Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Television Thoughts ‘15—Agent Carter (2015) ***

TV-PG, 8 43-min. episodes
Creators: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

Directors: Stephen Cragg, Louis D’Esposito, Peter Leto, Christopher Misiano, Vincent Misiano, Joe Russo, Stephen Williams, Scott Winant

Writers: Stan Lee (characters), Jack Kirby (characters), Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, Eric Pearson, Lindsey Allen, Andi Bushell, Tara Butters, Chris Dingess, Brant Englestein, Michele Fazekas, Jose Molina

Starring: Hayley Atwell, James D’Arcy, Chad Michael Murray, Enver Gjokaj, Shea Whigham, Lyndsy Fonseca, Bridget Regan, Ralph Brown, Meagan Fay

Guest starring: Dominic Cooper, Kyle Bornheimer, Lesley Boone, Alexander Carroll, James Frain, James Landry Hébert, Devin Ratray, James Urbaniak, Kevin Cotteleer, Patrick Robert Smith, Neal McDonough, Leonard Roberts, GlennTaranto, Jack Conley, Rick Peters, John Prosky, Pawel Szajda, Ray Wise, Ashley Hinshaw, Toby Jones, John Glover, Andre Royo, Richard Short

So I read an interview with Richard Dreyfuss the other day in which he questioned the interviewer’s use of the term “the new golden age of television”, referring to the current renaissance happening on television today. (Read the Indiewire article here.) Dreyfuss claimed that the only Golden Age of television was in the early 50s when it was the new form of entertainment in everyone’s household. While I agree that perhaps a new term other than “Golden Age” might be in order to describe an era 70 years down the line, I’m not so sure Dreyfuss quite understands what the interviewer was talking about, because he went on to describe the current television market of consisting only of police procedurals, courtroom dramas and family sitcoms. I suddenly realized that Dreyfuss’ television provider only carries CBS, ion and Nick at Nite.

I suppose it’s rather ironic that one of the good examples of how diverse television has become is the throwback television series inspired by Marvel comic books, “Agent Carter”. The series is a breath of fresh air in its insistence to adhere to the heritage of the style of entertainment that inspired it. It’s gumshoe. It’s adventure. It’s intrigue. It doesn’t sacrifice story for action, and it dips just enough into the comic book world of the Marvel universe to provide comic book nerds with enough Easter eggs to satisfy.

“Agent Carter” isn’t content to just be some comic book spin-off, however. It is very much it’s own entity with it’s own style and atmosphere. At it’s center is Peggy Carter herself bringing a feminist charge to a male dominated genre with a gender empowering story where the men are in the dark and one powerful man is helpless to the forces against him with Carter as his only hope to clear his name. Howard Stark is suspected of arms dealing and goes into hiding, entrusting Agent Carter to clear his name from inside the Strategic Scientific Reserve, a secret government agency predating S.H.I.E.L.D. Carter’s own worth has been significantly deflated since her involvement with the Captain America project during WWII. Now that the war is over, most women have gone back to being considered second-class citizens to their male counterparts. This actually affords Carter a bit more maneuverability from within the SSR, as few of the male agents give her any credit as a serious agent. She can get away with more by being invisible as a woman in a man’s world.

Like it’s leading lady, the show is more brains than brawn, building an intricate mystery dealing with the Cold War that would rise out of the ashes of WWII. Some might find its reliance on dialogue and characters as opposed to action the antithesis of its comic book movie origins, but its nice to watch a show that actually considers its characters and plot. That’s not to say there is no action. Peggy Carter is a formidable hero and not your typical supermodel waif. When she’s kicking some guy’s butt, you believe that she can.

Ratings for the series were a little on the soft side compared to its companion series “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”, sparking many analysts to believe that it may not receive a renewal. Of course, that’s the genius of the comic book format, where short-lived series are a frequent occurrence. It’s a wonderful way for comic book companies to test the marketability of a series before they commit to an ongoing series. The story of “Agent Carter” is contained within this first season’s 8 episodes; however, there’s a good deal more to tell about the creation of S.H.I.E.L.D. and many other aspects of the early days of the Marvel movie and television universe, so another series is certainly not out of the question. Whether “Agent Carter” is where Marvel wishes to explore these opportunities or not, this show’s approach makes me anxious for more Marvel shows and experiments.

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