Saturday, October 29, 2011

'Nikita' Season One (2010)

Starring Maggie Q, Lyndsy Fonseca and Shane West
Developed by Craig Silverstein
Based on the film "Nikita" by Luc Besson

I don't watch much of the shows offered by the CW network; "Smallville" had long-since become a mere joke, leaving only the hilarious and fun "Supernatural" to make the whole enterprise worthwhile.  But when the CW shows began streaming on Netflix, I found myself with the opportunity to try out "Nikita," the network's new attempt at a straight action-adventure show.

Based on the French film of the same name, "Nikita" is actually a mish-mash of sequel and reboot.  Set six years after the events of the film (also meshed with an earlier TV series called 'La Femme Nikita' that aired on the USA Network in the 1990s), this new series follows former secret agent Nikita (Maggie Q) as she attempts to destroy the organization known as Division.  Division, a government black-ops agency that has gone rogue, is headed by the vicious and conniving Percy (Xander Berkeley), who keeps a series of "black box" hard drives at secret locations around the globe.  On these hard drives are the secrets of five presidential administrations, to be used as blackmail for Percy to continue getting the funding and equipment he needs to use Division as his own personal hit-squad.

Nikita used to be part of Division, their star agent.  But now she uses her knowledge, resources and former contacts to bring them down.  Aiding her is a young mole within Division, discovered and trained by Nikita herself: Alex (Lyndsy Fonseca), heir to a former Russian empire, her family destroyed by Division years earlier.  Nikita often faces off against Percy's right hand man, Michael (Shane West), Nikita's former handler.  Alex faces threats from Amanda (Melinda Clarke), Division's lead psychologist, who takes pleasure in manipulating recruits and has terrible methods for divining the truth. 

Nikita and Alex tread carefully, trying to foil Division's missions without raising suspicion about Alex's true allegiances.  Over the course of the season, Nikita will gather new allies in her battle, and discover that Percy is planning a terrible attack on the United States government in order to cement his power.  Nikita and Alex must find the black boxes and stop Percy and Division from plunging the world into war.

I have to admit, after watching the confusing and stuffy pilot episode, I wasn't too enthused to continue on with "Nikita."  But I rarely give up on a show after one episode, always willing to give something a fair shake.  "Nikita" grew on me.  By episode five or six, I realized I was chewing through multiple episodes per sitting.  The show is by no means a great drama, indeed the show's attempts at emotional storytelling often fall flat.  More so, those attempts often seem like flat-out ripoffs of other shows in this genre - heavy are the influences of "Alias" and "24."

Still, what works in "Nikita" is what worked in those shows, as well: a dedication to thrilling, if ridiculous, spy action.  This is not a show that prides itself on realism.  Though it doesn't dip into the realm of science fiction or fantasy, the show likes to sidestep considerations of things like the fact that it takes four and a half hours to travel between New York City and Washington DC.  But whatever.  If I can deal with Vin Diesel and Paul Walker dragging a vault through the streets of Rio, I can handle Nikita's magical ability to appear anywhere in the United States (or even abroad) at a moment's notice.

Whatever the show's budget, it appears to be used well.  Sets are large and detailed, action sequences are big and impressive.  The show has scenes set all over the world, from snowy Russia to the deserts of Africa and all over the US, and yet it rarely appears fake or staged.  Maggie Q, already an action star in her own right, obviously handles her fight scenes quite well.  And they are impressive scenes, to be sure.  There are plenty of cool fights throughout the season.  "Nikita" could probably survive on these alone, but thankfully the plotting ends up being fairly competent despite the shaky start.  The twists and turns and backstabbing are rarely surprising or shocking, but they're just enough to maintain solid interest.

I'm not too familiar with the original film, I first saw it many, many years ago, nor have I seen more than a handful of episodes of the 90s series, so I'm not sure how well this version stands up or how well it meshes.  My understanding is that it sort of picks and chooses pieces of the various continuities to form its own.  I found this "Nikita" to be solidly entertaining.  It lacks the emotional depth of "Alias" and doesn't fall victim to the ludicrous turns of "24" but is still pretty decent.  It's well made, and the cast is game.  The show could use an injection of some humor to keep it from being too self-serious, but otherwise this is fine spy entertainment.