Get Carter Back
ABC finally canceled Marvel’s Agent Carter last week. The short-run winter series, which spelled the fall and spring halves of Agents of SHIELD these past two years, had been a ratings disappointment. Once star Hayley Atwell was cast by the network in a potential regular-season legal drama, now picked up to series, writing met wall.
You can’t entirely blame ABC, who clearly wants to be in business with Atwell.
SHIELD itself hasn't exactly been a ratings bonanza — due in part to ongoing identity crises, tensions between Marvel’s film and television enterprises that leave the big-screen blockbusters bereft of nearly any reference to (and, thus, what should be no-brainer promotion of) the show, and the general demands that “peak TV” has put on viewers’ time. I’ve enjoyed both SHIELD and Carter, however, even as what they do well makes my frustration over what they could be doing better all the greater.
Atwell has played Peggy Carter on screens large and small, delightfully, since 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger — in a direct-to-video short film that led to the ABC series, in SHIELD flashbacks, and in subsequent movies. Her show has brought us Jarvis in human form, a Soviet predecessor of the Avengers’ Black Widow, and so-called Zero Matter, a.k.a. Darkforce, seen on SHIELD and in the upcoming Doctor Strange. Carter’s fate in the present-day MCU — the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as the shared live-action world of Avengers, etc. is known — was referenced in last week’s Agents of SHIELD and current box-office hit Captain America: Civil War, but Agent Carter has always been a period piece, and she’s as much a part of MCU history as Howard Stark.
Variety TV critic Maureen Ryan, making a case for Agent Carter's revival, has suggested Netflix as a potential savior. The show is a period piece, its existing seasons are short and highly serialized and thus ripe for bingeing, Marvel already has a relationship with that platform (via Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and other solo series that will lead, Avengers-style, to The Defenders), and Netflix is home not just to serialized dramas but to anthologies like Black Mirror. Given all that MCU history to explore, I’d love to see Atwell reprise her role as part of an anthology — Marvel’s Strange Tales, let’s say, to borrow from its library — that wouldn't demand too much of her time, rotating installments of Carter with the Howling Commandos in wartime, early years of SHIELD, adventures of Sharon Carter, whatever Lance Hunter and Bobbi Morse are up to now that their own spinoff series isn’t happening, the Dominic Fortune character planned for that show, even Asgard’s Warriors Three if budget allows.
The MCU films employ various tones within their overall sci-fi/fantasy superhero framework, just as Agent Carter had a more screwball feel than Agents of SHIELD, which a Netflix project would do well to capitalize on. Like Marvel’s other anthology comics of the era, Strange Tales began life telling standalone stories of alien visitors, weird mystic curses, and such, but as the Marvel Comics Universe took hold it ended up co-featuring two very unlike strips in Doctor Strange and Nick Fury, so a broad array of content shouldn’t be a problem. And if you ask me, Peggy Carter is one fine broad.
Updated and revised November 2018
Agent Carter images © 2015, 2016 ABC Studios & Marvel Television.
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