I wish Agent Carter had come out some time last year, so when I say it’s one of the best new shows of the year, I don’t sound flippant. But since it is early January, let’s say Agent Carter sets the bar very high for the shows of 2015. Stylized, action-packed, humorous with a talented cast, it is the latest offering in Marvel’s history of excellence.
Much of the show’s success rests on the shoulders of leading lady, Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter. Introduced in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, in which the titular character was her love interest, Peggy has long been a fan favorite. Before this show, there was also short film starring Atwell. It’s easy to see why Captain America and audiences have fallen in love with her. Peggy is as tough as any of her male peers, smart, resourceful, and charming. She simultaneously embraces and weaponizes her femininity. (At a recent Marvel movie marathon with a large group of friends, the general consensus was we either wanted to be Peggy or date Peggy.)
The show picks up a few years after The First Avenger, with Captain America ‘dead’ (or, serving time as a Capsicle). Peggy has a hard time moving on from the apparent death of her boyfriend, and adjusting to life post WWII. The reason Peggy is such a great lead is yes, she’s a total badass, but she’s also incredibly accessible. She’s a good friend to those who deserve it, she’s not afraid to vocalize her vulnerabilities, and she doesn’t feel fulfilled. During the war, Peggy was in a position of authority and had a sense of purpose. Now, she’s asked to file papers by her sexist colleagues. Until her old friend, Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) asks her to help clear his name when he is accused of treason. Howard then peaces out to who knows where, leaving Peggy with his butler, Jarvis (James D’Arcy) to assist.
Peggy and Jarvis together are pure comedy gold. Peggy is reluctant to accept help, preferring to work alone, while Jarvis thinks that a good butler provides help without being asked, so he’ll tag along whether Peggy wants him to or not. They both juggle double lives. Peggy has a day job at the Strategic Scientific Reserve, and has to sneak around her colleagues’ backs and undermine their case against Howard Stark while fending off baddies. Jarvis is still a full time butler, and has to help Peggy when he is in the middle of washing linens and baking soufflés. It’s a tossup whose job is more stressful, but it’s a hero/sidekick duo made in TV heaven.
The biggest issue with the show is that Peggy and Jarvis are such interesting subjects, that in comparison, Peggy’s coworkers are a little dull. They tend to blend together because they don’t really have distinctive personalities at this point. There’s Sexist Jerk 1, Sexist Jerk 2, and Chad Michael Murray playing Sexist Jerk 3. At least there’s still time to flesh them out. And there’s also Enver Gjokaj (Victor from Dollhouse!) as Daniel Sousa, the nice co-worker who for right now is kind of on the sidelines, but hopefully will get more involved with all the intrigue.
Like its star, Agent Carter is bold. Some people might not enjoy its lack of subtlety, but if you embrace it, it’s in-your-face fun. It revels in its post WWII setting with its costume and music choices. Its fight scenes are ugly- they’re not the beautifully choreographed dances modern films so often utilize, but brutal brawls where being able to hit hard and stand getting hit are what will get you to win, not your athleticism. It’s a nice change of pace.
Agent Carter owes a lot to the Marvel comic and movieverse from where it hails: the creative aspects of the show, as well as an almost guaranteed built in audience. But it’s also confident enough in itself as a show to tell the story it wants to tell, which for a new series is exciting to see.