Sunday, March 01, 2015

TV: Agent Carter demonstrates a path forward

Years and years ago, Fox owned one night of TV thanks to The Simpsons. Then, in the fall of 1997, they began to own Monday nights.

It's a lesson worth remembering now that ABC's Agent Carter has wrapped season one.


The ABC action series stars British actress Hayley Atwell playing British Peggy Carter who works with American intelligence.  This was a master stroke by ABC.

The show's ratings varied from episode to episode -- not unlike Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Which was more than okay, it was marking space and time for that series which was on winter hiatus.

And it succeeded.

Take a look, by contrast, what ABC did while putting Revenge on winter hiatus.

The Bachelor.

Repeating, The Bachelor.

There's no spill over there.

There's no holding an audience for Revenge's return.

While Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. viewers were interested in Agent Carter, Revenge fans largely don't give a damn about The Bachelor.

Peggy Carter is known to most Marvel fans from the comics but even more so from Atwell's portrayal in the films Captain America: The First Avenger and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. 

So building a winter break series -- an 8-episode winter break series -- around Peggy Carter was a smart move.

It was also smart since Marvel is rightly facing critical slams for its failure to present strong women.

The Avengers film, for example, managed to bypass strong female characters like Scarlet Witch, Wasp, Carol Danvers and more.  Instead, the film was male dominated -- the Hulk, Iron Man, Hawkeye, Thor and Captain America -- while featuring one female action character: Black Widow.

In addition, Marvel action films have featured Thor, Spider-Man, Iron Man, the Hulk, the Punisher and others solo.  But there has been no effort to serve up any female led films.

The original Spider-Woman, for example, with her S.H.I.E.L.D. roots and her nemesis Morgan Le Fey, should be a natural for the big screen.

But instead, Marvel's now attempting to transport Ant-Man to the big screen.

And over at the X-Men?

It seems to us if Bryan Singer just barely survived a male pedophile scandal, you'd work a lot harder at shoring up women on screen.

Bryan's gotten in trouble for numerous films -- the nudie scenes of young boys in the shower of Apt Pupil, for example.

We stayed on the sidelines and offered no opinion when a man stepped forward to claim Bryan Singer had sexually abused him before the man was of age.

We have no idea whether the man was telling the truth.

We do know that other ticking time bomb accusations are out there.

So maybe the franchise should stop hiring based on cock size and return to being about the comic book that features male and female X-Men?

In the first three films, Jean Grey and Storm were front and center.  In the first two it was Jean, Storm and Rogue.

Bryan Singer has rebooted the show as laddie cock fest.

Tight costumes on tight groins, hiring the latest flash-in-the-pan to play Magento solely due to the actor's well known and extremely large cock, all this starts to add up.

Another pedophile accusation and, true or not doesn't matter, the teen boy audience flees the super hero franchise that gets campier and campier.

It doesn't help that Jennifer Lawrence is playing Mystique.

She's fresh faced and she does have an Academy Award.  She's just not sexy.

Worse, she plays Mystique as the victim.

Rebecca Romijin has no Academy Award (at present).  But her Mystique was deadly, dangerous and sexy.

Jennifer Lawrence whimpers around on screen as Mystique and does so in that pear-shaped form and boxy face.

You really think Lawrence is going to hold teen boys if Singer's image implodes?

And is anyone noting the bad word of mouth on the new Jean Grey?

(Teen boy ticket buyers are necessary when your shooting budget is so large.  And you're not going to attract female ticket buyers to Jennifer Lawrence playing a victim who is repeatedly told what to do by one man or another.  That's a far cry from her ability to sell tickets in the Hunger Games franchise by playing a strong woman of action.)

Yeah, Marvel has a lot to address and will have real trouble retaining teen boy ticket buyers if Byran Singer gets accused of preying on more of them or if the almost-Joel-Schumacher-like shift to filming males continues while the Patty Duke of the 2010s, Jennifer Lawrence, is presented as the last word in female sex appeal.

Marvel's X-Men franchise built an audience by serving up strong female and male characters but beginning with the Dawsonization of the series (X-Men First Class was like an episode of Dawson's Creek where Dawson and Pacey discover that they have super powers), women had no real role other than victim or hand-maiden.

Into this environment, Agent Carter showed up and presented a strong female.

For air head Sady Doyle (In These Times), the character and the show weren't 'feminist enough.'

Sady made her mark last year -- a urine stain -- by declaring the sick, slasher TV show Hanibal to be a "feminist" series.

Sady, Sady, stupid lady.

She types the following:

But first, the show itself: It’s 1946. World War II is over. Captain America is missing, presumed dead. Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) is leaving the world of superheroics, and returning to work for the Strategic Scientific Reserve, where she is treated poorly. This coincides with women being pushed out of the workforce—which they had successfully claimed while the men were away at war—to give jobs to returning GIs. The parallel is duly noted, early in the pilot; a bit of feminist history is learned by all. Also, there are fabulous vintage outfits. Atwell looks splendid in them, and she can act, as well.
[. . .]
In one scene, a Captain America radio serial (yes, now even comic-book adaptations are set in a universe that contains comic-book adaptations) plays as the punches go down, contrasting the helpless, heavily fictionalized “Miss Carver,” (that is, she's the fictionalized version of the fictional woman who is the “real” woman in the fiction we're watching where people consume this fiction… oh, fuck it, she's the one on the radio) begging for Captain America to rescue her with the “real” Miss Carter, who’s kicking ass on her own and can kill you with a fork.

It’s heavy-handed—and, in a re-telling, perhaps slightly confusing—but effective. The message here is, “Yes, comic book adaptations often reduce women to damsels in distress, but that’s over now. Look at Agent Carter.” 

Poor  Sady.

The radio show?

It's the same commentary.

The same as women being kicked out of their jobs.

Poor stupid Sady.

So quick to finger bang herself while watching a cannibal, so slow to read film history, Sady should familiarize herself with Marjorie Rosen's Popcorn Venus which explains how women went from being strong leads (Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, etc) in the WWII era films to appendages as the war ended.

The radio serial on the show is acknowledging how popular culture -- in the time the series is set in -- took strong women and weakened them.

There are feminist moments in the show, the sort Ms. magazine once offered in the years when Gloria Steinem was in charge.  The magazine saw itself, then, as a primer, establishing first principles repeatedly.

That Agent Carter does the same may make it feminist.

It may not.

But in the post-WWII era, we'd rather watch Barbara Stanywyck in any film rather than the insufferable Celeste Holm.

Were Stanwyck's post-1945 films feminist?

Possibly they were, possibly they weren't.  We can debate and have that conversation.

But she carried films playing strong women in the post-WWII era, films like Christmas in Connecticut, Cry Wolf, No Man of Her Own, The File On Thelma Jordan, The Two Mrs. Carrolls, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, Clash by Night, Titanic, Witness to Murder, Cattle Queen of Montana, Sorry Wrong Number, Crime of Passion and Forty Guns.

To appreciate what Stanwyck accomplished, you have to know the era and you have to know what her peers were doing.  Feminist Katharine Hepburn was getting spanked over the knee by Spencer Tracy in Adam's Rib.  Then she played the sad spinster in Summertime.  Then she played the sad spinster in The Rainmaker, she was 49-years-old at the time, whose family tries to marry her off.

The alternative to the degradation of existing female stars during this era was largely the elevation of 'soft' women and uber bitches.

Within that context, why not enjoy Agent Carter which is a rollicking ride?

Viewers clearly did judging by the ratings.

And it retained the audience for Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

That's no small feat.

ABC would be smart, next season, when sending Revenge on hiatus, to offer a limited-series starring Ashley Madekwe in her Revenge role as Ashley Davenport because, while Agent Carter was holding the audience, The Bachelor was sending it running to CBS.

For the record, The Bachelor has an audience.

But it's not Revenge's audience.  And all it did was send the audience for scripted drama over to CBS.

We started with the story of Fox grabbing Monday nights.

It's not a well known story.

At its most limited and basic, Fox landed a hit with Ally McBeal.

The longer -- and more truthful story -- is one of how CBS, desperate to sink their hit sitcom Cybil, kept reshuffling it and airing something else in the second hour of Monday prime time.  Only then does Ally McBeal become a hit.  CBS gave Fox that hit by running off the CBS audience.

With more and more shows taking winter breaks, networks need to be thinking about limited run series that can fill in during the breaks and, most importantly, limited run series that can retain a show's audience.

With Agent Carter, ABC offered not only an entertaining replacement series, they also charted a possible future road for other limited series.

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