TV Review: Nikita vs. La Femme Nikita

Written by Jesse Gelinas July 19, 2012

Row 8, Plot 30

Cherchez la femme. Dans la nuit.

Okay, we’ve got a complicated one here. In 1990 Luc Besson made the fantastic French thriller, “Nikita”. In 1993 John Badham remade it for American audiences as “Point of No Return” (not quite so fantastic). In 1997 North American cable networks were taken by storm by the Canadian TV adaptation of Besson’s film with “La Femme Nikita” (1997-2001), the number one program on the USA Network for two years. In 2010 Warner Bros went back to the well and dug up our girl Nikita, for a new “Nikita” series on the CW. Got all that? With this current incarnation going into its third season the real question is whether or not this new American reimagining measures up to its 90s counterpart. We’ll see…

Vs.

The Story

The two series differ in many ways in the telling of their respective tales. While the first season of “La Femme Nikita” (hereafter LFN) was largely compartmentalised, each episode consisting of a fully-contained case/plot, wrapped up within the hour, it was used mainly as an introduction to the characters and a set up for what would become its story arc over the following three seasons. In season one we see Nikita’s recruitment into Section One and her advancement as an effective, if begrudging agent. As the story unfolds further, her ability to keep her morality intact while completing missions and dealing with a blooming romance becomes the driving force of the show. While many films and programs of the time dealt with the faceless organization as the enemy, this show brought audiences into the belly of the beast, working from within.

“Nikita” jumps right into the action with the story already in full swing. Nikita has already left the agency (called ‘Division’ here) and has gone rogue, attempting to bring her former employers down after the death of her fiancé. She manages to plant an ally of hers in Division and uses this intel to her advantage, gaining more allies as the story goes, while also encountering enemies, old and new. While this is a fresh take on the story, it is one that has been told a thousand times in films, and better. It seems a plot better suited to a film, and not an ongoing show.

The Cast

The two shows contain many of the same supporting characters, while the main difference lies in how they are portrayed. LFN’s Operations is replaced with “Nikita’s” Percy. Both serve as a kind of ongoing antagonist to Nikita; however, in LFN’s Operations was much more ambiguous in his villainy. While he was cold and ruthless, he was also trying to save the world most of the time, and so was a much more compelling character. LFN’s Madeline is replaced with Amanda. Both are portrayed as master manipulators for Section One/Division, while Madeline also serves as a motherly figure for LFN’s Nikita. Amanda serves as an arch-villain. Ultimately, LFN’s characters are simply more interesting in their ambiguity.

The Leads

      

LFN’s Nikita is played by Australia’s Pita Wilson. Homeless and without hope, she finds herself wrongfully convicted of murder and recruited by Section One solely on her “beauty and ability to kill”. Her attempts to hold onto her morals while staying alive feels real and desperate as we know she was just an innocent woman in the wrong place at the wrong time. She is vulnerable but resilient and we watch as she becomes stronger and smarter each season.

LFN’s Michael is played masterfully by Canadian Roy Dupuis. His cold, detached demeanor hides an ultimately decent man, jaded by years in the Section. He is calculated, disciplined and always gets the job done. Nikita’s romance with him becomes a driving force and still one of the better couplings on television. This pairing, made great by the chemistry between Wilson and Dupuis, is the heart of the show and helps punctuate the action.

“The world outside these walls is an illusion. It’s not really there for us. We’re ghosts.”

Maggie Q’s Nikita is well acted and written well, better than most TV heroines. Distancing her from Wilson’s performance is her lack of innocence found in the original series. This Nikita is already a seasoned agent and killer, and so is no longer battling her conscience daily. This makes for better action, but not as immersive characterization. It is harder to feel Nikita’s struggles as we have not been with her from the beginning.

The romance between Nikita and Michael is still present in this series, but serves as little more than fanfare for diehard LFN fans. The chemistry is just not the same. Shane West has zero charisma and seems to have been cast solely on his looks. The show drops the ball in a huge way by missing the target completely with a character as important as Michael.

And the winner is…?

Both series hold their own place in TV Land, and both have qualities. Overall though, “La Femme Nikita” was fresher, better acted, and ultimately more memorable. If I’m right, this new Nikita will end up under Row 8, Plot 30 very soon.

La Femme Nikita: 8.5/10

Nikita (2010): 6/10

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About Jesse Gelinas

After years attempting to escape the Matrix, Jesse has accepted his fate as a writer and Senior Editor. Now that's he finished with his film degree, it gives him something to do while waiting for the machines to get careless.

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  1. I would like them to make a movie of Michael and La Femme Nikita where they left off. I truly want to know if they ever meet again. I truly love that show and I don’t like the new Nikita.

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