Four episodes were provided prior to broadcast.
In 2008’s minor classic Taken, Liam Neeson’s former covert operative Bryan Mills famously informs his daughter’s kidnappers “I don’t have money, but what I do have are a very particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very long career.” Enter NBC’s Taken, in which we find out how Mills acquired said skills and what his mysterious career involved.
There’s just one glaring problem with all this. Taken (the movie) takes place in the late 2000s. Taken (the TV show) should take place in the late 70s then, but in fact takes place now. It doesn’t try to fuzz the setting, either, this is a tech thriller about hacked iPhones and stolen laptops.
About five minutes into the first episode I paused it to double-check I’d understood what this was about. But nope, the official series description says, “in 30 years, this character is destined to become the Bryan Mills that we’ve come to love from the ‘Taken’ films.” On top of that headscratcher, appropriately named Neeson stand-in Clive Standen ditches his shaky Irish accent after the first couple of scenes.
What Taken turns out to be then is a show about a troubled action hero working with an “emergency covert action team.” This unnamed team (the show is really missing a trick by not calling it T.A.K.E.N.) works outside the law, tackling problems the FBI and CIA can’t. And so, with head honcho Christina Hart (Jennifer Beale) reporting directly to the President, her crew unravels conspiracies like false-flag terrorist attacks and exposes corrupt pharmaceutical companies.
If you’ll permit a bit of conspiracy theorizing on my part, I don’t think Taken is an adaptation of the films at all. I strongly suspect it began life as an original property that’s had the Taken IP crowbarred on top to bulk up its commercial prospects. Aside from the character’s name, the only other connection to movies is Mills being pointedly (and ludicrously) told, “my advice is to not ever to have children. Especially not a daughter.”
What’s left is a deeply average thriller series that has neither the imagination nor the budget to stand out. The show is populated by overly familiar stock characters who spend their days either huddled around laptops in under-lit offices or running around cheap-looking warehouses in pursuit of masked terrorist extras.
Even Bryan Mills isn’t particularly interesting. The opening scene of the first episode shows his little sister being murdered in front of him, leaving him with emotional trauma and a cartel drug boss to enact revenge upon. Said trauma manifests as repeated hallucinations in which he sees his dead sister screaming “save me Bryan!” – which the show casually describes as his “momentary breaks with reality.” Now, I’m not in charge of a secret black ops team dedicated to preserving the USA from all kinds of terrorist threats, but I’ve got to question the wisdom of giving a man suffering from “momentary breaks with reality” a load of guns and sending him out to shoot people.
It’s not that Clive Standen does a particularly bad job in the role (though he never comes close to filling Neeson’s shoes), it’s just that this cookie-cutter tortured hero has precisely nothing to set him aside from the crowd. Much of the appeal of the original Taken was seeing a highly respected 55-year-old actor kicking ass and taking names and, short of Neeson’s innate gravitas, young Bryan Mills is just another burly dude with a gun.
This leaves Taken with precious little to make it worth tuning in for. The guts of the show: its characters, politics and conspiracies, have all been done before (and done better to boot). It leaves you wondering what a chronologically correct Taken prequel set in late 70s/early 80s would have looked like. Perhaps being a period piece would have been the hook by which the show could distinguish itself in a packed genre? I guess we’ll never know.
Aside from the lead character being called Bryan Mills, this has next to nothing to do with the Taken trilogy. What remains is a by-the-numbers spy show that fails to distinguish itself from the crowd.