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Taken (TV series) – pilot review

Taken - NBC Series

Yet another movie franchise moves to the tv screen, but just how ‘Taken‘ will audiences be with a younger and non-Neeson Bryan Mills..?

Brian Mills (Clive Standen) is travelling back to his home with his younger sister Cali (Celeste Desjardin) when he detects unusual behaviour in two fellow train passengers. Realising that something bad is going to happen he instructs Cali to leave the carriage and sure enough a few seconds later all hell breaks loose as Mills attempts to disarm one of the men.  His particular set of skills probably save most of the passengers but they can’t save Cali who is killed in the ensuing mayhem.

The official line is that these were two lone wolf gunmen looking to cause an atrocity, but some know better. They know the truth, the intended target and now see the tragedy as an opportunity. Christina Hart (Jennifer Beals) runs a special deniable task-force that deal with more delicate situations – doing what’s necessary to keep the homeland safe… and it doesn’t take her and her team long to work out this wasn’t random at all. Before Cali is even buried Hart utlises all the people and tech at her disposal to make the most of an opportunity to catch one of the underworld’s most elusive cartel bosses. If she has to use Brian Mills as bait then so be it… but as circumstances and consequences build, everyone comes to realise that they may have underestimated just how good Mills is when he needs to be…

While Taken – which debuted on NBC this  past Monday – doesn’t break any new ground or push hard against boundaries, it performs its particular set of skills with some aplomb.  While the likes of 24: Legacy quickly entered into unbelievably contrived territory by the end of its third hour and Training Day was hobbled by an atrocious script from the start, Taken – despite all its gun-play and drama – doesn’t feel half as overly-earnest and that’s ultimately a good thing. The other shows feel desperate to be loved but this version of the Taken concept knows the territory it’s ploughing and there’s a straight throughline  that it is confident to keep to without throwing unnecessary trimmings into the mix.

What we have is a show with an honourable man at the centre of a drama where everyone else is purely pragmatic. Yes, Mills will kill and cause serious and bloody harm on those out to hurt him or those he loves, but he has a code he lives by. He won’t do anything unless provoked. This is not a man who will kill unless he has to. The covert team to which we’ll see him recruited is arguably the opposite – they are the people who will kill  (or indeed, keep them alive) even when every emotion might tell them to do the opposite – as long as it serves a greater cause. That dynamic is an interesting one, the reverse of some concepts we’ve seen where the ‘rough diamond’ is the guy who won’t work by the book.

While it’s true that (Vikings) doesn’t have the screen-intensity of it’s also true that few people do – which is why some eyebrows were raised when the idea of at tv series was mooted at all. Standen acquits himself well enough, able to handle the impressive action-beats and also play the tortured soul as necessary, but however much the show wants to ride the coat-tails of the movie (or more accurately the first film in that franchise) as a kind of official prequel, it’s really nothing of the sort. The pitch to audiences was that this would show how Brian Mills became the kind of guy we saw in that first feature, but the series is SO firmly set in the present – with its use of technology and surveillance techniques – that it’s hard to imagine the plot playing out without them. Mills is already a finely-tuned soldier, so the ‘prequel’ factor, which could have been more interesting, is just not a factor. Gone too is the Irish brogue that is as essential to Neeson as the Scots cadence is to Connery and what we’re left with is a decent television action hero who could give a reality check but nothing that makes him as singularly iconic – at least as yet. This is good action drama, but it’s Taken in name only and that may disappoint those wanting more of the feature-film factor on a weekly basis.

Future episodes will show how the series can develop and in some ways having a strong woman like Beals’ Hart in the mix is welcome rudder-change from the familiar movie premise that often used women as merely disposable plot devices or victims to be rescued/avenged. Beals has been good in a number of recent projects (including the under-appreciated The Chicago Code) and one hopes her character is given some more depth and development as we trace Mills’ story.


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