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Seven reasons to watch Nikita

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I know I've been going on and on about the TV series Nikita for the past couple years, but it looks like I've never actually posted much about why I like it. So here's an attempt to rectify that.

  1. The main thing that I watch this show for is the relationships among the characters. I'm a total sucker for characters who love each other; by season 3, it's possible that the warm fuzzy happy family vibe would turn off those of you who (like most people, I think) prefer their shows to have CONFLICT! BETWEEN! PROTAGONISTS!, but for people like me who like to just bask in a happy glow, it's lovely.

    And the show is all about THE FEELINGS. For example, it has regular scenes (that I love) in which two of the male leads discuss Nikita and how they feel about her and the relationship one of them has with her; it's the kind of scene I'm used to seeing done between two female characters, and I love that the show does it with men and that they're totally unselfconscious about it.

  2. The protagonists. Nikita is pretty uniformly awesome (and one of the few women of color in the lead role of a current TV series). I regularly swoon over Michael: hot, noble, competent, wounded, not afraid to express Feelings (see above). I think the writing quality for Alex's character has varied more than for the others (she's had to be kind of shoehorned into a couple of major plot developments), but I mostly think she's great. I disliked Birkhoff a lot at first, but by the beginning of season 2, he had become one of my favorite characters (see below re geek jokes). I really like the less-prominent protagonists and recurring good guys, too.
  3. The villains. This is much less true in season 3, but in the first two seasons, the villains were deliciously and awesomely evil. Especially Percy and Amanda: both master manipulators, both smarter than almost anyone else. Percy is kind of a cross between Hannibal Lecter (except without the cannibalism) and Arvin Sloane.
  4. The factions. This too is much less true in season 3; but especially in season 2, at any given time there were anywhere from about four to about eight significant groups of characters with their own goals that were at cross-purposes with other people's goals. I loved that; I'm sure it was hard for new viewers to make much sense out of things, but it was really nice to see a show that wasn't just good guys vs bad guys.
  5. The kick-ass women. The two mainest of the main characters are both women, and both extremely good at fighting. (And most episodes pass the Bechdel test, though there are episodes that don't.) But there are also a bunch of other women on the show, in major and minor parts: a psychologist/torturer villain; a smart and geeky hacker; a couple of prominent politicians; an idealist; and a bunch of others, including quite a few other agents who are really good at spying and/or hand-to-hand combat.
  6. The willingness to reinvent itself. In the first season, it felt to me like every few episodes the show took a sudden turn into being a different kind of show. I suppose it's possible that they were flailing about trying to figure out what kind of show it was, but it didn't feel that way to me; it felt like they were keeping it fresh and surprising, and like they were way more willing to take risks and avoid formulas than most shows. Season 3 has been, by and large, more stable, with fewer risks, but even so there've been some pretty significant shifts.
  7. The geek jokes. Birkhoff is a geek, and his dialogue gets better and snappier and funnier and more geek-referencing as the show goes on.

I'm not really sure who the show's intended target audience is. It probably has way too much violence for the people most likely to enjoy the relationship stuff, and it has way more relationship stuff than I expect to see in a show about blowing stuff up. The complicated faction webs and multi-episode plots in the first two seasons presumably turned off people who wanted simple one-episode stories, but the people who love the long-form complexity may find season 3 too ordinary.

But regardless of who the target audience is, I'm apparently part of it, because it really works for me. For two and a half seasons now, it's been my favorite show on TV, and now that Leverage has ended and Doctor Who is between seasons, it's the only current show I'm watching at the moment.

A major event in January resulted in a sudden spike in viewership, but the audience seems to now be back down to where it was toward the end of season 2, which may well mean that it won't be renewed after season 3. And it's possible that they're running out of interesting foreground stories to tell anyway.

But the writing team has so many author points for me that I expect to keep watching as long as they keep making the show.

The show is not, of course, perfect. There are some episodes that don't do much for me, there are some holes in plots, there are some genre conventions that make no sense, there are some lines of dialogue that fall flat. The occasional handling of disability stuff is not going to win any awards. And so on.

But even so, it's an awfully good show. I recommend it.

If you're interested, the first two seasons are available on DVD. (And anyone local to me who has a Blu-ray player is welcome to borrow my discs.) At any given time, the most recent five episodes are available to watch for free on the CW's website (at nikita.com). The first five eps of season 3 are available via iTunes.

But I recommend starting at the beginning if you can.

(I feel a little weird about not discussing the show's complicated history here. I don't love it as much as I loved first-season Alias; I haven't seen the first La Femme Nikita TV series, so I can't compare it to that; and I wasn't a huge fan of the movie that started the whole franchise. But unless you're such a big fan of the 1997 TV series that any reworking of it would feel like sacrilege, I think this reboot series works well in its own right, without needing to know any of the meta-backstory.)

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