Since ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ is on break until March, Marvel has decided to fill its time slot with the new (supposedly) limited-run spin-off/prequel series ‘Agent Carter’. With a period setting and an appealing heroine in the lead, ads for the show looked like a lot of fun. So why is the premiere so damned dull?
Even if you missed her many flashback appearances in ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ this season, Marvel fans may remember Peggy Carter as Steve Rogers’ girlfriend from the 1940s in the first ‘Captain America’ movie. To make sure that connection is hammered home, the show’s pilot episode includes so many clips from the movie that Chris Evans deserves second billing just behind star Hayley Atwell.
Carter is a smart, capable agent in the Strategic Scientific Reserve, the forerunner to S.H.I.E.L.D., a job she holds under the cover of being a phone company employee. However, now that the Second World War is over (the show’s setting is 1946) and the menfolk have all returned from overseas, Carter struggles with the inherent sexism of the era, and continually butts heads with coworkers who treat her like a glorified secretary. Fortunately, she’s a tough, feisty broad, and takes no guff from anybody.
In the first episode of the two-part premiere, genius inventor/playboy Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), future father of Tony Stark, is called before Congress on the charge of having sold technology to enemies of state. He claims ignorance on the matter, but flees the country all the same. Before he leaves, he secretly meets with his old friend Carter and asks for her help clearing his name. He tells her that the plans for a number of his “Bad Babies” (inventions too dangerous to pursue) were stolen from a vault. To assist her investigation, Stark offers the services of his proper English butler, Edwin Jarvis (James D’Arcy), a man who may not be much for action (he insists that he and his never-seen wife must be in bed by 9 PM), but is pretty resourceful.
Digging into this, the trail leads to a thief named Leet Brannis (James Frain), a mute assassin on Brannis’ trail, and a milk truck storing a huge cache of a super-explosive chemical compound. The assassin works for someone, or something, called “Leviathan” that he communicates with via a typewriter that can transmit messages remotely (an idea lifted from ‘Fringe’).
In the second episode, ‘Bridge and Tunnel’, Carter discovers a connection to a company called Roxxon Oil, whose CEO (Ray Wise) knows a lot more than he lets on. This all culminates with a big fight on the roof of the moving milk truck and, ultimately, a really huge explosion.
Episode Verdict / Grade: B-
The series has a number of positive attributes, not the least of which is Hayley Atwell. She invests the character with a lot of spunk and level-headed determination. The 1940s setting is fun, and these episodes have a very amusing running joke involving Carter’s annoyance with a radio show called the ‘Captain America Adventure Hour’, which features a fictionalized version of herself called “Betty Carver” who’s depicted as a helpless bubblehead.
Nevertheless, despite an abundance of clever set-pieces and overblown action scenes, the premiere episodes both really drag. The second episode in particular has a seemingly endless number of scenes watching the fancy typewriter transmit messages back and forth. I want to like this show, but something about it holds me back.
‘Agent Carter’ is being advertised as a 7-part series. Whether it returns for a second season next year will presumably depend on how well this one does in the ratings. (Variety called the numbers for the premiere “decent but unexceptional.”) If it slips off too much in the following weeks, I fear that Marvel and ABC will take the wrong message that viewers aren’t interested in a comic book show fronted by a woman, when really they may just be disappointed that this specific show is kind of boring.
Oh, and the ‘Ant-Man’ teaser afterwards wasn’t anything too exciting either.