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Josh Reviews Agent Carter: Season Two

I really enjoyed Hayley Atwell’s character, Peggy Carter, in 2011’s Captain America, The First Avenger, and I was thrilled when her character spun off as the lead of a TV miniseries last year, Agent Carter.  That first season was solid though not spectacular.  Ms. Atwell was terrific, a superb leading lady, and the show was entertaining if not hugely compelling.  (Click here for my full review of Agent Carter season one.)

(Quick summary of my thoughts on Marvel’s TV shows: I adored both Daredevil season one and Jessica Jones season one, two dark, adult shows with rich characters and a thrilling intensity. In contrast, I have been very disappointed by CBS’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., a show that I feel has been very flat since its beginning. That show has a decent cast but it’s failed to make any of its characters interesting or compelling, and the story-lines have been dull and simplistic. I finally gave up on the show this year.)

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Agent Carter season two picks up a few months after season one, and the location has shifted from New York City to Los Angeles.  Peggy Carter quickly finds herself in the middle of a situation with a crazy woman infected by a powerful substance from another dimension (“Dark Matter”), and a secret cabal of men working to take control of the United States.

For the most part, I feel that Agent Carter season two is very consistent with season one.  That’s good and bad, as the show is certainly enjoyable but it doesn’t elevate into something really great.  Compared to the brilliant Marvel Netflix shows, this network effort feels very simplistic.  Still, Ms. Atwell is phenomenal, effortlessly shouldering the burden of her leading role. The show is fun, with a fairly light, banter-filled tone. The “pulpy” story-lines keep the audience interested, and once again the show mines great fun from the period setting.  (At first I was disappointed when I realized this season would be set in LA rather than New York, but in the end I loved the switch as 1950’s LA proved a fertile ground for the show, and its bright sunny scenery was a good match for the show’s light tone.)

The biggest problem with Agent Carter is that Agent Carter is by far the most interesting character in the show.  I wish Ms Atwell was in a better show, surrounded by more interesting characters and more compelling story-lines.  While the show didn’t lose my interest at any point, neither was anything that happens in this season all that exciting or gripping.  Last season, the show squandered the potential of Leviathan, which was billed as a vast criminal organization that was instead, as realized on the show, just an old man and a young woman.  Similarly here in season two, we learn of a secret cabal of men with aspirations for world domination, but we don’t actually see them do much of anything other than try to rig a minor California election and then get rolled over by a crazy lady.  The main face of this cabal is Vernon Masters (played by the usually great Kurtwood Smith), whose one-note sinister smarminess got old for me very fast.

I also wasn’t ever taken by Whitney Frost as the main villain.  She was an evil loony-tune right from the beginning, so there wasn’t much of an arc for her character, nor did she ever seem like much of a match for Peggy.

Far more interesting was Dottie Underwood, making a brief return from season one. I didn’t find her that interesting back in season one, but here she was a hoot, a super-capable anti-Peggy.  I was sorry she dropped out of the show for the last few episodes.  (I also wish the show had better sold Peggy’s insane actions setting her free.  How Peggy ever thought she could control Dottie seems ludicrous. And the show never seems to acknowledge that Peggy now has on her hands the blood of everyone Dottie killed following Peggy’s breaking her out of custody.)

Returning from season one was Edwin Jarvis (James D’Arcy), and I enjoyed this character even more than in season one.  Jarvis is still a prissy fellow, but this season wisely played up both his loyalty to Peggy and his usefulness.  It also finally gave Jarvis a reason to show some emotion with a tragic development late in the season, and that was interesting to see.  The high point of the season for me came in episode nine, when Jarvis and Peggy finally had an argument. That was a very compelling, very human, live-wire moment. I loved it and would have loved to have seen more of that.

Also returning was Enver Gjokaj as Daniel Sousa.  Mr. Gjokaj is a solid actor but Sousa didn’t have much to do this season, despite having been promoted to Chief of the LA S.S.R. station, other than to look doe-eyed at Peggy the whole time.

I wasn’t expecting to see Dominic Cooper back as Howard stark, but I was thrilled that he popped up for a few episodes. I love this character, and Mr. Cooper is perfect in the role. I missed him when he was gone (and unfortunately the show didn’t do a great job of explaining why Howard kept popping in and out of the action).

The first season made a joke out of Jarvis’ never-seem wife. Wisely, the show runners understood that joke had played out and actually introduced us to Jarvis’ wife this season, played by Lotte Verbeek.  She was great. I would have loved to have seen more of her.

A major new character this season was the scientist Jason Wilkes, played by Reggie Austin.  As with almost every other supporting role in this show, Mr. Austin is a solid actor and his character was fine, just somewhat flat and not all that compelling.  A lot of the drama this season hung on this character’s fate, but I found I didn’t really care what happened to him.

I did enjoy the appearances in the back half of this season of comedian Ken Marino, playing the mobster Joseph Manfredi.  His over-the-top schtick is exactly the opposite of what I want to see in these shows– as I commented above, I far prefer the gritty naturalism of the Netflix shows — but Mr. Marino was so entertaining that I can’t really complain.

In the end, season two of Agent Carter was a fun run, and I enjoyed having two additional episodes this time (ten hours versus only eight in season one).  I would love for there to be a season three.  It’s not realistic to hope for this show to turn into the style of a Marvel Netflix show, so instead I’ll just wish that, if we are lucky enough to get a season three, they make the other characters smarter and more interesting, more of a match for Hayley Atwell’s wonderful Peggy Carter.

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