Thoughts on Agent Carter

Marvel's second TV series, an only sort-of companion to Agents of SHIELD, premiered. In Agent Carter, Hayley Atwell reprises her role as Peggy Carter, Captain America's love interest in The First Avenger. It takes place after the war, in 1946, as Agent Carter struggles to take down Hydra offshoots and get respect in the work place. After two episodes (premiere night ran 1 and 2 together, episode 3 is tonight), what did I think? Here are some scattered thoughts:

1. First off, let me say how impressed I am to see movie actors reprising their roles for television. No one would have been surprised if they'd recast the roles, but in addition to Atwell, we get Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark (he'll usually remain in the background, but triggers the story arc here). James D'Arcy's voice has qualities similar to the Paul Bettany's as the original, human Jarvis. Getting Bettany was perhaps too much to hope for, but I bought it until I remembered who actually voiced Iron Man's digital butler.

2. Apples and oranges, perhaps, but if we're comparing all the comic book pilots we got this year, Agent Carter was easily my favorite. The Flash, Gotham and Constantine all generated a cool geek factor by referencing and promising to expand TV's DC Universe, which I know I faulted Agents of SHIELD for not doing enough of. And yet here I am saying Agent Carter was all the better for being able to create its own reality that will work regardless of any Marvel Universe elements it might slide in. 1946 is largely a wasteland for superhero comics, after all. Not to say Peggy's world isn't connected to the larger universe, because she lives in the shadow of her relationship to Cap, and research shows she'll appear in Agents of SHIELD, Ant-Man and Age of Ultron. So it's likely she shares a time frame with Hank Pym. That should help solidify her fan base.

3. I don't so much care about the plot - some nonsense with super tech - as I do the character of Peggy. She's a kickass feminist war hero, Black Widow meets Mad Men, and I'm consistently entertained by her being the smartest and most competent agent in the room, suffering the indignities of being treated like a secretary, and using that as a kind of secret identity. She's a secret agent whose operations are secret even to her Agency superiors and colleagues. Ok yes, it's a lot like Alias, right down to wearing wigs on missions and the weird tech, but that's not a bad thing, is it?

4. The show is surprisingly violent at times, and characters who seem to be members of the supporting cast don't necessarily have a long shelf life. There are real consequences in this world, and the well-achieved period look and feel lend themselves well to noirish elements. I liked the show's darkness, but it's not a Gotham-type darkness that allows for little humor. Peggy's wry wit, her dynamic with Jarvis, and the office scenes' gender politics kept the episodes from getting dour. Like the Marvel cinematic universe, Agent Carter successfully blends high stakes drama, action and comedy.

5. One of my favorite bits is the Captain America radio show, where a Peggy analog is played as a screaming damsel in distress, much to Carter's dismay!

So here's hoping Agent Carter finds an audience; it certainly deserves one. The last thing I want to read about is studio execs or fanboys using an Agent Carter ratings flop to justify a "no female leads" policy in future endeavors. Female comic book heroes have gotten the short end of the stick in spite of the superhero movie/TV boom because of such wrongthink. But the buzz on Twitter was good, so I'm hopeful. Did you watch it? What did you think?


Delta said...

Of all the comics-turned-TV shows in the last year, this is the only one that's not available on the free Hulu service, which is why I haven't been able to try it so far.

DustMan said...

It's there. Most of the shows (Arrow, Flash, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Agent Carter) have a 7 day window where it requires Hulu Plus or a participating cable operator before it is available for free. The first 2 eps should be free tomorrow.

De said...

Another option is watching on the ABC website. Episodes can normally be found 24-48 hours after airing.

Anonymous said...

Watched the first episode based on your review, and I was not disappointed. Thanks for the recommendation!

I have my criticisms, but a huge number of them are some variant of "Jarvis is no Alfred Pennyworth", so I don't think they're really fair complaints. The rest are likely to shake out as the show establishes its rhythm, nothing major.

The high tech doesn't interest me a whole lot, but I understand they have to come up with a MacGuffin, and there's only so many Maltese Falcons and precious gems for detectives to pursue. And it makes sense; we saw the original Human Torch at the World's Fair in the "Captain America" movie, which implies that crazy 1940s Marvel tech is the norm for top scientists (not just Stark).

People forget this, but in the "Citizen Kang" annuals from, uh, 1991 I think, it was revealed that Kang has been introducing high tech into the 20th century bit by bit since the year 1901. By nudging the world into a condition more to his liking, Kang feels that he has conquered the 20th century already, and fighting the Avengers is mostly sport. (Google for "Victor Timely" for more info.)

Siskoid said...

Well, I'll gladly forget anything that happened in the 90s at Marvel, but that's an interesting notion to explain away the differences between our two worlds.


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