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Why You Should Watch Agent Carter
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re aware that there are a lot of superhero/comic-book shows on television. Arrow, the Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Agents of Shield, and more. Though there is a good chance you’re missing out on the best one and you aren’t even aware of it. I contend that this doesn’t just surpass its sister show (Agents of Shield) but sets itself apart and above most of the other comic-book shows on television. And that show is Agent Carter.
If you’re unfamiliar, Peggy Carter was the almost forgettable love interest from 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger. In that movie, Hayley Atwell was sassy and British, but by normal blockbuster standards, she was disposable after the credits roll. That’s not a critique on her performance or the story, but rather a critique on the cookie-cutter scripts in Hollywood. In other words, strong-man hero needs a woman to fall in love with him because reasons.
Marvel decided to take a second chance on Agent Carter when they were exploring their options for branching into the TV world. It started with a one-shot on the Iron Man 3 Blu Ray, and blossomed into a short off-season show to air during Agents of Shield’s mid-season hiatus.
Set just after World War II, and the events of Captain America, we found Peggy trying to find her place in a post-war, male dominated society where secret plots still run rampant. But, rather than wait around for another Steve Rogers, she sets out to solve these problems herself. With the help of Howard Stark’s butler, Jarvis, she uncovers ever more dangerous weapons and characters, culminating in period piece adventures that wouldn’t be possible anywhere else. So, let’s examine some things that make this show so special.
Interestingly, by setting this story in the post-war 1950s, this show has separated itself from many of the restrictions and guidelines of the present day MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). There are still references to future characters and events, but it doesn’t feel tied down the way Agents of Shield does. This gives the series more of a mystery, rather than sci-fi, sensibility and sets it against a romanticized depiction of the 1950s. Gumshoes, pin-ups, and classy hats seem that much cooler when sprinkled with Marvel’s signature style. Though, even if it didn’t have their signature style, how many other shows on television are using a setting and character like this? The premise alone makes this show feel fresh and new.
It should be noted, however, that Agent Carter doesn’t shy away from the darker side of the time period, namely sexism and racism. It gives you just enough of a reminder, to validate its stories, without letting them bog down the narrative, or the fun, of the show. And, speaking of fun…
It’s more fun.
I’ve noticed a trend in a lot of modern superhero shows in that they either start in a dark place (Jessica Jones, Daredevil) or quickly delve into a dark place during their second or third seasons (Arrow, The Flash). Dark superheroes have their place; there is a reason the Dark Knight trilogy was so successful. But we can’t forget that some superheroes are brighter, and less brooding, as evidenced by the success of the Avengers, which was a lighter take on a world in crisis.
Agent Carter falls into the latter category where it chooses fun over brooding. This is accomplished via the setting (mentioned earlier) and the mismatched pairing of Jarvis and Peggy. Other characters also get moments of comedy timing, but nothing quite compares to the banter between Stark’s butler and the SSR’s top agent. It’s a reminder that a charismatic team is worth more than special effects or infinity gauntlet references. I always look forward to their screen time together and it rarely disappoints. And, this leads into my final reason for watching this show.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a celebrity crush on Hayley Atwell. I had my reservations about the show, when it was announced, because of the previously mentioned cookie-cutter love story in Captain America. Plus, in a universe occupied with gods, geniuses, and super soldiers, what room is there left for regular human beings? Could Agent Carter, a side character without superpowers, be enough to headline her own show? Not just her own show, but her own time period in the MCU? After having seen the show, I can respond with a very enthusiastic yes!
It’s apparent from the first episode that Peggy can not only kick butt, but she can do it with charm. She’s instantly likeable and her determination to get things done is what makes her such a notable person. Where as some heroes had their powers thrust upon them, Peggy chooses her path every day. And she continues to operate in a world with super weapons and super beings, despite having no powers herself. She isn’t the first human to stand amongst the ranks of superheroes, but she is one of the first women to get this kind of attention, especially considering how pathetic Marvel has been when it comes to representing their female superheroes. And, what could easily have been a footnote in Marvel’s growing television presence, has instead risen above its other efforts. For all the money they pour into Agents of Shield, Agent Carter is smarter, stronger, and a heck of a lot more fun.
Black Widow may be Marvel’s top female superhero in the movies, but after seeing this show, Peggy Carter is the superior character. And I attribute it to clever writing and Hayley Atwell’s command of the role. It just goes to show you that, when given the same attention, the female heroes are just as interesting as the males. So, maybe they should stop tacking them on to male hero movies and give them their time in the sun. Agent Carter can serve as the example.