ART’S ON TV: Nikita

18 09 2010

As part of my fall season coverage on all the new shows coming out this season (well, nearly all of them now), I’m doing a sort of one-man pilot watch just to see which shows are worth talking about past their first episode’s. Not only that but, this gives me an opportunity to find my voice when it comes to reviewing for TV, so that’s nice. So without further ado…]

ON AUTOPILOT: Nikita

Season 1 | Episodes 1 & 2

The Pilot & 2.0″

From those wonderful folks who brought you 1990 French film Nikita, 1993 remake Point of No Return, and the 1997 television series La Femme Nikita, comes Nikita, a new drama for The CW.

After writing that, I couldn’t help but think, “How many times can you make something based of an original property?” (What ever happened to that “Inspired by:” credit, by the way? Seems cheaper just to do that, or at least something similar, you know…) Personally, I can’t stand it, since it’s like I’ve seen all these elements before, but you know, done better. And there’s nothing wrong with mixing familiar ideas, after all, how many stories this side of the whole spy/assassin universe are truly fresh? But it also means you’ll most likely fall prey to the same obstacles of each of the elements that make up the big idea.

Granted this is a little different than the movies (can’t comment on the show with Peta Wilson, never saw it), as this is the continuation of the events of the movies with our new Nikita, Maggie Q as an assassin who has gone rogue, but still, I felt like I’ve seen this before. And I’m not talking the whole Nikita angle. This is Dollhouse. This is Dark Angel.

This is definitely… a show I’ve seen before.

Case in point: the premise in which our anti-hero Nikita is out for vengeance to bring down the shadowy government agency that stole six years of her life and killed the love of her life is practically the new standard for this type of genre. For Example: Covert Affairs is lighter version of this formula. Speaking of formulas, the show itself is divided into two parts. An A-plot and and B-plot. So as Nikita works to bring down Division, the secret “evil” government agency which recruited her, by sabotaging their missions each and every week, Division is currently training its next crop of young killers, notably a young woman named Alex.

And because the creators decided to go in this direction, I started to see inklings of something interesting and it was everything to do with the contrasting stories between Nikita and Alex. Now, since I’m over a week late on this (sad, I know, but at least now I can mention what happens in episode two), I can safely say that Alex is Nikita’s inside man, which explains how she knows which targets to hit. Which to me, is a shame because you just dropped a compelling idea.

For those unfamiliar to Nikita’s background, in a nutshell: When Nikita was a teenager, she got caught up with the wrong crowd and became an accessory to a crime. She was rescued from incarceration by Division, who faked her death and told her she was being given a second chance. What they didn’t tell her is obvious; she was being trained to be an assassin. Ultimately, Nikita was betrayed and now, after six years in hiding, Nikita is seeking retribution by her attempts to destroy Division.

[Apologies for repeating myself, but you kinda have to tell the first part to explain the second part.]

But better than me, or anyone else, telling you all of this, we could’ve seen a variation of that above for a good chunk of the first season through Alex. That would be a better, more informative recap of the character (with symbolism to boot) than the exposition-heavy pilot of why we should care about our lead we have now. Now, you couldn’t do that all during the entire run of series, but a good six-to-eight episodes of Alex assassin training leading up to her meeting with Nikita… That would’ve made for some good television. Now, it’s sort of a continuation of the vendetta theme, with Alex echoing the revenge-hungry Nikita.

[Though, even this premise has the ability to lose its creditably after a certain number of episodes. Plus, the whole network trick of re-explaining the big beats of the pilot in later episodes to entice the channel surfers is something Nikita does…and is something that should be done away with, in my opinion, what with all the ways to watch the ACTUAL pilot.]

Going down this road, the show has a chance to excel past it’s predecessors, because despite that awesome idea I came up while watching, the revenge angle is just as good and is much easier for people to follow. Nikita is doing to Alex what Division did to her.

Can’t miss that.

The problem with this is there’s no exciting punch to the story. Human Target, another show in the one-hour action-packed thread, does a better job in the genre, ’cause there seems to be more stakes in the story. Take this recent episode for example, in which we learn more about Alex’s backstory. It’s told in five quick parts, with her trying to score some drugs, and in the process, getting into a sexual assault where Nikita ends up having to rescue her. The proceeding vignettes involve her detox, Nikita trying to get this girl to open up, and Alex finally joining up with her. Which were quite good and visually tried those two characters together since they can only communicate through instant messages. (Plus this might be the only time you’ll see them if they don’t continue with the flashback format.)

But everything that happened with Alex in the current timeline, between her rival on the base, between that guy in her first mission, it just wasn’t working for me. I think it was that whole willful suspension of disbelief thing and the fact that I didn’t have it here. I knew she was gonna be fine at the hotel. I knew that bastard who hind the Uranium was gonna die. And I definitely knew, she wasn’t gonna get caught. I get it, I really do. It’s a cliché. This is set in a world that Black Ops organizations go rogue. Our lead mourns over her dead lover. Our lead operates in a extraordinary-sized loft with countless military-grade weapons and lavish outfits without a mention of how she got all of these things.

Wow, what fresh, novel ideas.

But, this is the year of serialized spy dramas, so it’s best to go above and beyond the norm, or else you’ll be left behind in the dust.

Ever seen the latest season finale of Gray’s Anatomy. The reason why everybody talks about that because it goes above and beyond the average soap-opera set in a hospital that it was originally founded on. It would be positively mind-blowing if something that shocking could happen on this show.

Moving past the “tried and true” main plot, there are some highlights though, which include Maggie Q. Just her presence alone was probably why people watched, let alone that fine line she walks week-to-week between bad-ass chick and playing a woman who actually has some emotional vulnerability in her character. So kudos to diversity on CW’s part.

The rest of the lead supporting cast (i.e. – the adults), save for Shane West, is good. Sadly Mr. West, (even with his kick-ass fighting skills in this episode) still seems like a mistake, as well as much of the miscast new recruits. And speaking of mistakes, everyone but Lyndsy Fonseca is a stereotype so far, so on the writer’s side of things, we’re gonna need much more character building if the audience is going to be spending some time at Division. (On a positive note, Ms. Fonseca has really stepped up her game since the last time I’ve saw her, so kudos to her on that front.)

This one’s hard to recommend, even after watching two episodes. It’s certainly no Hellcats, ’cause I was amazed on just how entertaining that was for me. This was merely a paint-by-the-numbers spy genre with a different coat of paint and as much I want to tell you to watch, just for the diversity alone (not just with Maggie, but how there seems to be positive attitude towards the women on the show in general), there are far better shows currently out there working this angle. Plus the fact that the rest of the Primetime networks will be premiering all your favorite show next week really makes this a hard sell.

So without further ado…]
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