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Nikita: The New Femme Fatale

Good enough that even fans of the original may like it.

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The original La Femme Nikita TV series developed such a rabid cult following that when it was initially cancelled, the furor and uproar it caused led to a shortened fifth season renewal. The fifth season was, of course, terrible and quietly I’m sure, people would have been happier if they left it at four. It is however, this passionate fanbase that still drives the lore of the series today. Fuelled in part by the show’s characters and the many twists they took throughout its run. Created by 24’s Joel Surnow, it’s easy to see in retrospect that it was the template to many of 24’s story arcs. Much of the cinematography, editing and action sequences perfected by the latter can be seen in their infancy through La Femme Nikita. It was a daring show driven by Peta Wilson and Roy Dupuis’ chemistry and mystery, characters whose complex layers and allegiances tested viewers expectations. It looks and feels dated today, thanks in part to the quick-cut editing that has become the norm for action-based series, but it was on the forefront of a landscape that would later be dominated by the 24s and Alias’ of contemporary television.

Nikita, The CW’s latest series reboot is a surprise in itself as it traverses the busy spy-charged schedule of prime time. Taking elements from both the original French film of the same name, the American remake and the Canadian series, Nikita is the dark-toned, sexualized modernization of an already modern concept. The introduction we get to the series is a smart combination of the both the film and the original series, convoluting the premise enough to leave viewers with a sense of intrigue as the pilot wraps. There is familiarity; a teenage girl is arrested and jailed by police only to have her death faked by a rogue government organization (Division) that recruits them as assassins. Alex (played by Lyndsy Fonseca) is initially recruited as the series opens, and we expect her to play out the part, but we soon discover that she is holding more cards than the viewers are led to believe. It is a unique twist that sets this update apart- all the more so as we are soon graced by the presence of the new NikitaMaggie Q. Unlike previous adaptations, Nikita is on the outside of Division, an ex-agent returning to the fold driven to destroy the organization from within. It is a smarter premise, and gives Q her opportunity to display all her spectacular femininity and serious face-kicking vengeance with style.

For any red-blooded male, there is no additional enticement required other than Maggie Q herself (superlatives have been exhausted trying to properly exemplify her magnetism). However, it isn’t just an explosion of sexuality that drives this show. She shows vulnerability, humor, and a brokenness that cannot always be hidden beneath her poised rage and determination. She is as ruthless as she is beautiful and never has a Nikita been this captivating (no disrespect to Peta Wilson of course). We see through the first few episodes that there is a compassionate side to her, and while it is in retrospect a result of what has happened to her through a troubled childhood and time as a Division agent, her nurturing of Alex demonstrates humanity within her character.

The series is still in its infancy but a weakness of the early episodes is rather unfortunately the character of Michael. Played by Dupuis in the original, there was a sense of mystery about him. Rarely spoken and oft brooding, his actions louder than words were the trademark of his character’s distinct appeal. Shane West tackles the role and while he is sound in the acting department, he lacks the enigmatic qualities seen in Dupuis. It is however, still too early to tell how this character develops, but while he isn’t as interesting as the original Michael, there is a great deal more realism to his persona (one that unfolds as the pilot ends). Television veterans Melinda Clarke (The OC, CSI) and Xander Berkeley (24) round out Division’s pointy end and both do their villainous jobs with admiration. Both exhibit a kind of “more than they’re letting on” aura that will surely come to light as the series progresses.

Nikita is cinematically slick; an artful precision to its settings adapts the sometimes-unbelievable premise to a more believable reality. In a world of filled with spies, detectives, rogue agents and one-line crime scene investigators, there is certainly room for an entire division of secret agents that even the CIA can’t control. The new series is produced by Craig Silverstein, Danny Cannon and McG, the latter whom can surely be attributed for the glossier action sequences and bigger budget feel. It’s removed from the original in many respects and could do what Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse couldn’t; thrust a strong but fragile, complicated female lead character into territory usually reserved for the Jack Bauer’s of the small screen.

Until the season unfolds and we understand the depths in which both Nikita and Alex function at, intrigue, intelligent writing and good character chemistry (and Maggie Q) do more than its share to propel this series to the “ones to watch” list. Good enough that even fans of the original may like it.

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Why Fleabag was the most important show of 2019

Fleabag will be that show that influences other shows and movies for decades to come

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How is it that even among the award show sweeps, iconic jumpsuit copycats, and seemingly universal acclaim, Fleabag still seems underrated? Maybe it’s because, on paper, little about Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s play-turned-Amazon-series should have worked all that well for mass acclaim — particularly for American audiences. Half of the characters in the show are nameless. There is constant breaking of the fourth wall. And, perhaps most surprising to its success in the U.S., the show comprised only two seasons of just six half-hour episodes apiece — released an agonizing three years apart. (We typically like our TV shows abundant and delivered fast, the cinematic equivalent of a cheap dinner at a strip mall buffet.)

But paper can’t capture the brilliance of Waller-Bridge’s tale of a woman drowning her guilt and trauma in sarcasm and casual sex (and occasionally guinea pigs). Fleabag is packed with raw humanity, top-notch writing, and impeccable comedic timing. 

The ingenious writing and acting of Fleabag is matched only by the show’s ensemble cast. Brett Gelman is delightfully disgusting as swarthy, pitiful brother-in-law Martin. As Fleabag’s season two love interest, the Hot Priest, Andrew Scott exudes turmoil so heavy you can feel it through the screen, as he struggles to navigate sexual desire with spirituality. Sian Clifford beautifully embodies Fleabag’s high-powered sister Claire, whose Type-A rigidity is as palpable as her deep unhappiness. 

And who can forget the incomparable Olivia Colman? She is hysterical as Godmother, a self-important artist whose fixation on alienating Fleabag is only as cringeworthy as her pride on her wedding day in showing off the diverse identities of her “friends.” (“This is my verrrry interesting friend Daniel, who’s deaf. I picked him up at a student gallery opening. Utterly fascinating. Can’t hear a thing.”) 

But it so much more than outstanding casting and indulgent black humor that makes Fleabag the most important show of 2019.

Fleabag will be that show that influences other shows and movies for decades to come. Fleabag has proven that you can teach an old cinematic device a brand-new trick. The show has taught us that these techniques aren’t doomed to become a shtick or a crutch. And it has taught us how compelling it can be when stories of women’s sexuality and humanity are explored authentically (see: why fewer men should be writing these stories). 

But more than anything, Fleabag has raised the bar. 

We have much to thank Phoebe Waller-Bridge for — Fleabag is as deliriously funny as it is heartwrenching. But we should also thank her because, in the vein of Twin Peaks, her show will blaze trails for other artists. Just like David Lynch’s groundbreaking soap-opera-tinged supernatural series paved the way for shows like Northern Exposure and True Detective, screenwriters in the coming years will owe an equal creative debt to Fleabag

So we may clamor and beg for seasons three and four — which we will never and should never get — but we should appreciate Fleabag for exactly what it is: near-perfect television and inspiration for the amazing shows that we haven’t even seen yet.

Fleabag airs in the UK on the BBC and internationally on Amazon Prime.

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Homelander is humanity’s most accurate superhero

Amazon’s hard-hitting, irreverent take on superheroes is a painfully accurate takedown of humanity

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If you haven’t yet seen Amazon Studios’ hard-hitting, irreverent take on superheroes, proceed at your own risk. But if you haven’t seen The Boys yet, why not? It’s not-so-quietly the best television show of 2019 and its painfully accurate depiction of what superheroes would really be like in our world is gloriously funny and poignant. You best get on it.

With that said, The Boys IS 2019’s best television show, and while it may not be the most easily digestible show (if you prefer your superhero television to be Supergirl type corny, you’re probably in for a bit of a shock), those who venture through its visceral 8-episode first season will no doubt be left in awe. Based on the 2006 graphic novel of the same name, The Boys tells the story of a group of nogoodniks led by Karl Urban’s brute Billy Butcher, who takes the seemingly hapless Hughie (played by Jack Quaid) on a vigilante mission to avenge the death of his girlfriend. Along the way “The Boys” set out to expose the fake news facade of the superheroes in the series’ world. These so-called heroes, backed by mega-corporation Vought International, are Earth’s premier team of superheroes. On the surface, they act like the Marvel Avengers / DC Justice League team, but in reality, are just a colossal mess of frail egos and giant assholes whose appearances are kept up to keep the money-making wheels spinning.

The story unfolds in glorious violence, capped by slow-mo gory deaths, shattered limbs, and enough sex and psychotherapy to make old “Skinemax” television blush. But what’s most telling about the series is the accurate characterisation of what it means to be a hero in the real world. “The Seven” (Vought’s Avengers) are led by the very Captain America/Superman-esque Homelander; a stoic, blond, barrel-chested hero for America that waves and kisses babies on camera, but away from it, is a fragile, colossal asshole egomaniac with severe Freudian issues. The latter become one of the focal points of the series’ narrative arc and are a small but telling dimension of the layers you find within this show. He’s surrounded by likeminded assholes; sexual deviant The Deep (if one of the characters from Gossip Girl ended up becoming Aquaman), sexual deviant Translucent (if Invisible Man was a chronic sex-pest) and murdering drug-addict A-Train (if The Flash was… well, a murdering drug addict). The only one who presents with any form of likeability are Queen Maeve and newcomer Starlight. The latter, integral to the story, is a good girl Christian superhero who discovers like most of us, The Seven aren’t who they make out to be.

Over the eight episodes of the first season, we come to the sad and painful realization that if superheroes were to exist in our reality, that this would be it. Intentionally or not, this commentary is one of the most compelling parts of this series. It’s beautifully cynical, but at the same, cuts right to the heart of the truth of our society. The Marvel Universe has spoiled us with dreams of heroic saviors, but in reality, we would get and deserve much less.

Superheroes in the Marvel and DC Universes are often too good to be true; cavorting around like false prophets. In times when humanity turns against them (Batman vs. Superman, Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man: Far From Home), they react with some level of empathy for the reactions of the general public. Superman exiles himself in Batman vs Superman while The Avengers attempt to self-police in Civil War; all are actions of self-sacrificing their worth for the greater good. Their hope is that public opinion will turn once people realize the truth. Homelander is nothing like that, and often in The Boys, his good public persona will reveal his true self the moment he faces situations that harm his likeness, value, and/or monetary worth. It’s how most people would react no matter how much they tell you they wouldn’t. In all of Homelander’s inhuman superpowers, his most telling characteristic are his most human ones; selfish, egotistical, greedy, self-absorbed. They are not positive qualities, but they are very real.

You may be thinking that this is an overly cynical view on humanity, but the old adage of the truth hurting is ever present through the series. The Boys‘ socio-political commentary isn’t even about specific politics or people- even though you can equate it to them. It’s broader, more sweeping in its assessment that no matter your political views, no matter your race or creed, you are nowhere near as heroic or “good” as you think you are. “The Boys” themselves, of course, are a band of anti-hero criminals and outcasts that help confirm that even the people “doing good” aren’t all that good themselves. As the series points out, we are all just different sides of the same coin.

It’s all just a helpful reminder that in a world filled with liars, charlatans, hacks, and grifters, there are no real heroes and those looking to become one just end up getting burned. The Boys is a compelling look into the mirror of society; refreshing, invigorating, and painfully true. It is the truth we are all afraid to face wrapped in relatable costumes and transient power. I suppose we could keep telling ourselves that we’re nothing like the people and “heroes” in The Boys, but then we’d just be lying to ourselves. It’s in part, what makes Homelander humanity’s most accurate superhero. If that’s not enough for you, then watch it for Karl Urban calling everyone a “c*nt” for eight episodes.

The Boys is streaming now on Amazon Prime.

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