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New CW shows 'Nikita' and 'Hellcats' cutthroat without the edge

By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 8, 2010; C06

Even with its ample servings of va-va-boom, a lot of edgy potential is wasted in "Nikita," the CW's retinkering of the much-tinkered-with story of the sexy assassin who is betrayed and hunted by "the Division," the top-secret government agency that trained her.

Actress Maggie Q, the jujitsu darling of the martial-arts action pack, stars in this latest Nikiquel. (Yes, this Nikita is the same character as that other Nikita, as in la femme . . . , going back 20 years to Luc Besson's original French thriller and then the American remake that starred Bridget Fonda, and then on to -- who knew? -- a Canadian TV series.)

This "Nikita," which premieres Thursday night, bears the imprimatur of big-budget movie director McG, who directed "Terminator: Salvation," "Charlie's Angels" and exec-produced NBC's "Chuck." I foresee a day when no one in Hollywood has an actual last name.

As the Pantene-haired heroine, Q is all smolder and muscle and seems firmly in control of the show's momentum. Befitting the McG oeuvre, "Nikita" takes too seriously its own steeliness and, therefore, becomes too laughably slick. In a flashback to a hot tub at a tropical hotel, Nikita twists a crime lord's neck 360 degrees, eludes a spray of gunfire by wielding a deck chair, and kills a few more thugs, while wearing a bikini that doesn't slip a millimeter. Now that I have your attention . . .

Aside from hot tub fun, Nikita's memories of being a secret assassin are bad. She learned the hard way that the Division operates with no federal oversight and regarded her as dispensable. They killed her fiance and now they want to kill her. She is just too dangerous. Nikita wants revenge, and so she has come out of hiding to wage an elaborately designed attack on the Division, foiling their assassination attempts and -- har-har -- blowing up a Heritage Foundation cocktail party in Washington.

This new "Nikita" has more to offer than just Nikita -- it also has Nikita Babies. The Division is still recruiting agents the way they got Nikita: They kidnap young criminals, stage their deaths, erase their identities, and reprogram and train them at a super-secret underground school in . . . did Shane West (as the Division's top lieutenant) just say Michigan?

This is where Alex (Lyndsy Fonseca) -- a Ukrainian immigrant who escaped the sex trade to become a bank robber -- wakes up after a botched heist. The Division now owns Alex and her future. Between martial arts class and cafeteria hazing, she must report for fashion and etiquette tutelage with Amanda (Melinda Clarke), the resident Miss Manners.

It also means there's a Mean Girl (Tiffany Hines) in Alex's class, who glowers at her menacingly, trash-talks her a bit, and then offers this bit of hard truth:

"They gonna teach you to kill with a gun. They gonna teach you to kill witch'yer nails. They gonna tell you who to kill and when to kill 'em. And if you don't deliver, they gonna kill you."

Welcome to college, girlfriend!

'Hellcats'

Things aren't any less cutthroat at "Lancer University," a big football college in Memphis. Here, spunky and cynical law student Marti Perkins (Alyson Michalka), who sports Shakira's abs and hairdo, has discovered that she's lost her child-of-a-campus-waitress scholarship in a budget cut.

There's only one thing left to do, then. (Really, there's only one?) She must try out for the open slot on the Lancer Hellcats cheerleading squad. That's the premise of "Hellcats," which debuts Wednesday night, also on the CW. Pick any antonym for "glee" and this show defines it. It is mean-spirited, painfully dumb and badly acted.

Lucky for Marti, she was a champion gymnast in high school. Also lucky for Marti, she rents a DVD of the 2000 cheerleading movie "Bring It On" just seconds before a television critic accuses her TV show of heinous acts of plagiarism. She pops it in and proceeds to learn some moves, in a montage that is a heinous act of plagiarizing "Flashdance."

Unlucky for Marti, the women on the Hellcats team are, I believe the term is still, total beyotches, as it was back in Kirsten Dunst days of yore. Only the coach (Sharon Leal) thinks Marti has potential.

Surely you, too, know the drill, because you see it all the time on any series starring young women, whether on scripted or reality shows: These women don't know how to converse anymore, they only know how to trade insults and narrowed stares. "Wouldn't you just rather get to the hair pulling?" Marti snarls to Ashley (Savannah Monroe), before tryouts.

"Hellcats" tosses your brain up high and lets it splat on the gymnasium floor. It depicts a college experience that only a tween could envision, where everyone is deceitful, partially naked and late for class. (Or wait, maybe that's accurate.)

I'll save you any worry: Marti learns she's made the team through that age-old cliche of the list tacked to the campus bulletin board. (That's right. A list with one name on it.)

So bring it on, and then please move it out.

Hellcats

(one hour) premieres at 9 p.m. Wednesday;

Nikita

(one hour) premieres at 9 p.m. Thursday, both on the CW.

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