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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Simplistic TV: Agent Carter Premiere Episode

SPIRIT
Maybe it's because I'm an unapologetic Marvel "fanboy".  Maybe it's because strong female heroines like Ellen Ripley, Beatrix Kiddo, and Sarah Connor have always been more interesting to me than their stereotypical square-jawed Dudley Do-Right male counterparts.  Maybe it's because several other shows in the same genre, including its parent company predecessor, underwhelmed out the gate.  Maybe it's because my male physiology reacts to seeing the flawless Hayley Atwell by raising my endorphin levels to a staggering amount.  Hell, it may be all of those reasons combined which resulted in my enjoyment of the premiere for Agent Carter. 

Agent Carter, a spin-off of Marvel's best One-Shot short film of the same name and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., takes place about a year after the events of Captain America: The First Avenger and follows that film's standout character, Agent Peggy Carter.  Carter, a war hero of the highest order, is now forced to find her way and try to do her job as a spy while stuck in a chauvinistic, male driven world keen to keep her serving coffee and answering phones.  So yeah, it's like Mad Men meets Alias.  Truthfully, the series gives Marvel a real opportunity to flesh out the Peggy Carter character.  Thus, bringing more understanding as to why Cap' still pines for her and why she would be the one chosen as the first Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.  Carter has got the no nonsense determination of a Nick Fury and the beautiful but deadly charm of Black Widow.

"Love The Hat."
In defense of Agent Carter's less enjoyable programming peers, shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Constantine, and even (gulp) Gotham have story arcs meant to be spread across the normal 20 to 26 episode season structure.  Agent Carter is meant to be a strong, short arching, cinematic punch of 8 episodes; much like a standard UK television series.  (Which is why UK television is of a higher quality than American television in my opinion.  Although, that's a conversation for another day)  However, it is clear from at least the first two episodes that showrunners Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas are confident in what they are doing, know what their show needs to accomplish, and know how to SMOOTHLY insert elements of its comic book and MCU source material in a way that enhances the experience instead of hindering it.  (Ahem!  Gotham.  Ahem!)  And really, it's just plain fun.  The 40s era SPIRIT and charm has always been a great vessel for any absurd or unbelievable concepts the show wants to try.  (See: Indiana Jones)  And don't worry about punches being pulled either.  Agent Carter may not be Boardwalk Empire in terms of graphic violence, but it is not from a lack of trying.  There is death and brutality in this female led, 40s era, 8 o'clock, comic book show, owned by Disney that may surprise you. 

Hayley Atwell seems to be born to play this role.  You can see why Marvel had the confidence to give her a big showcase show like this that she has to practically carry alone.  She not only nails every countering line to the volley of sexist insults hurled her way, she seems to have the ability to share an instant chemistry with whichever actor they put across from her.  She fortunately gets to separate herself from Scarlett Johansson and Ming-Na because they both play very guarded characters.  Peggy Carter is guarded in a different way in my opinion.  While Melinda May and Black Widow use lies to protect themselves, Carter, armed with truth, almost dares anyone wanting to crack her shell to step up try.  Her confidence as a character and Atwell's portrayal of that confidence is perfect.

Dominic Cooper, although having a minor role, is still great as Howard Stark.  He does not take the easy way out by doing a Robert Downey Jr. impersonation.  He leans more toward the Howard Hughes/Citizen Kane type of billionaire-genius-playboy-philanthropist.  My one tiny gripe would be the Edwin Jarvis character, played by James D'Arcy.  D'Arcy is a great choice for the role and plays Jarvis well, but I hope the writers turn up his snark a bit more.  I realize I am contaminated by Paul Bettany's brilliant A.I. version, and I know they are utilizing the role reversal of Peggy being tough and Jarvis being foppish.  I just want the banter between the two of them to be a little more biting, much like it is with Downey Jr. and Bettany.  It is there between the two...but I'm greedy for more. 

The rest of the supporting cast is fine in their roles, more or less not getting in the way of the story.  I say that hoping the Lyndsy Fonseca waitress character Angie either amounts to something much bigger or falls a little more to the wayside.  Shea Whigham's character Roger Dooley is a preferable boss to Peggy Carter than Bradley Whitford's Agent Flynn from the Marvel One-Shot.  Dooley seems to fit better in the era than Whitford's Agent Flynn did.  Now, that may just be because I'm used to seeing Whigham on Boardwalk Empire.  However, I like to think it's his gruff and unapologetic use of chauvinism as apposed to Flynn's snarky approach.  Whigham is clueless to Carter's activities, but I don't see him as a cliched idiot. 

While staying up to see a humdrum Ant-Man trailer, I managed to find something even better cooking right under my nose.  Agent Carter is a show that hits the ground running with a quality to it that might catch you off guard.  It is a welcome addition to the Marvel universe and seems to bring hope that Marvel shows to follow will also learn from its predecessors mistakes.  Scan yourself for vita-rays...have someone tie you to a chair...turn on some Benny Goodman...oh and tip generously...watch it...then tell me I'm wrong.

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