I recently caught up with the first three episodes of Agent Carter, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD/Captain America spin-off set in the ’40s, far removed from most of the current-day events of the MCU, but a part of it all the same.
I previously predicted the show would perform poorly from a ratings perspective, and so far, it hasn’t been great. That isn’t a reflection on the quality of the show, however, but rather the high concept of a female super spy in the ’40s in a superhero-less superhero universe. That’s really, really niche for ABC, which has already been pushing the limit with SHIELD.
But now that the show has aired, the quality of it can’t be disputed, expected ratings aside. Here are the five things I like about Agent Carter the most.
We might as well get this one out of the way first. This show just couldn’t happen without Atwell in the lead, and seeing her in this makes me want to see her in absolutely everything else, and rocket up the A-list. She’s simply one of the best female leads on TV, bar none, but really, one of the best leads period, gender aside. She’s more than just a “strong woman”; she’s a complex, capable character that feels believable and real in an unbelievable universe. She’s the bedrock of the show in a way I would have never guessed possible if I’d only seen her as a supporting character in The First Avenger.
The Supporting Cast
I was pleasantly surprised with the depth of the supporting cast of the show, which include the likes of Chad Michael Murray, Boardwalk Empire‘s Shea Whigham, Nikita‘s Lyndsey Fonseca, and Dollhouse‘s Enver Gjokaj. So far there hasn’t been a weak link in the bunch, and as great as Atwell is, I don’t know if she could have sustained the show without a cast like this behind her.
I left him out of the above list, because he deserves his own bullet point. I really love James D’Arcy’s Edwin Jarvis, Howard Stark’s butler before he was immortalized as an AI. So far, he’s been one of the most interesting characters on the show with a checkered past, a slightly foppish demeanor, and an unseen wife making him (so far) not an obvious love interest for Carter. I like pairings of men and women where romance isn’t automatically the first and foremost aspect of their relationship, and she and Carter make an unusual, excellent team.
Women in the ’40s
I think Agent Carter does an absolutely great job of portraying how women were totally mistreated, mocked, and undervalued back in the ’40s (though obviously that extended far past just the ’40s). Despite her crucial role in the war, Carter is treated like a borderline secretary, and the premise of the show is her undermining her own male-led organization, always a step ahead of the boys. My favorite scene of the series so far was one that juxtaposed a Captain America radio show where he smacks around Nazis to save a damsel, with an action scene that had Carter kicking a beating the crap out of a bad guy thug up and down a room. The point is clear, and it’s part of what makes Carter a great character.
A Lack of the Procedural
The first season of Agent Carter is only going to be eight episodes, and it shows. The show wastes no time, and it doesn’t fixate on a villain of the week like many superhero shows do. Rather, Carter is on a season-long quest to clear the name of Howard Stark and uncover one grand threat. This skips a lot of the fluff that will populate a 22-episode season of another show. I really like tightly written, shorter season shows, and Agent Carter is using the format well.
I really do think the show is getting nearly everything right. I’m not sure if the ratings will allow it to survive, but the MCU is powerful, and can do powerful things as a result. In any case, I certainly hope it’s a star-making vehicle for Atwell, who should get her pick of projects from here on out.
[Photos via ABC]