Taken: How Does the TV Series Measure Up So Far?

Were we, ahem, taken by NBC's new TV version of the Liam Neeson action franchise?

This article originally appeared at Den of Geek UK

Unless you’ve been living under a rock since 2008, you all know about Taken. If anyone wants to discover the starting point of the so-called “geriaction” genre that has been nearly omnipresent for the last decade, they could do much worse than to start here. It was also the film that made Liam Neeson the brilliant but unlikely action star he remains to this day.

In Taken, Neeson plays Bryan Mills, the former CIA operative with a special set of skills who is in a fight against time (and the entire population of Albania, apparently) to rescue his kidnapped daughter before she disappears forever. It was an unexpected and profitable hit. So inevitably it spawned two sequels, each longer and more underwhelming than the last. Still, it did exactly what it said on the tin, and the trilogy was rewarded with a very healthy combined global box office result.

Even though the first one was a lot of fun, by the end of the third, it felt like time to call it quits. Today, though, the end never means the end, especially not when there’s money to be made. So, like Liam Neeson stepping up to take The A-Team from the small screen to the big screen but in reverse, it was now time for him to step aside for the TV version and for Taken to join the ever-increasing ranks of movies being made into television shows. 

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Recent years have seen a plethora of movies adapted for the small screen. Terminator, Hannibal, Twelve Monkeys, Lethal Weapon, Minority Report, Psycho, From Dusk Till Dawn, even the Coen Brothers classic, Fargo, have all made the transition with varying results. And that list is barely scratching the surface.

Before we start decrying reboots and remakes and a lack of original ideas, it’s worth mentioning that even this transition is nothing new. Heck, even the timeless classic Casablanca was the subject of a TV show (two, in fact).

Let’s not forget either that the 1980s and 1990s were a hotbed of movie-to-TV spin-offs. Ace Ventura, Back to the Future, Bill & Ted, Jumanji, The Karate Kid, and Ghostbusters are just some that made the leap (again with varying results). The biggest difference though is these shows were cartoons aimed at younger viewers. Today, by contrast, the shows are much slicker and more likely to tackle adult themes. They are, for the most part, TV shows for grown-ups.

So is Taken, at least in terms of violence.

Ostensibly, packaged as prequel to the original, the NBC show supposedly tells the story of what Bryan Mills was doing with his special skills in the couple of decades or so before the events of the first movie.

What we get, however, is more of a re-imagining, which sets the action in the modern day (as the placing of a smartphone as a key plot point makes abundantly clear). Presumably, the creators thought this was more appealing to audiences than setting it in the mid 1980s, where smuggling a tiny mobile phone (as in two of the three movies) would require you to wear it as a fake leg!

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Even though it’s fair to say that the world wasn’t exactly waiting with bated breath for a TV version (the three movies being enough for most of us), the pilot episode still somehow manages not to meet even those low expectations. It’s easy to be sniffy about TV shows nowadays, especially with such high quality fare available. But even so, this TV adaptation, unlike Mills, does not hit the mark.

Shows such as 24 demonstrate that being grumpy and running around shooting bad guys can (for a season or two, at least) be good fun, but the Taken pilot lacks any of the fun of the movies and keeps all the gloom of the final installment. That in itself isn’t a bad thing – there are plenty of great, gloomy shows out there, but this lacks any depth to justify the tone.

Obviously, there’s only been one episode so far (another arrives today), so it’s too early to pronounce Taken DOA. Indeed, the show does have a number of things going for it.

There’s no obvious mis-casting, for one. Clive Standen (Vikings) has stepped into the role of Bryan as well as can be expected. He’s certainly no Liam Neeson, but then who is? Let’s not forget that Mads Mikkelsen in no way resembles Sir Anthony Hopkins, but absolutely made the role of Dr. Lecter his own.

Doing the best he can with a recycled plot (which is essentially Taken 2: The Guatamala Years) and some iffy dialogue which often exists for the sole purpose of spoon-feeding the story to the audience (one character is asked to reiterate the plot, even after explicitly saying how completely unnecessary that is), he scowls his way through the pilot killing bad guys at will. The rest of the dialogue, for those who are interested, is primarily reserved for the heavily shoe-horning in of references to the film (sample: “Never have kids. Especially not a daughter,” to Mills.)

It also doesn’t help that shooting such a high-octane film like Taken is expensive and complicated. So moving it to TV, with the intense schedules and significantly lower budgets, makes the whole thing a bit underwhelming. At one point you brace for a car chase down the busy streets, only for the whole thing to be instantly abandoned and for the chase to take place on foot!

But as I said, there are positives. An interrogation scene (without giving anything away) was a highlight and an interesting twist on the cliched “police interrogate a suspect” scene. And the team spying on Mills has a lot of potential if they’re allowed to leave their group desk for a moment.

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Pilots are tricky things. You have to set up a world, introduce a host of new characters, and tell an original and compelling story in 42 minutes. Furthermore, the plot of the rest of the season is only established at the very end, so the whole dynamic of the show is going to change, hopefully for the better.

It also seems at times that the inability to bring a successful movie (or franchise) from the big screen to TV feels like the rule, rather than the exception. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles only managed two seasons. The future of From Dusk Till Dawn is uncertain. The Exorcist seems unlikely to get a second season, while Minority Report only managed a meagre ten episodes (from an original order of thirteen) before being canceled. Even critically-acclaimed Hannibal Lecter prequel, Hannibal, only managed three seasons before being canceled due to low ratings. Clearly, quality is not necessarily an indicator of longevity.

The good news is that nothing is inherently broken (something the doctors never say to any bad guys that go head-to-head with Mills), and with a bit of tweaking here and there, Taken could be significantly improved, although it’s unlikely to reach anywhere the bar set by the brilliant TV adaptation of say, Westworld, which took Michael Crichton’s “Jurassic Park with robots” idea to a level of which the original movies could only dream.

How long Taken is going to run for is anyone’s guess, though unless it picks up the quality pretty quickly, it is difficult to see even the most hardened fans being sufficiently (sorry) taken with this show for it to go the distance.