As long as it took ABC's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to find its footing, the complete opposite was true of its mid-season replacement show, Agent Carter. Perhaps this is thanks to a simple eight episode mini-run, but Marvel's latest spinoff entity was a delightfully energetic, aggressively feminist show with a promising lead who carries the series with the force of a true 1940's screen siren. We don't yet know if there will be a second season, but I certainly wouldn't mind seeing more of the adventures of Agent Peggy Carter, especially now that she emerged from under the thumb of the men in the office and seems set to claim her rightful place as eventual founder of S.H.I.E.LD. itself.
Right off the bat, setting the series in immediate post-war New York City in 1945 gives it a refreshing look and feel for a comic book superhero show, much like the first Captain America movie did for the MCU. We now go back to this time period as Peggy Carter (played again by Hayley Atwell) battles sexism in the office and supervillains undercover, which occasionally gives it the feeling of a 1940's-set Alias (there's a lot of wigs and costume changes for quick deceptions before the roundabout kick in the face). But she's now paired with Mr. Jarvis (James D'Arcy, faring better here than he did on Season 2 of Broadchurch this year), Howard Stark's devoted butler, and the two have a magnanimous chemistry, bringing back a kind of 1960's Avengers tone in their frequent scenes together as they try to politely knock down rude and blunt Americans while operating as the efficient and slick British expatriates that they are.
I mentioned supervillains, and there are some towards the end of the season in the form of Russian hypnotist Ivchenko- this is the Cold War after all, and all things Russian and communist are the enemy in 1940's America, but the show stays surprisingly grounded in a lot of ways, more than I was expecting it to. Aside from the occasional allusion to Captain Steve Rogers and his recent disappearance which left Peggy heartbroken, this is fairly rooted, old-fashioned spy stuff and it's mostly a lot of fun. Hayley Atwell is a strong, confident, supremely professional heroine, a perfect protagonist for a show which asks her to face down some very contentious, Mad Men-style sexism in the office, which is still the S.S.R. in the pre-S.H.I.E.L.D. days, and run by men who treat her as a secretary and shun her ability to do anything else. The show takes pains to showcase its feminist stance, which is an admirable one to take so openly (Agent Carter is run by two female producers, Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas), but also in a welcome touch, the men in charge are eventually developed as more than just pigheads from another era, with Chad Michael Murray and Shea Whigham exposing deeper layers to their characters than it seems upon first glance.
Most of the series is episodic in an old school, network TV show manner, but with enough connecting threads to lead to a big action showdown with Ivchenko and his Russian baddie sidekick (the result of the beginnings of the training program that will eventually produce Back Widow), and it arcs up to Peggy finally taking her rightful place as one of the agents in charge, should a second season come down the pipeline. With the show having been this enjoyable and confident in its period comic-book feel right out of the gate, I'd certainly be bummed if there wasn't.