When critics are asked why they sometimes hedge when heaping praise on new series, an appropriate three-word response would be “Marvel’s Agent Carter.” Despite an extremely handsome pilot and appealing lead in Hayley Atwell, the ABC limited series meandered through several episodes that merely seemed to inch the story along, rallying only slightly in the not wholly satisfying conclusion. So while the show represented an enterprising line extension of the Marvel universe, the experiment has to be viewed as a miss, at least creatively speaking, which just didn’t have legs.
Like all of Marvel’s properties (and SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t watched the finale), “Agent Carter” derived some additional oomph from tying into the company’s flagship titles – in this case, both “Captain America” and “Iron Man,” inasmuch as the latter’s father, wealthy playboy/inventor Howard Stark (an under-used Dominic Cooper), set the storyline in motion.
Those assets, however, were largely squandered, as the writers failed to develop the characters much beyond Atwell’s Peggy Carter and James D’Arcy as Stark’s inordinately loyal butler, Jarvis. Nor did the Boris-and-Natasha villains ever truly pop, although the latter did at least provide an excuse for several well-choreographed fights.
Even the closing moment, which brought in Toby Jones to link everything back to “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” followed the studio’s ambitious pattern of connecting its projects without providing much incentive to demand seeing the next chapter of Agent Carter’s story.
It’s a shame, really, because the show appeared to have so much going for it: A great look, smashing lead, rare period trappings, and an interesting exploration of the sexism Carter faced in a mostly boys club, despite her World War II resume.
Instead, “Agent Carter” goes down as little more than a footnote, providing another demonstration that peddling superhero-adjacent real estate isn’t quite the same thing as the Avengers mansion. And while the ratings weren’t bad – with aggregate seven-day tune-in roughly matching “Agents of SHIELD,” even if the audience in the key younger demographics was lower – the exercise essentially just kept the lights on for ABC, creating a credible reason for the present-day spy series to take a breather before beginning a stretch of original episodes into the spring.
It’s also another reminder that despite Marvel’s Midas touch at the box office, TV has been a slightly different nut to crack. Because as much as Atwell rocked those vintage costumes, after the pilot “Agent Carter” ultimately lacked the kind of accessories that would have made it truly take off.