Monday, April 11, 2016

TV Review: Agent Carter, Series 2 and Star Wars Rebels, Series 2

Quick catch-up time for two shows that finished their second series in the last week or so. I'm afraid it's heading into that time of year where season finales start to snowball up, and even keeping up is getting difficult. At least Star Wars Rebels is on a Saturday morning, and we watch it with the kids, so it doesn't come out of "grown up TV time". It's interesting to see both seasons change and build on their respective firsts, and whilst I'm a lot more confident of seeing more Rebels than seeing more Agent Carter (dammit) they both build solid foundations to go forward with. So lets start with the LA adventures of Peggy Carter, shall we?

Agent Carter still feels like the underdog of comic-themed TV at the moment, beset by constant cancellation rumours almost from the moment the pilot aired. Which is a damn shame, as its also one of the most distinct, with it's female-led cast and period setting, as well as a strong sense of hearkening back to the era of comics in which it's set. Season Two finds Peggy moving from New York to LA (sadly losing Angie along the way) and pursuing a new case in the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. 

Well, sort of. The Hollywood thing sits more in the background; as does some of the promised nods towards the classic era of LA Noir, and whilst it nods towards the endemic corruption of the extremely corrupt LA of the 1940s,  it never really goes there. Instead it focuses on mad science hijinks and moving last seasons subtext into clear, bold, text: Peggy Carter Vs The Patriarchy. So yes, a shadowy cabal of white businessmen (subtly linked to Agents of SHEILDs plot this season, if you're paying attention) are behind a plot that involves a rare Black Scientist and brilliant-but-undervalued-female-scientist-cum-villianess from within their oak-panelled club back rooms. It's not subtle, but it's also a lot of fun seeing them get trashed as the show goes on. 

In some ways the change of focus is a smart move for Agent Carter, allowing it to stretch it legs, and perhaps laying out a framework for how it would continue by changing it's backdrop for each storyline. Some elements carry over - Dottie Underwood, for instance - and some are lost, but the central cast is excellent, and firmly at home with the period dialogue. There is a joy at work in Agent Carter just from the sets and props, and Hayley Attwell is a huge central presence that the Marvel TV universe needs to really hang to at all costs. The future, as ever with this show, seems to be flux, but I sincerely hope it will back. 

Not in any danger of cancellation is Star Wars Rebels, just finishing it's second season with a two-part epic that really cements it's place the heir to the Clone Wars series that preceeded it. One of the main criticisms of the first season was it felt small scale; locked to Lothal and the crew of the Ghost, a long way from the looming Rebellion that I felt sure should be the heart of the show. But with that first season done, and the groundwork laid, Rebels leaves Lothal far behind, and we're off to some proper Rebelling, finally. 

The main arc of Season Two is about establishing the cell that the Ghost's ersatz family and now firmly part of, expanding it, protecting it, and finding it a home. Along the way it's also about transitioning the Star Wars TV shows from Clone Wars to A New Hope, bringing a number of Clone Wars characters forward to the new era, closing off some unfinished storylines along the way. It also finds time to expand on some of the under-used characters from last season, especially Hera and Sabine, both of which get solid development and some stand-out episodes to themselves. 

It's also a show that at times can be breathtaking to look at. Part of the attraction of the Star Wars universe has always been spectacle, and the animation team behind Rebels understand that, be it vast star-scapes of the brilliant flashes of lightsaber duels in the dark (literal and figurative). They also manage to bring a sort of closure to the re-working of Anakin Skywalker as a sympathetic character that Clone Wars did, bringing him full circle to the relentless and brutal power of Darth Vader. If you're a Star Wars fan and you're not watching Rebels, you're missing out on some pretty good stuff.