Nikita Returns to The CW

On January 6, Nikita, the fourth entry in a long-running media franchise, returns to television in the United States on The CW.

If you’ve never heard of Nikita, you’re not alone. The origin of this show is rather implausible for what is now a cult classic franchise in American television. Nikita’s beginnings start in 1990 in France, in the Luc Besson film of the same name, about a teenage junkie who participates in the robbery of a pharmacy owned by a friend’s parents. The robbery devolves into a gunfight with local police, during which her cohorts are killed. Suffering severe withdrawal symptoms, she murders a policeman. Nikita is arrested, tried, and convicted of murder and is sentenced to life in prison, where her death is faked, and she is abducted by a secret government organization and trained as an assassin.  In 1993, it was remade for American audiences as the film “Point of No Return” featuring rather flat acting by Bridget Fonda.

Perhaps the most well-known incarnation of Nikita is in the 1997 series “La Femme Nikita” which was a breakout hit on the then fledgling USA Network, starring Australian actress Peta Wilson as Nikita, and Canadian actor Roy Dupuis as Nikita’s trainer, Michael, along with Eugene Robert Glazer, Alberta Watson, Matthew Ferguson and Don Francks. This version of Nikita deviates from the film in that Nikita, who is guilty of murdering a police officer in the Luc Besson original, is framed in this series. The program relies on drama somewhat more than it does action, due to the limited budget sizes available on basic cable. One unintentionally fun aspect of this series is Walter, the head of Munitions played by Don Francks, who acts as something of a father figure to Nikita. You quite likely know Francks from a wide variety of roles in his 40-year acting career, one of which happens to be the original voice of Chester Cheetah.

Maggie Q as Nikita in the CW series "Nikita", a reboot of a 20-year-old media franchise.

The newest incarnation of Nikita, which airs in the United States on The CW and in the UK on Sky Living, stars Maggie Q (left) in the title role. This new series takes a fresh spin on the franchise, with a plot that takes place after Nikita escapes from Division, the secret government organization that trains assassins. Also new in this incarnation is Alex, played by Lyndsy Fonseca, a protege of Nikita who infiltrates Division in order to help bring it down. Shane West takes on the role of Michael, Nikita’s former trainer from Section and love interest. Rounding out the cast is Xander Berkeley, who plays Percy, the ruthless and corrupt leader of Division, Melinda Clarke as Amanda, Percy’s second in command, and Alberta Watson, who returned from USA Network’s La Femme Nikita to play Senator Madeline Pierce.

On it’s own merits, Nikita is a solid program with capable actors and competent writers. What makes this show unique is that Nikita brings to the table a wide variety of things that simply don’t happen elsewhere in American television. For starters, Maggie Q is the first Asian-American lead actress in a broadcast television series in the United States. The show also makes extensive use of long sequences of subtitled dialogue between characters. To a greater point, Nikita arguably has the most diverse viewing audience on The CW, a network that has, since it’s inception, struggled to reach an audience beyond the 13-34 year old female demographic. The network has relied mostly on programs left running from it’s predecessor, The WB, a reboot of the Aaron Spelling drama, “90210” and a program about vampires (as if more of those were needed.)

To make matters worse, CW affiliates owned by Tribune Television have worsened the identity crisis, by dropping the CW branding from it’s affiliates, for things that are, more often than not, worse. Tribune tried in 2009 to re-brand Denver’s CW affiliate on Channel 2 as “The Deuce” in an attempt to attract a younger audience, which is quite possibly one of the worst decisions I’ve ever seen in broadcast television. But, I digress.

This program, right now, is deserving of your attention. It’s a solidly written action/drama that defies the status quo of American television. It’s a change, and it’s good.

 

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About Jamie Sanders