In the US: Thursdays, 9/8c, The CW
In the UK: Living. Starts October. Available on iTunes
La Femme Nikita is probably one of the most influential French movies of the last couple of decades or so. It got remade in the US with Bridget Fonda, it span off a TV series with Peta Wilson and now The CW is spinning off another TV series called Nikita. But it’s also influential in other terms: you can look to shows ranging from VR.5 to Covert Affairs to even Buffy to see the descendants of Nikita – the kick-ass heroine who has a potentially romantic relationship with her less action-packed but still strong, emotionally shut down male ‘handler’.
The plot of the original movie, followed by all the other versions, is that a female junkie is arrested committing a robbery. She’s sent to prison and while there is told that the government has taken an interest in her and want her to join their top-secret agency. She agrees and after faking her death, she’s taught not only how to be a spy and fight the bad guys with potentially unethical techniques, she learns how to be a Lady rather than a common street thug. After a while, ‘Nikita’ as they call her decides she wants to leave ‘Division’ and has to escape from her new bosses, helped by the handler who’s grown to love her (‘Michael’).
Now the last TV series, despite the escapism, was clearly for adults: it was masterminded by neo-con Joel Surnow before he went on to co-create 24 and enjoys many of the same attitudes, concepts of how terrorists operate and what our responses should be. There was frequent torture and murder. It was still obviously escapist, and made 24 look realistic in comparison, but it was clearly a show with some real guts.
But the new Nikita is on The CW, which is best known as the home of Smallville, America’s Next Top Model, Gossip Girl, 90210, Privileged, Life Unexpected and a whole variety of teenage/young adult programming (Supernatural being the strange exception).
So how are we going to get teenagers into this? Well, the answer here is that this Nikita instead of recreating the movie carries on a few years later. Nikita, now played by Maggie Q, is still on the run but has now decided to get her revenge on Division. Meanwhile, Division is still recruiting – and guess what: it’s got a whole bunch of new teenage girl recruits.
When she was a deeply troubled teenager, Nikita (Maggie Q, “Live Free or Die Hard,” “Mission Impossible 3”) was rescued from death row by a secret U.S. agency known only as Division, who faked her execution and told her she was being given a second chance to start a new life and serve her country. What they didn’t tell her was that she was being trained as a spy and assassin. Throughout her grueling training at Division, Nikita never lost her humanity, even falling in love with a civilian. When her fiancé was murdered, Nikita realized she had been betrayed and her dreams shattered by the only people she thought she could trust, so she did what no one else before her had been able to do: she escaped. Now, after three years in hiding, Nikita is seeking retribution and making it clear to her former bosses that she will stop at nothing to expose and destroy their covert operation.
For the time being, however, Division continues to recruit and train other young people, erasing all evidence of their former lives and turning them into cold and efficient killers. One of these new recruits, Alex (Lyndsy Fonseca, “Kick-Ass,” “Desperate Housewives”), is a beautiful girl with a violent past and a story not so different from Nikita’s. After her parents were murdered, Alex’s life completely derailed. Haunted by her horrific past, she ended up drug-addicted and homeless until Division “rescued” her and brought her into the fold.
Division’s top authority, Percy (Xander Berkeley, “Kick-Ass,” “24”) spent years being a good government soldier, taking his role as an insider and using it to turn the secret organization into a lucrative spy-for-hire shop. With Nikita gone rogue, Percy will do whatever it takes to destroy her and protect the empire he’s built, and he often turns to his top lieutenant, Michael (Shane West, “ER,” Once and Again”), for help. Michael trained Nikita when she was a recruit and is now faced with the responsibility of tracking down his renegade student. At the same time, Michael is in charge of training Alex, Nikita’s young replacement, along with other recruits, including Thom (Ashton Holmes, “Boston Legal”), who has been at Division for a year and is anxious to prove himself, and Jaden (Tiffany Hines, “Bones”), a beautiful and tough young woman who challenges Alex at every turn.
The recruits all spend part of their training with Amanda (Melinda Clarke, “The O.C.,” “The Vampire Diaries”), a master manipulator who can turn any ugly duckling into a swan and any bleeding heart into a killer. Her use of psychological warfare and strategy is key to Percy’s entire operation. Amanda has only had one failure during her tenure at Division: Nikita, the recruit she was never able to break.
Nikita also left her mark on Birkhoff (Aaron Stanford, “Traveler,” “X-Men: The Last Stand”), the nonconformist computer genius who was caught hacking into the Pentagon’s system from his college dorm room and was recruited into Division at the same time as Nikita. Birkhoff never admits to anyone that he misses his former colleague, and he has managed to hold onto his own rebel spirit, his geek-speak and his slacker dress code.
This is the world of Division that Alex now finds herself facing everyday, and she is just beginning to understand why the legendary Nikita has dedicated herself to taking them down.
“Nikita” is from Warner Bros. Television in association with Wonderland Sound and Vision, with executive producers Craig Silverstein (“Bones,” “K-Ville”), David Levinson (“The Commish”), Danny Cannon (“CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” “Chuck”), McG (“Supernatural,” “Chuck,” “The O.C.,” “Charlie’s Angels”), and Peter Johnson (“Supernatural,” “Chuck”).
Is it any good?
It’s actually pretty dreadful. It’s got two things going for: some semi-decent fight scenes and a halfway acceptable ongoing plot. Otherwise, it’s stupid, poorly acted action cobblers that even the target audience of teenage girls should properly turn their noses up at.
Firstly, the show has no edge. It has fight scenes, yes, and it’s all made to look very Bourne Identity. But they’re not very well executed and they lack logic. Nikita’s in a hotel, about to face off against another agent, who has a gun and a knife. Then some civilians walk by. Does the agent kill them? No. Then he gets attacked by someone else. Does he use his gun? No. Instead he uses the knife, and while he’s doing that, Nikita walks by him, pushing a trolley. Does he draw his gun and shoot her? No. Does she draw her gun and shoot him? No.
And it’s all like that – fights that wouldn’t happen and fights that should have happened not happening.
Division is also spectacularly dumb. They have Nikita surrounded with hundreds of agents. Rather than instantly shooting her with tranquillizer darts, injecting her with a poison or just shooting her, Nikita gets enough time to get out her mirror so she can see who’s behind her (because Division boss Percy has just told her she’s surrounded) and then even more time to get out her lipstick.
Then we have the ridiculous teenagers who have been recruited. For a bunch of street kid murderer junkies, they aren’t half Heathers. There’s even the usual – I kid you not – ‘black bitch’ character (©Tyra Banks, America’s Next Top Model) for the new white kid to get put down by and have verbal fights with. Okay, this is for teenagers really, but they have seen action movies. They do know that in the prison lunch scene, the main character is going to be threatened and then distract the other person and use cutlery as a weapon to show they’re really alpha dog. This is a cliche and even teenagers will know it.
Then we have the whole Nikita/Michael situation. Never has there been such a chemistry-free relationship in all the Nikitas there have been. To be fair, Maggie Q, while good at fights and action scenes, is made of wood and couldn’t put emotions into a line of dialogue if her life depended on it, so it’s not Shane West’s fault necessarily. True, he’s not much better, but for a show called Nikita to have such a dull Nikita and a dull Michael? Oh dear.
There is a slight reveal at the end. You’ll have probably guessed it before the end, but I won’t spoil it for you. It’s quite a dumb reveal that makes no sense (spoiler: sure, Nikita knows Division’s tactics, but how could she be sure that that particular girl would get recruited?) but at least it’s a twist and it does indicate that the whole teenage girl side of things isn’t an utter waste of time.
But largely, this was a painful hour of TV viewing, with mind-numbing stupidity, bad acting and terrible clichés sticking their thumbs in your wounds at every possible opportunity. Steer clear of it.