Saturday, 10 January 2015

Premiere reviews: BROADCHURCH (series 2) & AGENT CARTER

Saturday, 10 January 2015

This week, global success BROADCHURCH returned to try and maintain its reputation as a premium crime drama; while Marvel launched their second comic-book television show, AGENT CARTER...



ITV's world-conquering Broadchurch returned for an improbable second series; more the result of astonishing success than storytelling need. The secrecy was unprecedented (nobody had a clear idea what direction Series 2 would take before the premiere), but I wasn't immediately grabbed by how creator Chris Chibnall's decided to continue the story..

It appears that we'll be sticking to the murder-mystery storyline of Series 1, albeit in the form of the ensuing court case, exacerbated by the killer deciding to plead 'not guilty' and put his alleged victim's family through unnecessary torment. It was a plausible development, and it make sense for a show that was primarily about small-town relationships to explore beyond the mere arrest of a local killer… but, in my opinion, there's nothing terrible enticing about this. Unless the story upends everything we knew about Danny's murder (which would risk sullying the reputation of series 1), it's an open-and-shut case I don't need to see raked over. The killer admitted his guilt and we saw a flashback to the fatal moment last year, so was Broadchurch lying to us back then?

Fortunately aware this series can't become a 'whydunit' through and through, the premiere planted the seeds of a fresher mystery involving a case Detective Hardy (David Tennant) failed to solve in the neighbouring Sandbrook, which was part of his backstory last year. It seems we'll be following the after-effects of that investigation, too, while being treated to flashbacks of a clean-shaven Hardy.

It's too early to say if Broadchurch's odd balance of storylines will work, or if audiences will soon ache for the simplicity of the original murder-mystery, but I must confess to having serious doubts. The trial doesn't interest me because it's a no-win situation, dramatically, and prequels are always tough nuts to crack...



Which leads me nicely onto ABC's new comic-book adventure series Agent Carter, which is filling Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D's timeslot during its winter hiatus. Hayley Atwell reprises her role as the eponymous heroine from Captain America, in an adventure drama set during the years after Steve Rogers crashed in the Arctic. Peggy's a tough gal in a man's world, where 1940s society patronises and underestimates the fairer sex—who, post-WWII, are now ready to be considered equals.

Indeed, Peggy's a great deal more capable and intelligent than her male colleagues give her credit for, and her friends believe she's just a telephone exchange operator when she's actually risking her life to protect the world, inspired by Cap'n America (whose red-white-and-blue costume was amusingly mirrored in Peg's sartorial choice early in this premiere). To be honest, if there's one major criticism of this premiere it's how the script relentlessly overplayed the show's subtext that Peggy can outperform the men but is constantly hindered by societal constraints.

There's no doubt Agent Carter's debut was a great deal more energetic and enjoyable than its forebear, Agents of SHIELD, helped by the fact Peggy's a more memorable and important figure in Marvel's universe than Agent Coulson ever was. It was also nice to have a small appearance from Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), Tony's inventor father, who had a significant role during Iron Man 2, and to learn that his human butler Jarvis (James D'Arcy) was clearly the inspiration for Tony's AI version.

Little things like that made this premiere feel meaningful, although by its very nature as a prequel there are unfortunate obstacles. It can't run parallel storylines to Marvel's movie blockbusters (which are all set in modern times), so can only foreshadow known events; and we're already aware Peggy grows to be a very old woman in Captain America 2, which means her life's never in serious jeopardy. It's The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles all over again!

Still, Atwell's having a grand old time as the eponymous heroine, and is a brilliant choice to lead a TV show like this, while the old-school adventure flavours the '40s period evokes feels fun. It also seems wise to test the water with an eight-episode "miniseries", rather than try to instantly convince viewers it's must-see television. Hopefully lessons have been learned from Agents of SHIELD (which is having a fantastic second season right now, but struggled when it began), and Agent Carter's going to be someone audiences want to keep tabs on.