I’ve never seen Luc Besson’s 1990 film La Femme Nikita, nor the 1993 American remake Point of No Return. I have vague memories of commercials for the USA series that followed in the late 1990s, but I don’t recall ever, you know, watching it.
I’m in the heart of The CW’s target age group (if not gender), though, so I imagine that’s what the network expects — maybe even wants. I recognize the brand, but I’m a blank slate. I couldn’t tell you how The CW’s Nikita fares against prior iterations, but the first episode left me mostly impressed. My review after the jump.
Nikita certainly earns the Alias comparisons that have been tossed about (“Spy vixen kicks butt!”), but the mythology of the series emits some serious Dollhouse vibes to this viewer. Here’s how star Maggie Q (Mission: Impossible III) sets the stage in an opening voice over:
“Six years ago I was taken out of prison and forced by a covert unit of the government to be an assassin. Three years ago I escaped and have been hunted ever since. I was the first recruit to get out. I’m going to make certain I’m not the last.”
As Nikita plots her revenge against the generically-monikered Division, Alex (Lyndsy Fonseca) is one of the elite few recruited by Michael (Shane West) following a bank robbery gone wrong. She learns her way around headquarters, including an introduction to Amanda (Melinda Clarke), an instructor whose specializes in the usefulness of feminine wiles to the spy game.
The pilot, directed one-time CSI regular Danny Cannon, is very slick. To my eye, as slick as anything the major networks put together with their comparably major budgets. The dialogue — credited to Craig Silverstein and David Levinson — is a bit clunky in undertaking the effort to establish the complexities of the world via exposition, voiceover, and flashback. The attempt to split the screen time between Nikita’s story and Alex’s was likewise awkward at times, though things should coalesce better in future episodes.
The major takeaway from episode one: Maggie Q is a star. Of all the fall season’s new hopefuls, she ties with Lone Star‘s James Wolk for “Most Poised for a Breakout.” She’s endlessly charismatic, a credible action star, and capably shoulders the sometimes overwrought drama thrust upon her. And she can wink! The wink is an undervalued art, but you’ll find out by the time the credits roll that Q is a Grade “A” winker.
Fonseca is a competent second lead in a role that requires a lot of deception: she’s come a long way from countless reaction shots as Ted’s future daughter in How I Met Your Mother. It’s hard to come away from four seasons of The O.C. without some sort of fondness for Clarke, and she’s well-cast here in the role of credentialed seductress. I wouldn’t say West shined as Michael, but he didn’t specifically botch any of scenes. A notable feat in a role that could be problematic to the series without some deft acting.
There is some concern that the heavier dramatic elements could weigh down the ongoing series. But the balance was just about right in the first episode, a very fun hour.
Nikita airs Thursday nights at 9/8c on The CW, starting September 9th.