A consistently on-point thrill-ride that makes an honest star of its lead.
Following the ongoing success of their chart-topping blockbuster properties, Marvel Studios now expand their smaller-screen presence even further, charting the exploits of eponymous British badass Peggy Carter, originally seen in Captain America’s first jaunt The First Avenger. But with superhero spin-offs now becoming somewhat commonplace, can a period-setting and a fresh-set of special skills still rival the likes of Coulson and his crew, or even DC’s hammier takes on The Flash and Arrow?
Picking up some time after the disappearance of Cap himself and the bitter end of World War II, Agent Carter finds the titular heroine (Hayley Atwell) working within the Strategic Scientific Reserve in 1940s New York. The only female on a team of war veterans and intelligence officers, Carter struggles to make her talents known to her colleagues, opting instead to carry out her own investigations alongside noted playboy inventor Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) and his fast-talking assistant Edwin Jarvis (James D’Arcy). But when Stark’s inventions seemingly begin to fall into the wrong hands, Carter finds herself forced to walk a dangerous line between preventing disaster and committing governmental treason.
Although some may instantly begin to compare Agent Carter to its sister show Agents of S.H.I.E.LD. – another ABC/Marvel property – what becomes clear exceedingly quickly is that, although the two share the same initial DNA, structurally they couldn’t be more different. The clue is in the name: rarely is Carter a team-effort, this one is all about Atwell’s Peggy kicking serious arse, and on that front, it well and truly succeeds.
Since first appearing in Marvel’s Phase One proceedings, Peggy Carter has become something of a cult phenomenon; a feminist icon in a world many see to be male dominated. When she was granted her own One-Shot short however, the real potential for a spin-off adventure became clear, and this first season remains equally as lean and thrilling.
Atwell herself is very much the selling-point: a sharp and tremendously witty heroine who not only nails the show’s rampant action from the outset, but also clues into the more emotional beats effortlessly. Her buddy-cop rapport with straight-laced butler Jarvis provides plenty of laughs, whilst Carter’s overall badass persona frequently treats viewers to the sort of gender-bending arse-kicking we haven’t really seen properly since Buffy the Vampire Slayer. After all, I guess it is her show.
In fact, Atwell dominates so much so to the point that her supporting cast never feel nearly as effective as they probably should. Kick Ass’s Lindsey Fonseca pops up occasionally but rarely offers any real insight, and Dominic Cooper’s smarmy Stark senior is positively fine whilst he’s around, but rarely is so long enough to make an actual impact. This doesn’t necessarily limit the show overall, but some extra character interaction may well have proven entertaining – a decent sidebar from the constant terrorist plots and old-timey gadget meddling that forms the large majority of what the show actually winds up being.
But whilst one could sit here debating some of Agent Carter’s more lacklustre elements, from its often uninspired directing to its sometimes obvious cheapness, ultimately the show manages something which a lot of others fail to ever achieve: it’s consistently entertaining. At a lean eight episodes, Carter never finds itself killing time, providing plenty of incredible twists and daunting villains to always keep the ball rolling. At this rate, a second season is more than welcome.
Agent Carter was shown in the UK on the FOX channel.