Review: Agent Carter

 Posted by on January 19, 2015 at 10:13 am  Reviews & Discussions, Television
Jan 192015

Hayley Atwell as Agent Carter Television is glutted with comic book shows these days. From Agents of SHIELD to Arrow to The Flash to the host of supernatural-themed ones, it’s “this year’s candy pink refrigerator.” Into this mix steps Agent Carter.

Boasting an excellent cast that includes Hayley Atwell in the title role she created in the first Captain America movie, Shea Whigham of Boardwalk Empire and True Detective, and Enver Gjokaj of Dollhouse, this feels like a more solid and respectable show, not to mention more fun, than just about anything I’ve found on network TV. It’s not the lightweight, aren’t-young-people-pretty sort of fare that you find in something like The Flash. Instead, Agent Carter feels really integrated into a world of its own, a world not overly dependent on CGI.

I have to say the commercials appalled me, and at first I wasn’t interested for that reason. The advertising tagline was “Sometimes the best man for a job is a woman,” which is so sexist and 1986 that I almost puked. But once you watch, you find that the sexism is very much part of what Peggy Carter has to fight. Sidelined after the war, her record (largely classified) is treated as a joke and she is pushed into secretarial work and denied assignments as an agent in the SSR. This creates a kind of de facto secret identity for Peggy, and that becomes the basis of the show.

I’ve seen the first three episodes. These (and it seems like this plot will continue for some time) deal with Peggy Carter’s attempt to clear Howard Stark’s good name. As we know from the movies, Tony Stark (Iron Man) is the genius inventor son of a genius inventor. Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) is being accused of treason when his inventions end up in enemy hands. Only Peggy believes that these inventions were stolen. Working with Stark’s butler, Jarvis (James D’Arcy), Peggy functions undercover on Stark’s behalf while working by day for an agency trying to bring him down.

So, secret identity. And no one notices because she’s “just a woman.” So far so good. Better, though, is the script, which leads us into conspiracies and nightclubs, to evildoers in back alleys, strange inventions and sleazy hotels. It’s all very atmospheric with dialogue that sounds, miracle of miracles, like actual people speak it. After having my heart broken by Gotham, this is welcome indeed.

There’s action in every episode: Agent Carter isn’t going to make the “let’s talk this to death” mistake of the early episodes of Agents of SHIELD. Fights, car chases, tense encounters, disguises…it’s all deployed to great effect.

In case you can’t tell, I recommend Agent Carter. It’s not perfect, but it’s so much fun.


  5 Responses to “Review: Agent Carter”

  1. I’m loving this show so far! What I love most about it is, oddly (considering that I’m saying it here), that it’s not like Mad Men. It’s not trying to give a note-perfect re-creation of the 1940’s. It’s more like a fantasy of the period, done by someone with a genuine affection for 40’s spy/crime movies, indeed all things 1940’s. It gets the tone without acting like it’s above it, almost no campy winking at the audience that so often ruins this kind of thing. The love is completely sincere, so you can love it too, without feeling silly or stupid.

    • Sure, it’s the 40s with superheroes in it, so it shouldn’t be too accurate. But there was one skirt Peggy wore in episode 3 that was so short it felt like a GLARING anachronism.

  2. I was very excited about this – I loved the Peggy Carter character in the first Cap film, and anything set in the forties is like crack to me. And so far I’ve been enjoying it a lot.

    Hayley Atwell carries the series with aplomb, the period stylization is good (but not great – the key word is “stylization”, because they’re not really aiming for accuracy), and the writing has mostly been pretty intelligent. I do think they sometimes overplay the woman-as-second-class-citizen aspect and tend towards sledgehammer symbolism. But I can forgive that because Carter is a well-rounded character: I love that – while she is usually totally in command and kicks ass big-time in the fight scenes – she crumbles and cries when she has time to process her feelings and absorb her loses.

    And as you pointed out, it’s a pleasure to watch a superhero series about adults. I am really enjoying The Flash too, but its patented CW house style pretty-young-people-in-love-triangles plotting is a weakness, at least to this incipient-geezer viewer. Carter is a woman, not a girl, and she’s been through an awful lot… which makes her more believable and relatable.

    This conception of Peggy Carter (which is quite different from her original sixties appearances in the classic Lee/Kirby Captain America run) is brilliant, and that she’s been able to appear in important cameos in the second Cap film, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, her own one-shot short (essentially the proof-of-concept test run for this series), and will also apparently be in the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron, is a particular smart example of how cleverly the Marvel Cinematic Universe fits together. After the underwhelming Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., it’s a thrill to see them doing a Marvel TV series RIGHT!

    • The more I think about it, the more Peggy feels like a unique character. Hayley Atwell has the look of a genuine 40’s movie star (I see Jane Greer, the great femme fatale from the noir classicOut Of The Past) and she has the bold sexiness of 40’s stars like Rita Hayworth and Ava Gardner. (In the first episode they made a Jane Russell reference, but that was mostly to remind us that Howard Stark is standing in for Howard Hughes) But they never played a character like Peggy. I can’t think of any character from the period like her. Maybe some film historian could dig up some b-movie classic where someone like Ida Lupino played a tough and sexy private eye, a female Phillip Marlowe, but I can’t think of one. And even that doesn’t fit Carter. When she’s not kicking ass, she’s a proper British lady (I love the scenes with her and Jarvis. No matter what happens, they both maintain their English reserve.)

      The real 40’s movie dame on the show is Lynsey Fonseca as her friend Angie. The brassy waitress with heart of mush was a staple of the era. Also, she has the most chemistry with Peggy. If the show was on HBO or Showtime, or ABC had the nerve, she would be Peggy’s romantic interest.

  3. I’m also loving the show – and the comments. Just my own small addition- if this were given a go-ahead to a 2d season, would love to see more development [esp with Peggy] of the handicap fellow, my other favorite male character [sorry, forgetting character and actor’s name; believe he used to act in Dollhouse]. This fellow in yet another pointed detail on the biases of the era – is given as short a shrift by his male work colleagues as are the women in that office. We could not miss [tho it was in my view a spot-on dialog moment of a cavalier lack of sensibility) one fellow’s comment to him, that, in comparison with [her recently departed Captn America love interest] not to expect Peggy to lower herself to someone in crutches…

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