Nikita -- TV Review

"Nikita"
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They don't make butt-kicking babes like they used to on television. As successful as heroines who punched their way into primetime on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Alias" were, audiences haven't tuned in for shows that have attempted to fill their void (R.I.P. "Dollhouse," "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles," "Heroes"). The CW's bid, "Nikita," probably won't do much to change that track record, though a "Vampire Diaries" lead-in provides an enviable launch pad.

It's pretty shrewd of the CW to dust off the "Nikita" franchise rather than introduce a brand new warrior grrl. The 1990 French film "La Femme Nikita" proved to be a pretty durable piece of intellectual property, already having spawned a viable 1993 remake in the U.S. starring Bridget Fonda and a USA Network series with Peta Wilson later in the decade.

The CW puts its own spin on the "Nikita" premise. Rather than simply retelling the story of the eponymous character (Maggie Q), a comely agent bent on destroying the top-secret agency that first drafted her into service, this version adds a story line following the agency's efforts to train a rambunctious new recruit (Lyndsy Fonseca).

It's a savvy restructuring, considering that Fonseca might be more appealing to the CW's young-female base than Q, who can convincingly slit a throat clad only in a bikini but is an inert presence in scenes that don't require violence. Fonseca has the same doe-eyed dewiness that Sarah Michelle Gellar brought to "Buffy" (though she's an unlikely choice for such a physical role given her gig as Ted Mosby's future daughter on "How I Met Your Mother" -- where she's been literally couch-bound for the entire series).

More unlikely casting: Puppyish "ER" doctor Shane West turns up as an agency baddie. Although villainy isn't especially evident on his resume, he acquits himself with appropriate insidiousness, as does "The O.C." vet Melinda Clarke, who also plays an agency overseer.

The pilot comes across top-heavy with exposition and flashbacks that lay out a dense backstory. While a rich mythology typically is mandatory for an espionage series to attract a cult following, it could prove a barrier to entry when piled too high at the beginning.

Given that the combat-ready ingenue is starting to feel like an endangered species, maybe "Nikita" could play on viewers' sympathies. But if the series doesn't work out, don't despair; ABC is working on a "Charlie's Angels" reboot for later in the season.

Airdate: 9-10 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 9 (the CW)
Production: Warner Bros. Television in association with Wonderland Sound and Vision
Cast: Maggie Q, Shane West, Lyndsy Fonseca, Aaron Stanford, Melinda Clarke, Xander Berkeley
Executive producers: Craig Silverstein, David Levinson, Danny Cannon, McG, Peter Johnson
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