We all know that in terms of the current ‘Marvel-DC’ debate, Marvel currently, and to be honest probably will always have, the edge when it comes to films thanks to the massive critical and commercial success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, in terms of TV shows, that edge definitely belongs to DC at the moment. Sure, Marvel has had done quite a few shows before, but most of them have been animated whereas the majority of their live-action shows were made more than 3-4 decades ago. Nowadays, DC currently has two of the most well-regarded comic book shows on TV right now in form of the CW’s ‘Arrow’ and its recent spin-off, ‘The Flash’. Marvel, on the other hand, is slowly but surely starting to take a stab at the world of TV. Their first major live-action show since the creation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’, debuted in September 2013. And while I will always defend the show’s initial run as being better than what the internet put it out to be, unfortunately it didn’t really gel well with audiences early on due to overly high and unfair expectations. Thankfully, that didn’t last too long as the big HYDRA reveal in ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ carried over into ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ and gave the series new life, now allowing it to stand toe-to-toe with ‘Arrow’ and ‘The Flash’. And really, the fact that the show is connected to the MCU means that it has an advantage that clearly ‘Arrow’ and ‘Flash’ won’t ever have in that it’s able to play off of key moments from the MCU films.
There’ll be a few more MCU-set TV series coming out over the next few years, primarily in the form of a group of shows based around ‘The Defenders’ which will be featured on Netflix, with the first of these shows, ‘Daredevil’, set to debut this April. But amidst the mid-season break of Season 2 of ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’, Marvel brings out their newest show in the form of ‘Agent Carter’, centered on arguably the best non-superhero female lead of the MCU films, Agent Peggy Carter. Originally debuting in ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’, Peggy Carter proved to be one hell of a female lead, primarily thanks to both the brilliant performance by Hayley Atwell in the role and the solid romantic chemistry between her and Chris Evans (Captain America). That great chemistry was the main reason why the finale of ‘First Avenger’ was emotional as it was. But that wasn’t the end for Miss Atwell in the MCU. Two years later, she got the chance to prove that she could hold her own as a main character through the Marvel One-Shot short film, ‘Agent Carter’, which debuted as a special feature for the Blu-Ray of ‘Iron Man 3’. That of course led to the creation of an ‘Agent Carter’ TV series and because of Atwell’s terrific performance in the role, along with really strong writing that offers a very cool retro spin on the MCU, ‘Agent Carter’ immediately makes a great impression as a top-notch comic book-themed TV series.
The series takes place after the events of ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’, following Captain America’s heroic ‘sacrifice’ when he crashed the plane he was on into the Arctic. Of course, we all know what ‘really’ happened but at the time, he was believed to be dead. One year after the end of World War II, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), still mourning Steve’s loss, now finds herself stuck having to do routine office work for the SSR while also having to deal with being in the male-dominated workforce of the 40’s. However, when Peggy’s old ally, inventor Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), is framed for allegedly supplying weapons to enemies of the U.S., he enlists Peggy’s help in order to prove his innocence. With the assistance of Stark’s personal butler Edwin Jarvis (James D’Arcy), Peggy begins to search for Stark’s missing inventions, and her investigation eventually has her going up against a mysterious organization known as Leviathan. But because Peggy is doing this behind the backs of her SSR co-workers, she frequently runs the risk of being discovered by them as they too investigate into the case, namely to try and find Stark.
One of the reasons why I loved ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ from the get-go was that it was a comic book show that wasn’t primarily about superhero main characters; it was instead from the perspective of non-superhero characters and I felt that it helped give the show a nice down-to-earth tone even though it was a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The same can definitely be said with ‘Agent Carter’ and while there have definitely been plenty of great emotional moments in ‘S.H.I.E.L.D.’ over its current 1 and a half season run, ‘Agent Carter’ admittedly has done a much better job early on in terms of offering a very grounded perspective on the MCU while also giving us some effectively emotional moments. Yes, Peggy Carter is quite the badass when it comes to combat but that doesn’t mean she’s just a straight-up ‘action heroine’. She’s still just a regular human being and the show has done a great job at showing how she handles the lifestyle she goes by and how it impacts those around her. In the very first episode, her roommate, who had nothing to do with Peggy’s situation, is murdered by an assassin who was hunting for her. Two episodes later, one of her SSR co-workers ends up getting killed and we see how this tragedy really affects everyone at the SSR, even Peggy despite the fact that the agent never treated her that well. I guess you could say Peggy is probably the better example of a relatable character in this world of heroes compared to the team on ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’
The production design for the show is spot on, capturing the feel of the 40’s quite well in regards to set and costume design. Plus, the fact that the show is set in the 40’s really helps distinguish it from most of the shows currently on TV today, just like how ‘The First Avenger’ definitely felt different from the rest of the MCU films for also being set during the ‘World War II’ era. Visuals, action sequences, and the overall direction are also solid too and the overall tone of the show is a good mix of light-hearted fun and serious drama, which in my opinion is Marvel’s greatest advantage over DC at the moment. Sure the show hits the right notes emotionally when it needs to but it’s not all dark and gloomy, like the route DC is apparently taking with their Cinematic Universe. But on that note, ‘Agent Carter’, despite being a part of the MCU, doesn’t do ‘too much’ in terms of staying connected to it. But in most people’s eyes that’s actually a good thing. Because that was one of the biggest problem a lot of people apparently had with ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’; it referenced the MCU ‘too much’. While I never had a problem with that, because otherwise it wouldn’t seem like the show as connected to the MCU at all, ‘Agent Carter’ probably fares much better because it isn’t as reliant on referencing the films. But of course the references are still there, like the introduction of the program that trained Black Widow, represented here via one of the main villains of the season, a seemingly innocent girl named Dottie who initially befriends Peggy before revealing her true colors.
As I already noted, the best part of the whole show is Hayley Atwell as Peggy, as she’s the one that really gives the character both her emotional strength and composure, especially in scenes where the odds are against her. A key element of the show is the ‘buddy cop’-esque relationship between Peggy and Jarvis. Atwell and James D’Arcy (the latter of whom, according to my friend Matt, ‘reminded him of Benedict Cumberbatch’ which, I’m not going to lie, is a pretty accurate comparison) have solid camaraderie and D’Arcy is definitely a stand-out amongst this cast being quite frankly the literal example of an ‘average joe’ that is caught up in a crazy situation; in other words, a lot of the best comedic moments in the series come from him as a result of how he handles some of the situations that he and Peggy get into. Because a lot of time is spent with them, early on some of the other main members of the cast, specifically SSR agents Jack Thompson (Chad Michael Murray) and Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) and SSR Chief Roger Dooley (Shea Whigham) were rather indistinguishable from one another. Thankfully, as the series went on, they each had their own moment to shine, like in Episode 5, ‘The Iron Ceiling’, when Thompson tells Carter about a mistake he made during the war and in the penultimate episode, ‘Snafu’, where it is revealed that Chief Dooley has a bit of a troubled family life along with a key heroic action he does that I won’t spoil here for anyone who hasn’t seen the show.
Despite all of the comparisons that I made between ‘Agent Carter’ and ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ in this post, the latter is still my favorite show on TV right now. But ‘Agent Carter’, another Grade A effort from Marvel Studios in terms of giving us a comic-book inspired TV show that wasn’t primarily centered on a superhero, is arguably even better, especially from the get-go whereas ‘S.H.I.E.L.D.’ did take a little while to really get going. It’s not just because of excellent production design and solid direction that makes this series great. It’s really thanks to Hayley Atwell’s brilliant work in the role of Peggy and excellent writing that gives us a fantastic female lead that, to quote the consensus on Rotten Tomatoes, is ‘a person first and an action hero second’. DC may be the ones who’ll end up releasing the first major female-led superhero film of the modern superhero film era, but Marvel Studios has already given us a bunch of fantastic female characters these past few years, from Black Widow to the ladies of ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’, despite the fact that they’ve yet to do a female-led superhero film (though they will soon enough with ‘Captain Marvel’). In just a brief season run of 8 episodes, ‘Agent Carter’ definitely made quite the first impression and hopefully we’ll get to see more of Peggy Carter’s adventures down the road.
Season Rating: 4.5/5