This week, Marvel premiered something very special. No, not the Ant-Man trailer. That was fun and all but the studio really struck gold with the two hour premiere of Agent Carter. I have to admit, I didn’t have high hopes for it. Marvel’s other TV show, Agents of SHIELD didn’t exactly set the world on fire. I know, I know, it gets better. I’ve been told many times. But if anything is going to convince me to give Shield another shot, it’s Agent Carter. The first two episodes exceeded my expectations and proved that Marvel is aware of the early mistakes it made with Shield and has the ability to correct them. Agent Carter didn’t suffer any growing pains though. The witty spy show was a blast right from the start, filled with confidence, energy, and fun. The 40’s setting works splendidly, the characters are well written, the plotting is solid, and the actors are terrific. I’m already sad that we’re only getting seven episodes of it even though that generally allows for better storytelling. In case you don’t know, the show stars Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter, last seen in Captain America: The Winter Solider. Peggy was a always a solid supporting character but oh my my, as a lead? She’s even better. Her sidekick is James D’Arcy as Edwin Jarvis, Howard Stark’s bumbling butler. He’s just as delightful. Mike and I and were quite taken aback by how much we enjoyed the whole thing and felt compelled to sit down and talk about it in detail. If you haven’t seen it yet, check out the trailer below and then stick around for our discussion on why it’s the best new show of the winter season.
GRAVES: Well, I loved the show. It was everything Agents of Shield wasn’t in it’s first outing: fun, inventive, exciting, great to look at, and filled with compelling mysteries.
MIKE: Yes. They found a way to make it feel distinctly like it was some kind of 1940’s crime serial, while poking fun at the fact that it is a 1940’s crime serial. And one showcased by the ‘Captain America Radio Program’.
GRAVES: That was hilarious. It had a great Rocketeer vibe going for it, the exact same vibe that was missing in the first Captain America movie.
MIKE: Yeah, Cap never really embraced the 40’s. I imagine that’s why Agent Carter does. That was my main criticism with Cap. Well, that and Red Skull kinda blowing.
GRAVES: Gagh! Red Skull! Barf! Let’s not dwell.
MIKE: Ok ok…
GRAVES: Also, setting the show in the 40’s frees up the writers a lot. They are not beholden to any of the other movies in the Marvel universe.
MIKE: What I liked too was how useless Peggy feels after the war. And how they make it a constant reminder that women were allowed to be to be way more badass during World War II.
GRAVES: It’s a great element. Love how all the men she works with just gloss over her past heroics and treat her like a secretary. And love how she fights back. There was a great moment when that one dick agent (Chad Michael Murray, how the hell did he get in this?) tells her to file some paperwork, saying she’s ‘better’ at it, and her response is, “better at what? The alphabet?”
MIKE: Yes, that was awesome. She’s very quick-witted. Also, the show embraces feminism but doesn’t bash you with it like in Girls. Like when the agent with the crutch stands up for her and she tells him not to.
GRAVES: That was the perfect response. He only sees her as someone who needs defending, never even thinks that she’s more than capable of standing up for herself. He’s a nice guy but sexist in his own way. It was subtle and I liked that a lot. Have you heard of the Bechdel Test?
MIKE: No I haven’t.
GRAVES: It’s a way to look at gender bias in mass media. In order to pass the test, a film or show must contain three things: (1). It must feature two women. (2). Who talk to each other. (3). About something besides a man. Seems easy enough but it’s astounding and frightening how many movies (good or bad) fail to pass. Agent Carter passed the test in it’s first goddamn scene and then multiple times throughout the episode. I was impressed.
MIKE: Yeah, that is impressive. The women in the show do talk about men but also much more. I loved when that dick at the diner got his.
GRAVES: That was great! I’m really enjoying Peggy’s relationship with that waitress. It’s interesting to see how they both face the same hardships in completely different professions.
MIKE: Showing how being a woman post WWII sucked. As it probably still sucks today.
GRAVES: Hell yeah. Agent Carter is even proof of that. Marvel finally gives us a female lead but only on TV, not on the big screen.
MIKE: And I’d put her up against any one of those heroes. Hayley Atwell drives the show completely.
GRAVES: She rules. Whether she’s beating someone with a stapler, fighting fanatics on top of cars, stealing briefcases, stabbing rude customers, hurling quips like a pro, searching for a purpose, or mourning the loss of her friends. She nails every moment and character best. It’s a great performance.
MIKE: Very much so. She’s a perfect start for Marvel’s leading women. Also, I do find something a little goofy/silly about her. I don’t think it’s the character. It think there’s something endearingly silly about Atwell, like she’s a goof in real life or something.
GRAVES: I could see that. And it works for the character. Makes her more accessible and fun.
MIKE: Yeah. She’s found a way to be funny, sexy, badass, and overall terrific all at the same time. She’s like a sillier female Bond. Something about this show reminds me of BPRD. It’s Mignola-ish. Maybe it’s the time period.
GRAVES: I’m stupid. What’s BPRD?
MIKE: The organization Hellboy works for. Those comics are great and Hellboy shows up in them often.
GRAVES: Right, right! The time period really works well for Agent Carter and they put a lot of nice period details in there. I also got a Dick Tracy vibe.
MIKE: Yes, Dick Tracy…if it was good. Now, while we can continue to write a love letter to Miss Atwell, I feel that her line of admirers will only get longer in the end. Let’s talk about Leviathan. Is this some Hydra offshoot?
GRAVES: That’s my guess. A leviathan is generally a sea serpent I think, so it would make sense that they’re related. And DON’T DISS DICK TRACY!!!
MIKE: I’ll apologize to Dick. Yeah, think that Leviathan is some kind of deep Hydra shit. And they want to fuck Howard Stark bad.
GRAVES: Seems like they’re a little more fanatical than Hydra. If that’s even possible.
MIKE: Yeah, like deep Hydra.
GRAVES: Right. It’s a very solid mystery. I’m intrigued to know more. Took Agents of SHIELD forever to get to Centipede. Glad Leviathan was introduced right away.
MIKE: Absolutely. They also have limited time. And this is testing the water. Peggy should go on adventures for awhile.
GRAVES: I hope if it goes on they keep doing eight episode runs. Makes for tighter storytelling. The twenty-two episode model is just unworkable.
MIKE: Agreed. We also know that Carter is in Ant-Man. I hope she shows up in other shows.
GRAVES: Me too. There’s a lot to explore with her. Can we talk about what a surprising delight Jarvis was?
MIKE: Just delightful. They were clearly going for a bumbling Ralph Fiennes. Like almost Grand Budapest Hotel.
GRAVES: Yes! With him trying to cook dinner for his wife and insisting on his 9 pm bedtime! I was laughing my head off.
MIKE: 7 pm: sherry, 8 pm: Benny Hill (because he’s English), 9 pm: bedtime. As he sits in the back of the milk truck, scared shitless, with a Winchester. He had to make that souffle though.
GRAVES: Amazing. They make a great mismatched pair.
MIKE: Totally. And both English. I’m excited for more Howard Stark.
GRAVES: Me too. They did a nice job portraying him as Tony Stork’s father. Like father like son, you know what I mean?
MIKE: But possibly douche-ier?
GRAVES: Most definitely. What do you think he’s hiding from Peggy?
MIKE: I have literally NO idea. Maybe Shield? Hank Pym?
GRAVES: That could be. That could be how they tie it to Ant-Man. But yeah, I have no solid idea either. And I LIKE that! I like when a show is able to keep me in the dark.
MIKE: I love that! I read up on Leviathan. In the books, it’s Russian Hydra.
GRAVES: Well that makes sense then. Cold War is coming up soon in Carter’s timeline. You know it’s funny, even though the show takes place over half a century ago, it’s a huge leap forward for comic book characters on TV. It blows Gotham out of the water and is way better than Shield, Flash, or Arrow.
MIKE: Agreed. Though I do enjoy Shield. It feels better. Tighter, smaller, more comic-y.
GRAVES: I have to give it another shot. I really do. FInal thoughts on Agent Carter?
MIKE: Agent Carter found a way to be nothing I thought it would be and I am 1000% ok with that. I seriously though it was going to be all SSR and instead it’s a super spy double cross. Brilliant. There’s some good fish out of water stuff too, with her being English and ex military and stuck in NY.
GRAVES: I agree. There’s a lot of different elements that work surprisingly well together. I can’t wait to see what happens next. Love Atwell, love Jarvis, love the time period, love the feminist sensibilities, love the action, love the humor. It’s just a great time.
MIKE: If Peggy ever shoots someone and says, “oh dear”, I think that’ll be the icing on the cake.
GRAVES: That might make me explode with joy.