Whatever its other attributes, credit “Nikita” with one of the most arresting outdoor ad campaigns in recent memory, courtesy of photogenic star Maggie Q. Yet the show itself has more dimension than expected, despite being a reboot of a movie (“La Femme Nikita”)-turned U.S. remake-turned cable TV show. As series centered on female action heroes in shadowy spy organizations go, this promising newcomer more closely resembles “Alias” than its ostensible namesake, and while Q is probably more adept at flaunting her butt-kicking skills than emoting, the pilot is head-turning enough to warrant a second look at the show.
As with any such exercise, the producers must disgorge a good deal of backstory on the fly to keep “Nikita” moving — and not incidentally, ensure there’s time to showcase their star in various stages of dress and undress. They mostly accomplish this mission, while dangling threads about where the story’s heading to further tease viewers along.
Having been trained to kill, Q’s title character made the mistake of falling in love — never a good idea in this line of work — and has subsequently broken from the agency. Meanwhile, her former stewards are busy recruiting a new young urchin (Lyndsy Fonseca, “Desperate Housewives”) to bolster their ranks, putting her through assassins’ boot camp.
The parallel structure provides insight into how Nikita was molded into a killing machine before going rogue, vowing to bring down the folks who equipped her with the talents to be very, very dangerous.
Those bad guys include Xander Berkeley as the agency’s chief and Shane West (“ER”) as his operative, tasked with neutralizing Nikita. Despite a dearth of gravitas in some of these casting choices, the prototype hums along with brisk setpieces, providing the lithe Q an opportunity to demonstrate some of the moves that made her popular in Hong Kong martial-arts films.
Granted, there’s no secret to the formula — a concoction of leering sexuality and stylized violence. But it’s executed with panache, and initially doesn’t compel any of the principals to do much more than look great (a task to which they’re well suited, in characteristic CW fashion).
Whether those elements can sustain “Nikita” over the long haul remains to be seen, but the pairing with “The Vampire Diaries” is certainly shrewd. Stiff competition for Thursday eyeballs won’t make the task of seducing viewers any easier, but at least CW has come to this fight armed with the right weapons — and a heroine who doesn’t suck.