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"Nikita" - The Best Show You're Not Watching While You Burn Calories

By Seth Freilich | TV | February 22, 2011 |

By Seth Freilich | TV | February 22, 2011 |

I’m not nearly as diligent about going to the gym as I should be. With two back surgeries in my recent past, a bum knee that’s been increasingly bummy of late, a bit of the tendinitis, and an ever-growing Lover Belly, I’m a hot mess that should be living at the gym. But it’s god damn hard to motivate, you know? That said, having new episodes of “Nikita” to watch makes the motivation a little easier. “Nikita” isn’t a great show, but it’s a well-made, glossy, low-brow action show which makes it kinda perfect to watch in the gym while running on the treadmill, climbing the stairs, ellipticalling the elliptical, or doing whatever your cardio of choice is.

The series, like Nikita, Point of No Return and “Le Femme Nikita” before it, is about an assassin who has gone rogue from those who trained her. The series begins well after Nikita (Maggie Q) has left the secret government agency known as Division, and while Division is carrying on with training new assassins and doing its shady business, Nikita is doing her best to subvert their shady business and ultimately bring them down. Because the series jumps right into the action, as it were, we were spared from generic early episodes giving us the rote plotlines of watching Nikita join Division, watching Nikita betrayed by Division, and ultimately watching Nikita betraying Division herself. We still get most of these scenes, but rather than spending half of a season or more on it, we get the important business through flashbacks scattered throughout the first handful of episodes. And the viewer is still able to get introduced to Division through a stranger’s eyes, only instead of through Nikita, it’s through Alex (Lyndsy Fonseca), Nikita’s young mole who’s just been roped into Division.

Despite going insanely off the rails, “Alias” left its indelible mark as the show about a bad-ass female action hero, and “Nikita” doesn’t particularly shy away from the recent J.J. Abrams show. In fact, it practically begs for comparison — there’s a secret black-ops agency that isn’t really a government group but it’s own rouge thing, headed by an evil and powerful man. The evil man’s number two has emotional ties to the female spy who’s now trying to bring them down, and her goal to take them out is driven by the fact that they killed her lover. SD-6, meet Division. Arvin Sloan, meet Percy (Xander Berkeley). And although “Nikita” isn’t as good as “Alias” was when the show was at its best, it’s a decent successor. And the reasons why it’s a decent successor are also the reasons it’s the perfect gym show.

For starters, it’s a well-made show. Even though it’s on the much-derided CW, it has a good enough budget that the set pieces don’t look cheap, and when it’s called on to use special effects, they generally serve their purpose. It’s well shot and is a relatively visually interesting show — mind you, it’s not great cinemetography like the best cable shows, but it’s certainly more visually interesting than the crap you’ll see on something like “Glee.”

Second, the action is solid. It’s always kept fast-paced, but not so quick-edit fast-paced that you’re unable to follow what’s going on. And the show does a decent job of changing things up, so it’s not always Nikita against two guards kicking one and punching the other, etc. — there’s hand to hand, and gun fights, and explosions, and all the good shit you want in your action, mixed-and-matched as appropriate. Now that said, it should be made clear that Maggie Q is no Jennifer Garner. She’s even skinnier than Garner was on “Alias,” requiring even more suspension of disbelief when it comes to her kick-assness, her moves just aren’t generally as good as Garner’s, and while Maggie Q is by no means one I’d kick out of bed for eating crackers, I mean, c’mon:


That said, Maggie Q serves the purpose because, again, this isn’t a great show and doesn’t need to be a great show. When not called upon for action bits, Maggie Q is good (though again not as strong an actress as Garner when it comes to the good emotional core of the show) and she, and the action in general, holds my attention. And that’s all I want out of a gym show. Which brings me to the third thing, which is that the show is good enough to keep me invested, appropriately distracting me from the laborious grunt work I’m performing. Plot-wise, the show mixes some serialization, mainly in the form of Nikita’s quest to take down Division (which, over the course of the young series has garnered certain new allies in addition to Alex), with a mission-of-the-week format. The weekly missions are decent enough — they’re not revolutionary spy/action plotlines, and when there are “twists” you can usually see them coming a mile away, but they’re not generally over-the-top bad, and are coupled with decent writing and strong performances, particularly from Fonseca, Xander Berkeley and Shane West (West plays the number two guy at Division and though his squint and gravelly voice toe the line of being ridiculous, he’s just able to swing it and keep it relatively grounded).

The serialized aspects of the show aren’t particularly strong and given the quick little “previously” segment before most episodes, you could jump into the show right now and feel pretty comfortable. But that’s part of what makes this the perfect gym show, because the last key ingredient is that “Nikita” is not something that you have to focus on with every ounce of your viewing ability. You get distracted at the gym, and if you space out for a minute staring at the ass on the elliptical in front of you, you don’t want to have to deal with rewinding the show when you come back to reality. And that’s not the case with “Nikita” — the slower bits of the show aren’t loaded with details, so if you miss something, because you space out or because you can’t see some detail on your little Android/iPhone screen, it’s OK. The show will bring it up again if it’s important, and you’re smart so, even if that doesn’t happen, you’ll figure it out.

Actually, I lied. The last key ingredient for a good gym show is the soundtrack. And “Nikita” has a great gym soundtrack, loaded up with bumping, umph-umphs. When the action scenes start and this music kicks in, it motivates me to start pushing a little harder and faster, and when I’m working out, I’ll take all the motivation I can get.

Long story short, “Nikita” is a good, glossy little action show. It’s not an “important” show, it’s not one that’s likely to get (or particularly worthy of) much critical or award attention, and most of your friends probably haven’t even heard of it. But that’s not it’s purpose. It’s purpose is to help you get your ass in shape, so hop on the iTunes and get yourself a Season Pass. Your fat ass will thank you.

Seth is a Senior Editor and sometime critic. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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