There have been a few prequel TV series to blockbuster movies that succeeded because they create their own worlds. Bates Motel and Hannibal are two, but it’s a pretty rare thing. Most movie adaptations on TV just take the film’s premise and then start the story afresh, like Lethal Weapon or Training Day. NBC’s Taken tries to do a combination of these two styles, and comes away with a muddled story that doesn’t match the original trilogy in almost any way, nor does it find anything new to bring to the thriller genre.
Taken is a prequel to Luc Besson‘s movies starring Liam Neeson, but set in the present day, which is just the first of its many mistakes. We meet a young Bryan Mills (Vikings‘ Clive Standen), a former Green Beret who loses someone very close to him when we first meet him. This will, as we know from the movies, establish a lifetime of Bryan having to deal with people taking things from him. But just in case he or we were to forget, we have characters actually saying absolutely obnoxious things like “don’t have children, especially not a daughter.”
Despite this being a prequel, Bryan already has some pretty badass skills, so I’m not sure what else he really needs to acquire at this point for them to become “particular.” Early on in the series, he’s recruited by a shadowy intelligence agency, whose director (Jennifer Beals) mumbles that she works for — stay with me here — “national security intelligence” with an “emergency covert action team.” The word “portfolio” is also thrown in there, I’m not even sure how, and I rewound it three times to try and make sense of it. But she reports to the President, so it must be important …
At this point, Taken morphs into a completely different show. Instead of being about one man’s quest for vengeance (which admittedly has a restricted storytelling life, though three films would beg to differ), it’s about a man who learns to work with an indistinguishable team, none of whom are as good at what they do as he is, making the whole thing feel pretty pointless.
Standen is not Liam Neeson, and we aren’t really expecting him to be. He isn’t grounding this with grizzle grit, but he succeeds in making Bryan believable as a highly trained operative. The writing lets him down, though, when the show attempts personal storylines or — perhaps most bizarrely — to give him a surprising wardrobe of cozy, patterned sweaters. While there are some pretty nifty twists in the first two episodes that feel like they’re leading up to a 24-like setup for the series, soon the show settles back in to a much more boilerplate Crisis of the Week, where Bryan uses his finely honed skills to take care of the job at hand, all while being haunted by thoughts of the person who was taken from him.
What one comes away from Taken thinking, though, is how little the show relates to the films in any way. NBC’s adaptation is a thin excuse for making a TV show, even though there are moments that make it feel like it could be at least as engaging as Homeland or other tense thrillers. But it wastes those opportunities as well as a good cast (most of whom, like Friday Night Lights‘ Gaius Charles, have absolutely nothing to do and no story arcs of their own). Bryan doesn’t get much dimension to him either, though his confidently-executed combat tactics almost make up for it. Ultimately, there’s not enough of the movie Taken to engage fans of the films, nor enough of a good TV thriller to keep casual viewers interested. There’s a particular set of skills a show like this needs, and Taken doesn’t have them.
Rating: ★ Poor — Skip it.
Taken premieres Monday, February 27th on NBC.