January 7, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Agent Carter”


AGENT CARTER:  Tuesday 9PM on ABC – Potential DVR Alert

Marvel’s AGENT CARTER was more sure-footed in its start than the fantasy factory’s Agents of SHIELD was–maybe more than the improved SHIELD is even now.  With only 8 hours to show its stuff, filling in for SHIELD while that series takes its winter break, Carter is focused and in command of its tone, and rather than trying to build a Whedonesque ensemble, it’s a star vehicle, and one that has the real thing at its center:  British actress Hayley Atwell.

Atwell played Peggy Carter in Captain America: The First Avenger (which was written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who also wrote the pilot and get ‘created by” credit, although the show is run by the more experienced TV pair of Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas), and the tone of Agent Carter takes its cue from its big-screen incarnation, a mix of old-fashioned action and wryly satiric humor.  It’s set in 1946 New York, where Carter is still employed by SHIELD forebear Strategic Scientific Reserve, but in the post-war era is now little more than a glorified secretary.  She’s suffocated and frustrated–and still grieving for the not-yet-reborn Captain America (Chris Evans is glimpsed in clips from the movie).  Luckily, Howard Stark (guest star Dominic Cooper, repeating his suave movie turn as the younger version of Iron Man’s dad), remembers her skills and calls on her for help when he’s framed for treason and his secret weapons vault is looted by persons or entities unknown who go by the name Leviathan.

So far, Agent Carter is staying away from the super-hero part of Marvel mythology.  The first two hours (Hour 1 written by Markus & McFeely and directed by Louis DeEsposito, Hour 2 written by Story Editor Eric Pearson and directed by Captain America: The Winter Soldier co-director Joe Russo) mostly concerned a Stark bomb that could both go boom and implode, crushing an entire factory into the size of a pick-up truck’s flatbed.  Peggy, aided by the human inspiration for Tony Stark’s Computer Friday Jarvis, Howard’s butler of the same name (James D’Arcy), succeeds in running circles around both the Leviathan henchmen, who’ve had their voice-boxes sinisterly removed, and the foolish male dummies at the office who have zero respect for her, with the conspicuous exception of war vet Daniel Sousa (Whedon fave Enver Gjokaj).

The part of Agent Carter that may get old fast is the virtual non-stop condescension, sexism and stupidity of Peggy’s co-workers, which among other things represents a terrible waste of Shea Whigham as the head of the SSR’s New York office.  The show makes its point about the way women were seen in that era much more wittily by intercutting between Agent Carter slamming a regiment of thugs with a live Captain America radio show, where the damsel in distress can barely open a door without some help from a big strong man  It may be that the Carter writers have plans up their sleeve for some of the characters–Daniel and Jarvis appear to have secrets, and it’s hard to believe that former Nikita co-star Lyndsy Fonseca is around just to be Peggy’s supportive waitress/aspiring actress buddy (by the end of the 2d hour, they were going to be neighbors).  An advantage of the show’s shortened format is that whatever is going to happen can’t be dragged out for very long.

Meanwhile, there’s Atwell, who’s an ideal mix of glamour, intelligence and believable action chops.  Agent Carter is a pleasing retro addition to the seemingly bottomless comic book canon, and best of all, it’s certain not to overstay its welcome.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."