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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2010-2011 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]
NIKITA (THE CW)
(written by Craig Silverstein; directed by Danny Cannon; TRT: 43:18)
The network's description: "When she was a deeply troubled teenager, Nikita 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. Ultimately, Nikita was betrayed and her dreams shattered by the only people she thought she could trust. 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, is just beginning to understand what lies ahead for her and why the legendary Nikita made the desperate decision to run. The series stars Maggie Q as Nikita, Lyndsy Fonseca as Alex, Shane West as Michael, Aaron Stanford as Birkhoff, Ashton Holmes as Thom, Tiffany Hines as Jaden, with Melinda Clarke as Amanda and Xander Berkeley as Percy. NIKITA is from Warner Bros. Television in association with Wonderland Sound and Vision, with executive producers Craig Silverstein ("Bones," "K-Ville"), Danny Cannon ("CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," "Chuck"), McG ("Supernatural," "Chuck," "The O.C.," "Charlie's Angels"), and Peter Johnson ("Supernatural," "Chuck"). The pilot was directed by Danny Cannon."
What did they leave out? It's somewhere between a total reboot and a thematic continuation of the original film and/or TV series.
The plot in a nutshell: "My name is Nikita," explains the title character (Maggie Q) in the opening narration. "Six years ago I was taken out of prison and forced by a covert unit of the government to be an assassin. Three years ago I escaped and have been hunted ever since. I was the first recruit to get out. I'm going to make certain I'm not the last." And with that we meet Alex (Lyndsy Fonseca), a young woman in Detroit about to face a similar fate. After taking the fall for a robbery gone bad, she awakens to a scruffy man in a suit named Michael (Shane West) who explains the federal government has faked her death. "Your life is over Alex," he reveals. "I'm here to offer you a new one. But you have to be willing to earn it." You see, pretty white girls with no paper trail and a taste for murder are hard to come by - as they make perfect assassins.
And that's exactly what her new life will involve, as an operative for a secret group known as "Division." There she's given the lay of the land by the kind-but-intense Thom (Ashton Holmes), a fellow "recruit"; butts heads with another, Jaden (Tiffany Hines), who's a little too excited about the chance to murder on the government's dime; and befriends, if you can call it that, Amanda (Melinda Clarke, channeling Lady Heather from "CSI"), her instructor in the ways of how to use one's womanly wiles. Meanwhile, Nikita sets her revenge scheme in motion: she visits her abusive foster father, stops by her late fiance's grave, all of which put her back on Division's radar.
Division, headed by the stone-faced Percy (Xander Berkeley), conversely is in the middle of prepping for "Black Arrow," a high profile hit on an African general before he can reach the United Nations. Not surprisingly, both plot lines converge as Nikita makes a face-to-face declaration to both Percy and Michael (with whom she also shares a romantic history): she knows what's really going on with Division and is going to stop them, no matter what it takes. And if that wasn't enough: a closing reveal shows us everything we just saw in the past 43 minutes may not be what it seems.
What works: There's an underlying darkness to the show that's very distinct. Virtually everyone we meet is or is going to be a trained killer, a fact which hangs over them like a cloud, especially the younger characters. A weekly series then about young people coming to grips with murdering for a living (through no choice of their own) - and those that train them to do it - is definitely dark territory and I'm curious to see where it goes. Overall, the cast is solid with Berkeley, Clarke and Aaron Stanford, as Birkhoff (Aaron Stanford), Division's resident "nerd," among the standouts, as each makes the most of their limited screen time; while the action sequences, while not exactly riveting, get the job done.
What doesn't: The plot itself is awkwardly structured as the dual tales of Nikita and Alex don't exactly add up to a complete, or at least a compelling, story. So much of the pilot is spent on Nikita explaining what happened to her to others and that the same thing is probably happening to someone else just like her right now. That's great and all but not only are we being "told" Nikita's story instead of shown, we're being "told" most of Alex's story by proxy, also instead of being shown (a fact that isn't helped when characters frequently say things like "someone else told me that once," wink, wink). Each ultimately spoils the emotional heft of the other as we're given the endpoint of Alex's arc and the catalyst for Nikita's history right from the start instead of going through the experience with them.
And when you factor in that this is a revamping of a franchise - granted one most of the network's target demographic probably isn't aware of - it all feels doubly redundant. Throw in some flashbacks and dream sequences and it often threatens to come off the rails, as the rules of how the story will be told are never explicitly written. To its credit though, the closing moments shift the story in a new direction, one which attempts to validate why the story is being told this way. And while theoretically all the dots do connect, I'm not fully hooked into the characters or their plights. To that end Maggie Q, West and Fonseca do the best with what they're given - I recall Maggie Q having more fun in her brief appearance in "Mission: Impossible III" than here - even if it feels slightly stilted. All things considered, due to the reasons listed above, I'll give this one a shot...
The bottom line: ...even though I'm not exactly jumping at the chance to do so.