AgentCarter-s1e1-Peggy-red-hatMary and Rob jumped all over Marvel’s Agent Carter when it dropped last week, and our curiosity quickly turned to enthusiasm. Even if you’re on the fence about (or actively hostile toward) Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., you should give it a go.

It’s set in New York City immediately after WWII, where Hayley Atwell’s Agent Carter (who helped punch up the first Captain America movie) has settled into a frustrating gig with the proto-SHIELD agency Strategic Science Reserve. Frustrating why? Well, during the war she got used to being treated as a competent human being, whereas now she’s surrounded by ugly, ham-fisted institutional sexism. It’s great fun to watch her outsmart her colleagues in order to get the chance to outsmart the bad guys, and it looks like the show is going all-in on feminism. Will that impact its ratings?
Rob: “I’m optimistic, because the cultural timing feels right.”
Mary: “I’m inclined to agree, and the feminism is easy to get on board with since it’s like watching Mad Men and people can feel smug about how far we’ve come. I think a show portraying the sexism in present-day work environments wouldn’t fare as well. But I’m a pessimist when it comes to these things. Oh, and another great thing? She’s not a sinewy, slender heroine. She’s a little on the curvy side but she’s not portrayed as frumpy or undesirable (quite the opposite), which is a nice change of pace.”

In the pilot, Dominic Cooper reprises his role as Howard Stark, Iron Man’s absentee-father / playboy-role-model, and he’s as much fun as usual. He leaves behind a season’s worth of weird-science McGuffins, too. Other notable cast members include:

  • Shea Wigham (Boardwalk Empire) as Carter’s raspy, sexist boss.
  • Enver Gjokaj (Dollhouse) as her one sympathetic colleague who apparently achieved decency by having his leg shot off.
  • James D’Arcy (Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World) as Jarvis, Stark’s butler and Carter’s driver/assistant.
  • Lyndsy Fonseca (Nikita) as Carter’s extremely brassy friend Angie.
  • James Urbaniak (The Venture Brothers) in a small but significant bad-guy role.

Carter and Jarvis are forming a lovely partnership that has a touch of Batman/Alfred and a touch of Green Hornet and Kato, but it’s definitely carving out a path of its own.

There’s also been a few Easter eggs for fans of the Marvel canon: Peggy’s Jarvis is obviously the precursor to Iron Man‘s J.A.R.V.I.S (and, of course, the old-school comics Jarvis who ran the Avengers mansion). Then there’s a scientist by the name of Anton Venko, undoubtedly Ivan’s father who later feels betrayed by Howard Stark. And we get Roxxon Oil, the Lucky Star Cab Company and the law firm of Goodman, Kurtzberg & Holliway, explained here with a few more hidden treats.

Overall, everything is developing at a better clip than Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which could be due to the fact that Agent Carter is only an 8-episode mini-series meant to fill the break in A.o.S.’s season. (Series writer Stephen McFeely indicated that a second season of Agent Carter is possible… and considering the overwhelmingly positive response to the series so far, our hopes are up.) There’s also something quite likable about Carter’s characterization, and even her casual relationships seem immediately believable in a way that A.o.S. has never achieved in the central, supposedly close relationship between Coulson and Skye. This is not to bag on A.o.S., which has certainly grown into itself in a way we didn’t expect. But non-nerds and even anti-nerds can get invested in Peggy’s story without knowing a thing about the Marvel universe because it’s relatable at the same time it’s supernatural and exciting (like, say, The X-Files). Check it out.