Big franchises are where it’s at these days, and this winter I spent my Mondays and Tuesdays watching two TV series’ tying into movie franchises, both of them the second series of that franchise I had tuned into(In the case of Star Wars: Rebels I’d watched the premiere back in the fall, but missed the other fall episodes because they’d aired at the same time as Dancing with the Stars; thankfully they were all reran later). They also chose to wrap up within a week of each other; Agent Carter‘s first season concluded Tuesdays, and the season finale of Star Wars: Rebels airs this coming Monday. Both of them were quite good; in fact, I would go so far as to say both were better than the recent movies(although that’s an incredible thing to say in one case, and maybe not so incredible a thing to say in the other), and both have had me on the edge of my seat these final weeks. And both were very much made for fans of the franchise, and gave them very much what they wanted. And now it’s looking like only one of them might come back, which is really sad.
Especially because the one with undeservedly low ratings hanging over its head, Agent Carter, is undisputedly the better of the two. Hey, you’ve got to be something magnificent to be better than some of the movies Marvel’s put out recently. But while with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. the movieverse initially struggled to master this different, longer medium of storytelling, they have now figured out how to turn this extra screentime to their advantage, telling a longer, more complicated story, while still giving us enough at the beginning to make sure we don’t get impatient for the good stuff to arrive. Also, here I must admit I was wrong; earlier, I wrote that the other characters, with the potentially exception of Jarvis, were really only functioning to define Peggy Carter’s situation, struggle, and story. But the series managed to find time to give especially her two co-workers a longer and more complicated story of their own, with themselves and with each other as well as with her, and even gave her doomed boss enough that we really grieved when he went out. I kind of wish they’d given her new BFF a little more, but given how much of the story Angie couldn’t be involved in, I suppose they did all they could for her, and when she did get her episode and her role to play, it was a good one. If there could only be a second season, I suspect she’d get far more chances to shine. But the great shining light of the series is still Hayley Atwell, Marvel’s first female lead, and it’s especially painful that the low ratings will discourage more female leads, when they’ve proved pretty damn good at writing one when they put their minds to it.
Star Wars: Rebels too is basically good, telling an interesting story with characters we can like and bond with and root for, and sometimes even getting as dark as I think any show aimed for a younger audience would dare, especially with its portrayal of the Empire, sometimes, of course, in ways that comment on our own darkening world. But perhaps there’s the big disadvantage for Star Wars: Rebels, in that it’s aimed for a younger audience, and so sometimes the priority is less on the story and character complexity(even if these things are not neglected) and more on giving them what they are thought to want, that is, more stuff like what we see in the movies. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, especially as with the people and the pieces of technology and the music cues, Star Wars: Rebels sometimes feels more Star Warsian than the prequels did-these ties favor the original trilogy, since the creators are wise and know that’s what people want most. And yes, seeing things like Wookies and Threepio & Artoo is delightful. But it also feels kind of contrived, and you know you’re being pandered to, even as you enjoy it. Agent Carter perhaps has the advantage in that it’s about a setting and characters were such tie-ins can come in very naturally; you may gasp when Steve Rogers’ blood shows up, but it’s not something out of place.
I’ll certainly be watching Star Wars: Rebels at some point next season, whether I have to catch it on the reruns again or not. But it would be nicer if Agent Carter was still around the next night for some true quality TV for adults.