Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Underthinking Pilot Season: Marvel's Agent Carter

Hello there,

Cat here. I know, I know. I am super behind on this. At this point I've already seen the entire first season of Marvel's Agent Carter and I'm sure you have as well if you had any interest in the show. But let's just go ahead and talk about it anyway. The best way I can explain my experience watching the show was that the things that I thought would appeal to me didn't, but I still found a lot to enjoy about it.

It is still so difficult to write good female characters for some reason that it seems that many times people just stumble into a good female character without that being their main goal. I think that might be why there are often more compelling female characters in ensemble shows or in the background than female leads. It gets very tricky and the dearth of well-written female characters results in an incredible pressure on a show that decides to have a single female protagonist, never mind one with a so called "feminist agenda."

So yes, I could pick this pilot apart. I could point out that it starts with establishing Peggy Carter as a character in relation to Captain America and with her uttering the lines "I'll get Howard on the line. He'll know what to do." The hero makes a brave, self-sacrificing choice while the heroine is helpless to stop him or to help. But over the course of the series, we see this moment as the anomaly. Usually. Although it never stretches believability in Agent Carter, having such a capable character can be a bit boring. After a while it's not as a exciting to watch a show where the doctor, lawyer, detective, etc. is going to be able to resolve the problem within the hour. Having the series start with this moment which stands in stark contrast to the rest of Peggy's adventures makes her successes somehow more satisfying. We've already seen her fail.

So what was it that I expected to be drawn to that let me down? Well, after two or three episodes, you stop caring but this is really not a period show. The costumes are... fine, but did nothing to place me in the era. There's something about the entire world that feels like they were trying but didn't really succeed. I don't know if it was a budget issue or an attempt to recreate the comics or just a lack of research and imagination but I always had that sense of remove. And, oh, the accents. I don't know if it was worse when people were trying or when they weren't. I'm looking at you Chad Michael Murray. The dialogue didn't always help. Again, I wasn't sure if it was worse when it sounded completely modern or when they forced period slang.

My other issue was the female empowerment angle. Throughout the series, I feel like they failed time and time again at portraying sexism. It was just so overt. And yet still not that offensive. It was an odd middle ground where they seemed too afraid to show characters act truly reprehensibly and yet too afraid that more subtle forms of sexism would be missed by the audience. The show asks us to have sympathy for pretty much all of the other agents with speaking parts who display sexist behaviors or attitudes so I understand not wanting to make them unlikable but it ended up feeling so awkward and undercutting whatever message they were trying to get across.

There were some fun gadgets in the pilot. I wish there'd been more of those throughout the series instead of Howard Stark's weapon of the week.

So now let's talk about what I did enjoy. The show is very easily digestible. It has a decent blend of the procedural and the overarching story line which made it compelling from episode to episode. And as someone who pretty much ignores most action and crime films, it was unexpectedly satisfying to watch the fight scenes in Agent Carter. I'm far from an expert on fight choreography but I think Hayley Atwell and whoever directed those scenes did a brilliant job making them exciting to watch and believable.

CONCLUSION: I feel like I rambled quite a bit with this one but here are my final thoughts. It's not a perfect show. It wasn't the period piece I wanted it to be and it bungled the feminism but I found it pretty entertaining and I would absolutely watch a second season. They'll have to work harder to make me actually emotionally invest in any of these characters but it has a lot of potential as a spy show.