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Marvel's 'Agent Carter' review: Off to a good start

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The Marvel's "Agent Carter" series features character Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell, reprising her role from the film series) and James D'Arcy as Edwin Jarvis on location at the Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills, Calif. Photo Credit: TNS / Kirk McKoy

WHAT IT'S ABOUT The year is 1946, and Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell, of the "Captain America" franchise) is back in New York working (secretly) for the Strategic Scientific Reserve, formed during the war to fight the bad guys who are still out there. She's a bit sad (her boyfriend, Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, is apparently dead) and a bit mad, too: The guys in the office, who include chief Roger Dooley (Shea Whigham), Ray Krzeminski (Kyle Bornheimer) and Jack Thompson (Chad Michael Murray), essentially send her out to get the coffee. Then she meets an old friend: secretive billionaire Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper, also reprising his "Captain America" role) and his man servant, Edwin Jarvis (James D'Arcy).

MY SAY Who is Peggy Carter? Cut her, she bleeds... Hit her (as those bad guys tend to do ) she hurts, although you wouldn't want to get in the way of one of her fists, either...

She's tough, but she's also emotionally accessible -- just another way of saying she actually cries. She's an underestimated woman in an overbearing man's world, but she'll correct that injustice in short order.

To make "Agent Carter" work, and work well, Atwell and ABC knew she needed to be a relatable human first, and a subsidiary member of the populous Marvel universe second. Those priorities are straightened out efficiently on Tuesday's (opening) episode.

You -- assuming "you" are actually someone who never even heard of a "Captain America" -- don't really need to know she was the former squeeze of a presumably dead superhero, or that she had a history with SSR (later absorbed by S.H.I.E.L.D) during the war. That background information in fact is condensed into about a minute at the outset, but this turns out to be a minor misstep. It's TMI -- there's no need to know anything immediately, other than perhaps a hint of a mysterious relationship with one Howard Hughes lookalike. All that other stuff should and will parse out in its own good time.

In keeping with Marvel's now-established mandate to pour Fort Knox amounts of money onto the TV screen to match similar if greater amounts poured onto the big-screen hits, the pilot is a beauty: sumptuous, pastel-colored, cinematic, and touched up with enough details (an Automat) to almost recall a lost New York, circa 1946.

Meanwhile, an answer to that question -- "Who's Peggy?" Atwell is. Emphatically so. Watch her through "Agent Carter's" smoky blurred lens and you almost suspect she was born a century too late, and would've turned even LB's or Jack Warner's cynical, seen-'em-all heads. She dons a blond wig and suddenly Veronica Lake is evoked. Goes back to brunette, and there's a distant reflection of Jane Russell or Hedy Lamarr.

Fanboys will swoon. Maybe even a critic or two.

GRADE B+

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