[This review contains SPOILERS for the Agent Carter premiere.]
It’s impossible not to smile when watching Marvel’s Agent Carter, the massive miniseries event which will be taking over for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on ABC for the next 8 weeks. This production is simply too successful in its far-reaching attempt at bringing a bit of the ever-growing billion dollar Marvel Cinematic Universe to the small screen. And only ABC can do it.
Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, writers of Captain America: The First Avenger; Captain America: The Winter Solider, and the upcoming Captain America: Civil War, return to 1946 to the final moments before Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) crashes toward his icy tomb, to reveal an important, untold chapter in the life Peggy Carter (Haley Atwell) and the Strategic Scientific Reserve, a.k.a the original S.H.I.E.L.D..
Brilliant scientist Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), eventual father of Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), is known for revolutionizing the weapons industry with new, even better ways to destroy things. What Stark reveals, however, is that deep inside his lab is a hidden safe with his most dangerous weapons sealed safely within, never to see the light of day. (“Bad Babies,” as Stark calls them, of which he has many.) Or had many, as they’ve all apparently gone missing. After they begin to pop up on the black market, Stark is suspected of selling them to the enemy.
Agent Carter succeeds not because it’s one of Marvel’s feature films that’s simply slumming it on television, but because it has the heart of a feature film through its impeccable writers; the voice of a feature film through its extraordinary cast; and the knowledge that, after 8 hours of adventure, it'll all be over. In many ways, the close ties that Agent Carter has with the Marvel Cinematic Universe cast and crew allows it to enter the television landscape with a much clearer direction than most shows when they premiere.
Agent Carter has, at its core, the extremely adept Atwell to establish the foundation of the series. After numerous reprises as Carter in film and television, she’s now able to seamlessly fall back in her iconic role, whether it be playing the part of a hopeless romantic, a frustrated, yet ingenious “secretary," or simply beating someone with a stapler. She’s also terrific with forks, apparently. It’s through her that Stark’s fascinating, yet convenient plot of [insert a creative weapon idea here] is transformed into an exciting, thoroughly enthralling journey you truly want to see more of.
Cooper’s return as Stark, and Enver Gjokaj’s (Dollhouse) return as Carter’s co-worker Daniel Sousa – both relativity brief in the premiere – are terrific examples of how the series is able to use the power of the films to subtly anchors itself with familiar faces, while still continuing to expand this old, yet new world.
Joining the cast is Chad Michael Murray (One Tree Hill) as Jack Thompson, another of Carter's unhelpful co-workers; Shea Whigham (Boardwalk Empire) as Roger Dooley, the Deputy Director of the Strategic Scientific Reserve; Lyndsy Fonseca (Nikita) as Angie Martinelli, a wholly endearing diner waitress who Carter befriends (and we see too little of); and James D’Arcy (Cloud Atlas) as Edwin Jarvis, the all-too human butler of Howard Stark, and Carter’s sidekick/partner in "crime."
Agent Carter is not a perfect series, however, and it doesn't try to be. It has a vibrant, perhaps too polished look for what’s supposed to be a period spy thriller. Even the weapon in the premiere is immaculate in its presentation. That said, early on there are scenes from Captain America: The Original Avenger which are spliced with new footage from the series, and you can absolutely tell; it simply doesn’t match. Everyone in the editing room knows this, and yet they left the scenes in. Why? Because it’s fun - it really is. Not to mention that Agent Carter is still over $100+ million away from Cap's initial budget.
Of course, with the premiere of Agent Cater comes the comparison to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which is certainly allowed, though its comparison to this event series is anything but fair. Peggy Carter exists in a film world which we, the audience, left behind. Coulson’s purpose was to create The Avengers, which he absolutely fulfilled, before receiving a hero's death. To create something from nothing – especially a death – and then prove a reason to exist is so much more challenging than simply opening up a favorite book and excitedly realizing you skipped one fantastic chapter.
For fans of Marvel, Agent Carter is absolutely a must-watch. The connections to the Marvel Cinematic Universe - The Avengers 2: Age of Ultron, Ant Man - are simply too exciting to ignore, and by all accounts will be an absolute treat when they’re all fully revealed. Most importantly: when this is all over, and you realize you’ve been enjoying yourself a bit too much for cynicism to allow, check out Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 2 – you won’t be disappointed.
Agent Carter returns next Tuesday with “Time & Tide” @8pm on ABC. You can check out a preview of next week’s episode below: