“Marvel’s Agent Carter” remains something of an enigma – a show with a beguiling setting and appealing star that, since the initial promise of its premiere, has generally failed to spark to life. Returning for a second stint spelling “Agents of SHIELD” on Tuesday nights, the show relocates its title character to Hollywood, which would seem to offer great possibilities tapping into the glitz of the era. What emerges, however, at least in the two-hour launch, is a rather prosaic affair, offering some nice moments but relatively little to merit the jauntiness of Christopher Lennertz’s terrific theme.
Hayley Atwell once again cuts a smashing figure as the secret agent who made Captain America’s heart go pitter-pat, this time serving the Strategic Scientific Reserve (or SSR) by investigating a mysterious murder that involves a shadowy energy company. She is also reunited with Howard Stark’s loyal butler Jarvis (James D’Arcy), who even introduces her to his wife (Lotte Verbeek), a proper mate for her hubby in all things, including eccentricities.
Despite some good casting, though – including Currie Graham as a wealthy mogul; Bridget Regan back as Peggy Carter’s equally matched nemesis, Dottie; and Reggie Austin as an African-American scientist, to whom Peggy is drawn – the series hasn’t done much to develop its supporting players, with a ho-hum, soapy subplot involving Peggy’s colleague Daniel Souza (Enver Gjokaj). And the initial threat, involving a strange and volatile substance that the energy company is seeking to exploit, feels a bit too much like a retread of the recent “Agents of SHIELD” arc about the interdimensional portal, which has largely been a doorway to nowhere, story-wise.
Indeed, for all the potential built into exploring this post-war period – including the early threat posed by Hydra and the blatant sexism Peggy faces – “Agent Carter” feels too slavishly locked into the “SHIELD” formula, which, frankly, hasn’t exactly been setting the world ablaze creatively with its trip into the world of Inhumans.
In that respect, the interlocking nature of the Marvel universe – linking across series and movies – can become a pair of handcuffs for this kind of show, which would probably function best as a stand-alone lark. And while it makes sense for ABC to cultivate its Marvel connection given the popularity of the latter’s movies, one can argue that those efforts haven’t been successful enough to merit many more extensions of the line.
All told, it’s sort of a shame “Agent Carter” isn’t more compelling, since the impeccable period trappings and costumes make the series a nice change of pace, at least visually. Get past the surface, though, and it once again looks as if the show has been relegated to the role of little more than handsome placeholder to break up “SHIELD’s” season – all dressed up, perhaps, but as outfitted, with no real place to go.