Agent Carter: What TV Should Be

As a bonus follow-up to the Captain America Series I’d be remiss not to mention the ABC TV Series Agent Carter.

I don’t really watch TV, but there are certain shows worth watching even if it means buying them in physical format or to stream.  This turned out to be one definitely worth it.

TV has a certain feel to it that is usually vastly different from films.  The other “big” network Marvel show, Agents of SHIELD, is a perfect example of this.  Agents is a good enough show.  Kind of fun and with likable characters and a world that ties in well with the movies.  The actors are all quite good, and some of the plot threads really pan out.  But it still has that “TV” sense to it.  It’s not a bad thing and it’s hard to explain without using the word “Cinematic” but it’s definitely palpable in most TV shows.

Agent Carter is actually quite different in that it doesn’t have that feel.  It does feel cinematic and, quite possibly due to the fact that the creators and cast felt they were always kind of “on the bubble” from the beginning, it has the production value, attention to detail, and treatment of a mini-series rather than a seasonal TV show.  Especially in Season 1.

The show follows Peggy Carter’s career in the SSR after WWII.  Her struggles with the boys club that is the rest of the office, her close friend accused of being a traitor, and still coming to grips with Steve’s death.  And it does all of these things remarkably well.  Her character, still magnificently played by Hayley Atwell, retains all of the progress from her previous incarnations and is believably grown through her character arc in the first season.  Atwell’s Carter is everything she should be, tough but vulnerable; clever but not always right; sensible but can be irrational.  Shes a great character because she’s not perfect, but she is without a doubt doing the best she can.  She’s smart, charming, and can absolutely wreck you if she needs to.  Just a great lead.

The supporting characters are all interestingly fleshed out with backgrounds and personalities that aren’t all overly explained, they just are who they are.  Dominic Cooper reprises his role as Howard Stark and he’s as terrific here as he was in First Avenger.  Peggy’s diner waitress friend, Angie Martinelli (Lyndsy Fonseca), is a wonderful addition (I love the story arc of their relationship, and Martinelli is gives a delightful performance); as are Agents Sousa (Enver Gjokaj), and Thompson (Chad Michael Murray) as the progressive guy and the chauvinist/typical guy respectively; with Chief Dooley (Shea Whigham) rounding out the main SSR office characters as the tough, but surprisingly and refreshingly fair as the season progresses.  The villains are mostly cloak and dagger but hyper-assassin Dottie Underwood (Bridget Regan) is truly a standout.  A great cast and each one is pitch perfect.

Carter and Jarvis meet in a Automat diner like proper spies.

The best relationship, however, is the chemistry between Atwell’s Carter and James D’Arcy’s Edwin Jarvis as the tough-as-nails agent brings Howard Stark’s buttoned-up butler on her adventures.  He’s uptight, but not a foppish fool as he could have easily been.  He is a very believable old-fashioned English butler out of his comfort zone but enjoying the adventure.

Most importantly you can actually feel how much everyone working on the show believes in the show and enjoys it.  Everyone is completely ensconced in the story and its characters, and the passion behind the show is apparent on screen.

Of course it’s hard for Atwell herself not to steal the show and its Agent Carter more than the atrocious new Ghostbusters movie that should have been the rallying cry for gender parity in media portrayals.  As mentioned above Peggy is tough but not cliché tough.  She hasn’t buried her sense of femininity under over-the-top masculine stereotyping.  She can shoot, she can fight (I’ve done enough punching to know when she’s hitting the heavy bag in Season 2 she knows what she’s doing), she doesn’t take shit from the sexist agents, and calls their chauvinism out to them to their faces (her “because I’m invisible” monologue toward the end of the first season is terrific), and she’s still all about getting the job done.

Just look at the above video.  It’s a woman in a fight completely devoid of cliches without any reference at all to her being a woman.  She doesn’t “fight like a girl” nor does she go the other way and fight in a hyper masculine style.  There are no goofy moments, no punches to the groin, or quips about kicking in heels.  She doesn’t have a man save her, nor does she have to save a useless man.  She just straight up kicks their asses like a badass Bourne character.  And Jarvis, in keeping with his role as an uptight butler, does what he can but serves a purpose and still packs a punch when he can.  It’s everything I think gender parity should be.  It’s not an in-your-face total “girl power” for the sake of it scene while completely missing the point of gender parity to begin with.  It’s all within the characters and every movement Atwell makes here is 100% believable.  So much that I wouldn’t want to get into a fight with her…  And that music queue…maybe one of the best I’ve seen on a TV show ever.

To be honest I can’t understand why a bigger audience didn’t latch onto such a great character in such unique and interesting storylines.  Maybe it was the “Marvel” tag on it as casual fans may have expected more superhero-ing and were then disappointed not to get lots of the “hey I know that character!” fanservice that SHIELD provides.  Fans of espionage or police shows may have seen Marvel and conversely thought it’d just be small-scale superhero antics the more elitist in that crowd feel are “beneath” them.

Season 2 wasn’t quite as powerful as the first, but it was still better than any other TV drama show I’ve seen in years.  I think Agent Carter does better with more spy-action than sci-fi action, but that could just be down to personal taste.

Cooper, Atwell, and D’Arcy looking very 1940s

It was terrible but not unexpected to hear the show had been cancelled.  It truly shines a spotlight on how outmoded the “ratings” system is now that shows with devoted fan followings can be cancelled for “low ratings.”  Fans like me who don’t watch TV find shows on Amazon or bought physical copies.  We purchased it later.  I feel this kind of show attracts these kinds of fans who aren’t likely to be tied to a date and time for broadcast, but will still religiously watch a show via streaming service or season collections.  To prove this it has been impressive to see fans rally around it and beg for Netflix to pick it up.  Even more impressive is Atwell’s love of and commitment to the character.  She already has a new show planned, but has repeatedly posted and commented that she will do anything at all to get Peggy Carter back on TVs somewhere and somehow.

And I truly hope she does make a return.

It’s rare to find a show that is so good at storytelling, handling characters, and politics without having any of those elements overshadow the others or “be the thing the show is about”.  Agent Carter did this masterfully, and even provided the audience with a unique look at the early days in the chronology of the MCU.  Hopefully it won’t be the end of Peggy Carter and fans will be able to continue her adventures somewhere in the near future!

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