The DVD Journal | Reviews: La Femme Nikita: The Complete First Season
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La Femme Nikita: The Complete First Season

A woman is torn between her compassionate side and the needs of her employer. She is also torn between the newfound skills she has acquired and the lure of domesticity represented by the co-worker she finds herself falling for. And her bosses are irritable, cold-hearted authoritarians whose decisions are irreversible. Sound familiar? It's La Femme Nikita — and practically every other dramatic series on television. Though on the surface La Femme Nikita is about a virulent team of anti-terrorists, like most shows it is really about the workplace and how to cope with it: how to deal with bosses you don't like, how to handle tasks you don't approve of, and how to survive work-related romances. What's also unusual is that the Toronto-based Nikita is one of the best shows derived from a movie, in this case quite obviously Luc Besson's rambunctiously Americanized film of the same title released in 1990 (an American remake starring Bridget Fonda and called Point of No Return was released in 1993, and in fact the series occasionally uses shots from this film). Long before Jennifer Garner was recruited off a college campus as a spy on Alias, the titular Nikita was convicted of a murder (one that in the show she didn't commit) and though officially sentenced to death, was really scooped up by scouts for a top-secret government anti-terrorist agency. The first season follows the original movie closely and more or less covers the full narrative arc of its source, from homeless person Nikita (the exotic Peta Wilson) joining Section One, her training as an assassin, her tentative romance with her supervisor Michael (Roy Dupuis), and her final disappearance. The first season ends where the film ends, but on television Nikita battled on for four more seasons. In a way it's ever so appropriate that Nikita ended up on Oxygen after its run on the USA Network; the show's concerns are very much those of American series, which is to say women's concerns, such as making moral choices that don't harm one's integrity in a world more or less run by men with male values. La Femme Nikita also happens to be one of the best shows based on a movie (M*A*S*H the show was better than the movie, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer is so far superior to the source film as to render it null). The producers of Nikita also understand that television acting is all about the eyes, which are active within an otherwise expressionless face. The television screen is both too small yet too closely intimate at the same time, and the stars who take viewers by storm almost always have rather expressionless faces, making them able to be framed tightly without evincing actorial quirks that later prove embarrassing. The first season includes a number of fine episodes: "Love," in which Nikita and Michael pose as a married couple, "Recruit," wherein Nikita is called upon to judge a new Section One member not unlike herself, and "Noise," in which the viewer learns more about computer expert Birkof (Matthew Ferguson). From its coital theme-song to its array of Alias-style costume changes, from its cold-blooded men to its hierarchy of repressed, locked down people, the 22-episode first season of Nikita is a weirdly sexy show. Its set and costume design and music all conspire to elevate Nikita above the usual run of team-oriented syndicated action series. Warner Home Video has put together a fine package of the first season, with sharp full-frame transfers. The six-disc set comes unusually lavished with extras, which appear on discs One, Two, Three, and Six. First off is a commentary track by Joel Surnow and Robert Cochran (who also came up with 24), along with director John Cassar. The difference between television tracks and movie tracks is that (in one reviewer's experience, anyway), the TV tracks tend to be more honest. In the first of the set's two tracks, the three men are surprisingly frank about tricks, flaws, and any problems they had with the show (such as a soon-discarded set). Thus, when they say something good, such as about Wilson's remarkable ability to combine playfulness, lethalness, and concern in one character, we believe that they really believe it. Surnow does a track for the 22nd episode. There also are nine deleted scenes with optional Surnow commentary (some good, some bad, but as a whole tending to present a more emotional Michael and a more girlish Nikita). On Disc Six there's a 12-minute doc called "Section One Declassified: The Making of La Femme Nikita" that is about 40 percent better than the usual thinly disguised trailer. In it, we learn (as we also do on the first audio track) that the show's creators at first hated Dupuis (emotionless, talked too low, moved too slow) until they got hip to the subtle interpretation he had brought to the role. Subtitles come in English, French, and Spanish. Six-disc folding digipak with slipcase.
—D. K. Holm



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