Monday, February 27, 2017

'Taken': New Show, Old Problem

Review of NBC's "Taken" TV show
Clive Standen plays Bryan Mills in Taken. (NBC)

TV SHOW REVIEW

NBC’s new show, Taken, is the latest in TV’s attempt of creating lightning twice by creating a show based on a hit movie franchise. Sometimes it works as in the case of M*A*S*H and even FOX’s current Lethal Weapon which just got a second season renewal. But in both of those cases, the shows were strongly based on the original material using what worked best; the characters. Taken goes a whole different route.

Taken is only loosely based on the three films that starred Liam Neeson whose family members kept getting taken away from him by bad guys. This show imagines what Neeson’s character’s life was like before this. This is a smart move because you can only take away one’s daughter so many times before the story is going to get old. However, the title, Taken, is no longer relevant and the end result resembles very little of the original material. The new show does focus on what was best from the trio of movies; the action, but I’m afraid that won’t be enough to carry this show.

Unlike the M*A*S*H and Lethal Weapon TV shows, Taken features only one character from movie of the same name and does very little to give the audience any reason to have any empathy for him. Granted, the other two shows are comedies, they still do a better job of developing likable characters. Taken gives Bryan Mills a line or two to say to his sister before action breaks out on the train that they are riding in and she gets killed. Yes, it’s sad, but had the show taken a bit more time to development the relationship between Bryan and his sister, maybe we would care more for his loss. You might argue that we already know that this is going to happen, but it should still feel more tragic than it does.


Timeless, another NBC show this season, is action oriented too, but it does a very good job of explaining who the main characters are and why they behave the way that they do. In Taken, it feels as if the network thinks that the show is clever by keeping everything a mystery. And I don’t mean that they are keeping things mysterious, they just don’t tell us anything about any of the characters.

We quickly learn that Bryan has a past as a former CIA operative so he just seems to know when things are not quite right and acts on them leaving us mostly in the dark. In both the pilot and the second episode, key information about the bad guys is given much later in the episode which gives some mystery on what is exactly happening, but is probably building more frustration than anything else. It’s easy to get lost.

Clive Standen (Vikings) plays the main role. Dirty Dancing’s Jennifer Beals (who does a surprisingly good job) plays Christian Hart who leads a secret team who monitors Bryan’s every move by watching camera feeds and listening to his phone calls. We don’t know who she or her team is, but we need to trust that they are the good guys. They want to recruit Bryan to work for them. Of course, he’s motivated to find the man who killed his sister, so his head isn’t always in the game. He’s expected to play well with his team, but we don’t see much evidence that they are really working on that goal. It is Bryan's show after all.

There might be some attraction between Bryan and his sister’s best friend, but the two get very little screen time together to develop any meaningful conversation. In fact, there is very little conversation at all in this show. This works fine for the pilot which is a lot better than the second episode. By then, Bryan is thrust into working with a team of guys who we will not know any better by the episode’s end than we did at the beginning. For the most part, all of the character are beautiful people who drive black cars, wear sunglasses and do and say things that make them stand out in the crowd instead of blending in. The bad guys have apparently trained in parkour and know when to utter dumb lines ever once in a while. It will be interesting to see if NBC can shape this show into something more meaningful. It won’t surprise me if they try to add in a few flashbacks to do this, but that seems like lazy storytelling to me.

Taken debuts tonight at 10:00 p.m. on NBC. The show also stars Gaius Charles, Brooklyn Sudano, Monique Gabriela Curnen, Michael Irby, James Landry H├ębert and Jose Pablo Cantillo. After you watch, let me know your thoughts.