Thursday, March 25, 2010

La Femme Nikita the Series

Before the rush of original programming for cable stations, most cable networks aired MASH, movies, syndicated cartoons and more MASH. Few shows were true cable originals. Some syndicated shows like Baywatch, Xena or Hercules were good, but had weird schedules. Of the early original programming shows, La Femme Nikita was a notch above the rest. Peta Wilson and company kept it tight on Sunday nights.

La Femme Nikita was a series based on the French film Nikita. Great spy premise: unwilling young woman on the outs of society is snatched by a shadowy organization and turned into a spy but always has the fear of being terminated. Everyone on the show was bad but doing it for good. Nikita was an innocent woman thrown in with these jerks to fight terrorism. The lead was likeable and was the newbie through which the audience could question the environment and setting. The spy show was not just special effects, explosions and action sequences. There were actual plots, twists, story arcs and chemistry (good and bad) between characters.
I never knew that the show had budget issues which is why it scaled back the action and focused on writing good dialogue and crafting good stories. There was a general progression to the Nikita character and the show. This is like the opposite of Alias, which used stunts often, made far too many HUGE changes, and the writing went down the toilet fast. There was usually one good action sequence around the 40 minute mark. A great thing about having good writing and a lead viewers cared about was that even if the action wasn't super intense, you wanted to see Nikita come through and survive.
Nikita is the glue to the show. She is the white hat hero who works with a bunch of black hat anti-heroes. She has to perform missions and do things she genuinely does not want to do. She is likeable. She lives the dream or nightmare some people think "what if I could be a super spy but had to say goodbye to my past". She was attractive, but not an overpowering beauty. If the show were made today for a network, they'd cast some bimbo. It wouldn't work, since part of the show's charm was nikita's tough look. She had an accent, but her face had a look that didn't match it. Although looking at her now, she is Amy Smart's doppelganger. She had a sporty build, and it was plausible that she could wreck people up.
La Femme Nikita was original programming for USA as it transitioned out of old movies and syndicated reruns into the USA it is today: crappy original programming and Law and Order reruns. Ok, strike that, maybe not all change is good. La Femme Nikita did usher in original programming for cable stations. It showed that cable could make money off of dramas and find niche markets amongst the 500 channels competing for eyeballs. Maybe the fuss over Breaking Bad and Mad Men owe a small portion of their existence to the small, Canadian show on the USA network La Femme Nikita.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i agree with you. a show like nikita was really before its time. it was underappreciated . the intensity of the show didn't focus on stunts or action sequences. the real gem was the acting performances and the things that you had the option of plugging in. they really set the bar high and it just got better and better.