the whole "all episodes in a row" thing and prior to that it was aired like any other series, with random repeats now and then. I also remember when LOST went the normal repeat schedule route, frustrating fans to no end, for its first couple years before ABC wised up.

      I much prefer the way (most) networks do it now, with a bunch of episodes in a row, a winter hiatus, then another uninterrupted batch.

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  3. I could definitely see it working. I mean, SHIELD is already basically a network procedural with superhero/sci-fi elements, so there's no reason to think they couldn't apply the same filter to a courtroom drama. *I* would want some kind of overarching plotline, a la SHIELD, so it's not *just* "ordinary legal show where the protagonist happens to be green", but that's me.

    I do think you could get away with a non-CGI She-Hulk. Hell, Adrianne Palicki on SHIELD already is built like She-Hulk.

    And you don't even need a Mark Ruffalo guest appearance to kick it off (though it would be nice); just have Jen get shot, then wake up with Coulson at her bedside, saying the only thing that would save her was a transfusion of her cousin's blood, which he, thankfully, was able to get out of SHIELD storage (or some such). Heck, you could even do the "origin of She-Hulk" as a backdoor pilot via an episode of SHIELD.

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    1. Teebore -- "*I* would want some kind of overarching plotline, a la SHIELD, so it's not *just* "ordinary legal show where the protagonist happens to be green", but that's me."

      Yes, I agree, though for me it would be a lot of "case of the week" stuff with the overarching plot coming in the form of the soap opera sub-plot stuff. But certainly doing bigger cases as story arcs could work as well. My wife got me to start watching SUITS on USA, pretty much the first legal type show I've ever watched, and I think that's a good model for this sort of thing. They usually have one big case for the season, as well as small cases in stand-alone episodes, but the real continuity comes in the characters' ever-tumultuous relationships.

      And yes, Adrianne Palicki would make a fine She-Hulk. I always laugh at how she towers over everyone else on SHIELD. Too bad she's already in the onscreen Marvel Universe.

      Coulson ushering in a new series would be a nice tribute to his previous role in the Marvel movies, and would also be reminiscent of the NEXT GENERATION era STAR TREK shows, where every spin-off featured a character from the previous series in the pilot. Good idea!

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