Review

'Marvel's Agent Carter' has feminist message in superhero fun

Mary McNamara
Contact ReporterLos Angeles Times Television Critic
In fun 'Marvel's Agent Carter,' Hayley Atwell's Peggy Carter is feisty and formidable

There are at least 78 reasons to love ABC's new historical action-adventure "Marvel's Agent Carter," including and especially its star Hayley Atwell. But the biggest draw has got to be the time period.

Seriously, every series featuring a strong female character should be set in the years following World War II. No other era so perfectly captures the struggle for gender equality — women who helped win the war being forced out of the workforce — and also the clothes are just so great.

In a world where Uggs still rule and women pay $100 for "hot" black leggings, it's wonderfully refreshing to have a heroine who can land a one-liner and a left hook while wearing a smart dress, sensible heels and a killer red fedora. A woman who knows she can do "a man's job" and also rock shoulder pads.

Never mind the process that turned puny Steve Rogers into Captain America. Someone needs to figure out how creators Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely managed to combine Rosalind Russell, Lady Mary Crawley, La Femme Nikita and all the gals of "The Bletchley Circle" to produce Atwell's Peggy Carter.

Though grieving the loss of Captain America (now trapped, sob, at the bottom of the icy ocean,) she is feisty, fit, formidable and, increasingly, furious.

Not that her new bosses and colleagues realize this. Although still part of the government's Strategic Scientific Reserve, presumably the organization that arose from the creation of Captain America, she is often relegated to secretarial status — a classification that does not, obviously, sit well with her.

"You're so much better at this," says a fellow agent, handing her a report to file. "Better at what?" she snaps. "The alphabet?"

Fortunately, she is not the only war hero out of place in peacetime. Master-designer Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) has been accused of treachery. Not surprisingly, he enlists Carter's help, offering her the services of his butler, the now-famous Jarvis (James D'Arcy.) Carter also has some support in-house; Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) is a fellow agent and wounded vet who does not share his male colleagues boorish beliefs.

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For the record
Jan. 6, 11:20 a.m.:
An earlier version of this review misidentified the character of Daniel Sousa, played by Enver Gjokaj, as Jack Thompson, played by Chad Michael Murray.
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Obviously, "Agent Carter" is yet another foray into Marvel's quest for world domination. Now we not only have "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D," the first television series that provides the connective tissue of a film franchise, we have its prequel.

More important, however, is "Agent Carter's" ability to mash up comic book culture with the costume drama. In many ways, "Agent Carter" is the culmination of television's recent attempt to offer an intense if scattershot seminar on modern women's history.

Shows as thematically and tonally diverse as "Downton Abbey," "The Americans," "Mad Men" and "Madam Secretary" all rely heavily on the changing nature of women's roles in the 20th (and 21st) century to heighten the drama between characters and make larger points about the modern age.

Being a product of Marvel and ABC, "Agent Carter" is, well, a lot more fun. Its feminist message is festooned with secret weapons, evil scientists, crazy chase scenes and, no doubt, aliens.

Cooper's Stark is 90% Howard Hughes, minus all the phobias and weird stuff; Jarvis seems high-strung, High Brit and hilarious, though no doubt there's a reason Tony Stark named his computer system after him. Period detail abounds — the glamorous nightclubs, the Murphy beds, the big shiny cars — but in the middle of the past shines the present and future — Agent Carter.

And she's simply Marvel-ous.

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'Marvel's Agent Carter'

Where: ABC

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday

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