Nikita – a Terrific New Twist on an Old Story

I am always dubious of remakes, especially when an original was successful in its own right.  After all, how can there ever be a MIAMI VICE without the original Crockett and Tubbs?  Or a KNIGHT RIDER without the campy fun of the original Kitt and Michael Knight?  Or a BIONIC WOMAN without the heart of Lindsay Wagner?  Truth is, there can’t, as proven by the less than stellar performances of these remakes.  Add to this list STARSKY AND HUTCH and The CW’s own MELROSE PLACE, and my cynical doubts go into high gear.

Of course, there are ‘re-makes’, ‘re-boots’ and then there are ‘re-visions’, where they take the same basic idea and go so far off the grid that the only similarity to the original is the name.  They tend to indicate that Hollywood has either run out of ideas, or wants to play it safe with a product they know had success and will thus bring a built-in fanbase with it in the hopes of duplicating that success.

Now here comes NIKITA to prove all the doubters wrong!  Many of the names are the same, but it is definitely a different world.  Add to that a splashy campaign that made the series look intriguing despite getting some heat for being ‘too racy’ at one point – not the first time for The CW – and my curiosity was peaked.  Despite some initial reservations, I must admit that this new NIKITA is absolutely entertaining!  She is kicking A and taking names!

NIKITA is a name synonymous with action, beauty, style, and intrigue.  These things have stayed consistent since the 1990 French feature film LA FEMME NIKITA that started it all, and the cable series of the same name on the USA network which ran from 1997-2001.  Rather than taking a been-there-done-that approach, The CW’s NIKITA offers a whole new twist: she has deserted her agency and after three years of hiding she has returned to destroy the operation that created her, known as Division.

Unlike the two prior incarnations, this time she is Asian.  Gone are the flowing blonde locks of the statuesque Peta Wilson. And for all the protestations of the die-hard NIKITA fans of Peta’s version, those fans seem to forget that the French original, as portrayed by Anne Parillaud, was a brunette with a pixie cut hairdo.  The one thing that is undeniable from prior versions is the smoldering relationship between Nikita and Michael, which is said to be the heart of the first series.  It will be interesting to see how the newest NIKITA handles this detail.  As things stand now, Michael is the guy at Division given the responsibility of Nikita’s capture.

A familiar name on the Creative Team is Executive Producer McG who has also lent a hand in another successful CW series, SUPERNATURAL, now entering its sixth season.  McG is also closely associated with the successful big-screen remake of CHARLIE’S ANGELS, and his ‘girl power’ approach fits in very well with the image of the young female demographic that CW has decided to build its network around.  Strangely enough, its two longest-running and most successful dramas (‘Smallville’ and ‘Supernatural’) seem to appeal to a wider (and older — gasp!) audience.

This NIKITA stars the charismatic Maggie Q, born Margaret Denise Quigley, of a Vietnamese mother, and father who is of French-Canadian, Polish and Irish decent.  Maggie left her native Hawaii at age 17 to pursue a career in modeling, which explains her rail-thin physique.  That took her on the road to Tokyo, Taiwan and Japan where she did not have much luck.  Ultimately she made her way to Hong Kong and began working with Jackie Chan.  Eleven films made there made Maggie a mega-star in Asia and all that prior action experience has equipped her quite well to handle the physically demanding role of Nikita.  Her co-stars are wonderful and they only enhance the writing of the series.  They include Shane West (last seen in ER) in the role of Michael, who is still a bit one-dimensional, but hopefully that improves in the coming episodes; Xander Berkeley (24, Terminator 2 and a long list of guest roles) perfectly cast as Percy, the big boss and nemesis at Division; and Lyndsy Fonseca (Kick Ass) as Alex, the girl with the troubled past rescued from the streets by Nikita and who is now working as a mole in Division in the guise as one of their new recruits.

This is ultimately a re-imagining of Nikita, not a remake.  Executive Producer Craig Silverstein has been quoted as saying, “My first thought was that I love ‘Nikita.’ My second thought was ‘it’s been done.’  Could it be done fresh? Could we have a take where you didn’t know how this story was going to end?  That’s when I came upon the idea of following Nikita after she had left the agency — which is a story that’s never been told, and at the same time doing justice to the origin of Nikita, that dark fairy tale of taking a girl, changing her identity and transforming her into a killer.”

And judging from the presentation and direction taken in the pilot episode, it deserves to have a successful run. The Pilot contained much narration to set the foundation of the story, and even though that is to be expected with a Pilot, it did not interfere with the presentation of that story and the action.  The second episode titled simply ‘2.0’, went deeper into the backstory of Alex, Nikita’s new protégé, offering both a heart-wrenching and action-packed installment, with Lyndsy almost stealing the show.

NIKITA offers first-rate production values, great scripting, and a leading lady and supporting cast whose personalities pull you into the story and keeps you intrigued every minute.  It joins THE VAMPIRE DIARIES on Thursday to do battle in one of the toughest nights on television and the network was clever to launch both these series a couple of weeks early. This is one new series that I will be looking forward to each week.  And by the way, that phoenix tattoo that you see on Maggie in that racy promo poster?  It is the real deal!

NIKITA airs on The CW Thursdays at 9:00 pm. Tonight’s episode is titled ‘Kill Jill’ and is the third installment of the series