Mar 5, 2015

[TV] Marvel's Agent Carter: Season 1

When it comes to US television, mid-season filler shows often seem like the red-headed stepchildren of television. They're often strange, quirky shows that the network is sort of gambling on, but in a safe manner that is clearly all about hedging their bets. But then these short season runs also tend to be pretty intense as we're talking about less time to tell a good story - you know, like the standard season lengths of British TV shows.

Marvel's Agent Carter felt like a fan dream made real. A lot of folks responded positively to her character in the first Captain America movie and she even got a Marvel One-Shot film as part of the DVD release of Iron Man 3. But I don't think any of us really expected Marvel to take a lot of the fan talk seriously enough to put up a TV series, even a limited one.

But we got it, and man did we get something special indeed. I think Marvel learned a lot from the challenges that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. faced during its first season.

Synopsis: Marvel's Agent Carter is an sort of adventure drama series inspired by the Captain America movies and set within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The show itself was created by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely.

The series centers around Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), who is now an agent of the Strategic Scientific Reserve (S.S.R.), which is essentially a super science related secret agency. But given the time period and her being a woman, she is often relegated to filing case work or getting coffee or lunch for everyone, much to her frustration. But she continues to do her best to be a good agent while still dealing with the loss of Captain America to some degree.

But things shift when Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) makes contact with her because he is being investigated for supposedly selling weapons to America's enemies. He contests that he is somehow being framed and asks Peggy to secretly investigate the case on his behalf and recover his lost inventions. to assist her, he assigns his butler Jarvis (James D'Arcy) to work with her and share any information he has on Howard Stark's creations and possible leads to pursue. Thus her greatest annoyed, not being noticed or treated as a full agent, now becomes her greatest asset in finding out the truth behind Howard Stark.

Hayley Atwell is an amazing actress and she had already won a lot of fans over back in Captain America: The First Avenger. Thus to see more of her in almost any context is a good thing. But to have her reprise this signature role is an amazing experience indeed and she really drives this show. She's a complex character who is strong when she needs to be but is always a lady nonetheless. Thus as much as she's quite handy with a pistol and good at unarmed combat in a pinch, she also knows when to console a civilian in need or to use her feminine perspective to think her way out of a problem.

Agent Carter is smart and clever and this defines how she deals with problems. As much as we often see clips of her getting into fights (as is warranted), the very way that she fights is more clever than anything else as she is able to use gadgets, the environment and other elements to give her little advantages as needed. There's no arguing that many bad guys are physically stronger than her, the fact that she still succeeds with the aid of her wits is admirable indeed.

The pacing of the show was a lot better than Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. They writers had a tighter deadline to work with and only 8 episodes to tell their story. And I think this helped them get rid of a lot of the fluff that disrupts most US television in order to end up with a decently solid storytelling experience. The case of Howard's stolen inventions is a pretty good one and her adversaries are pretty diverse and sneaky in other ways. Throw in some complex villains from this era of the Marvel comic books and you have a great little adventure on the silver screen.

To some extent, the show feels a lot like Alias, although Peggy Carter has a different quality than Jennifer Garner's character in the prior show. She has a unique charm that doesn't diminish her strength nor belittles all that she has gone through. She's forever poised and yet still stylish and determined to find a way to make the most of any situation. And her camaraderie with Jarvis is priceless. But again, she's a secret agent! So the show is full of lovely spycraft moments including clever disguises, secret gadgets and threats veiled as polite conversation. It all makes for a very rich flavor to the narrative that nicely fits in its time-place setting.

The first season of Marvel's Agent Carter is quite the knock-out and I'm glad that Marvel finally got around to making a show like this. It isn't simply a spy show for girls nor is it an exploitation fluff production for me. It's a solid tale of secret agents, world-threatening plots and crazy inventions - all the best stuff of yesteryear. Thus the show gets a great 5 clever turnarounds by Agent Carter out of a possible 5.


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