TV: Agent Carter (Season 1)

Agent CarterThe Marvel Cinematic Universe’s relentless expansion into television improves considerably with Agent Carter, a lavish eight-episode series that takes up where Captain America: The First Avenger leaves off. It asks the question: whatever happened to Peggy Carter, Cap’s “best girl,” after his crash into the north Atlantic? The series answers with a gorgeously produced, refreshing, thoroughly entertaining exploration of the MCU’s past.

In the aftermath of World War II, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell)—who made her mark fighting side by side with Captain America in Europe—is now an agent of the Strategic Scientific Reserve, a New York-based, secret government agency that will later become the foundation for S.H.I.E.L.D. Unfortunately, Peggy’s value hasn’t been realized in the SSR’s male-dominated work environment, where men’s men Roger Dooley (Shea Whigham) and Jack Thompson (Chad Michael Murray) rule the roost. Her only real ally is Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj), whose wartime injury makes him something of a fish out of water in the agency.

Peggy’s troubles begin when the SSR begins investigating industrialist Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) for selling weapons to the enemy. When Stark reaches out to Peggy to proclaim his innocence, she believes him, but is forced to go against her colleagues in order to investigate. Her only help in this clandestine activity is Stark’s butler, Edwin Jarvis (James D’Arcy). Together they work to clear Stark’s name, and in the process, uncover a devious plot against the United States.

Tonally, Agent Carter is quite similar to its MCU relative, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. But there’s a huge difference: Agent Carter fires on all cylinders right out of the gate, with an assured style, a great look, and confident, in-control storytelling. It’s a colorful, breezy show that renders a 1940s setting with jazzy panache, its light-hearted tone peppered with just enough comic book jeopardy and intrigue to keep the heroes hopping.

Most of all, Peggy makes for refreshing female action hero, something the MCU desperately needs. She’s quick-witted, brilliant, and physically formidable, a first-class comic superspy. Atwell is terrific, a charismatic central presence who is easy to root for, and the writers are mindful of how they depict her movement through the male-dominated law enforcement landscape. The supporting cast, while painfully not-diverse, is quite good, especially D’Arcy, Whigham, and Gjokaj. (I was particularly happy to see Gjokaj turn up here; I’ve always thought his brilliant, criminally overlooked performance on Dollhouse should have lead to bigger, better roles.) Ralph Brown and Bridget Regan provide compelling, appropriately broad villainy.

In sum, Agent Carter is a rousing, entertaining period comic book fantasy, well worth a look.

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