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NBC’s Action-Packed TAKEN Gets the Hero Right, But Not the Tone (Review)

NBC’s Action-Packed TAKEN Gets the Hero Right, But Not the Tone (Review)

This is our spoiler-free review of the upcoming new series from NBC, Taken, which shows where Bryan Mills learned all of his secret CIA skills.

From the very first time we heard Liam Neeson warn a bad man that he has a “particular set of skills,” we’ve had a particular set of expectations for Taken. We want to see a total badass taking care of business, and we want him to be awesome as he does it. And since we turn into the valets from Key and Peele when discussing Neeson’s Bryan Mills, the new prequel series from NBC had a difficult task to acoomplish. The good news is they got those two important elements right, even if the show’s tone is not.

The best thing going for the show is that after overcoming the initial shock that anyone besides Neeson could possibly play the role, Clive Standen (Vikings) proves up to the task of taking on Bryan. We meet him 30 “years” before the movies take place. (Why the quotation marks? We’ll get to that.) He is an exceptional and experienced war veteran, who has one of his missions follow him home when his sister is killed in front of him. It’s to punish him for having killed a war criminal’s son, which will remind you of the premise from Taken 2.

Standen’s Bryan is as alert and paranoid as we know him to be, but he’s softer than he will eventually become. His sister’s death leaves him dealing with PTSD, which makes him vulnerable on missions, which is never good for the new guy or his skeptical teammates. And even though he’s not the most skilled secret ops agent in the world quite yet, he’s not far from already having that title. It might mean his growth in that respect will be limited, but we’re more than fine with that because the best, most exciting moments involve him being the brilliant ass kicker we love. The show seems to be focusing more on his emotional journey, as he struggles to deal with his sister’s death, while facing perilous situations that constantly require him to make morally ambiguous choices about how best to serve his country.

TAKEN -- "Pilot" -- Pictured: Clive Standen as Bryan Mills -- (Photo by: Christos Kalohoridis/NBC)

And we mean constant, because it’s a country that is under attack on all fronts (like if Jack Bauer had to deal with something once a week). The biggest threats to America here are domestic, instead of the ever present danger of foreign terrorism that has everyone worried, because the team has to fight plotting and murderous officials in our own government who are desperate to push America into a war against Islam by sacrificing American citizens. False flags aren’t a theory, they are a reality, and they endanger the whole world.

The show is a product and response to the current world, with national security topics at the forefront, and it smartly blurs the lines between good and evil, enemy and ally, but that would work better if it wasn’t frequently handled in such a ham fisted and cartoonish manner. Some plots and villains are so over-the-top that it makes it impossible not to roll your eyes at the serious social commentary. The tone doesn’t fit the message.

Through the first three episodes, Bryan and the team (led by a very strong and commanding Jennifer Beals) acts as a shadow government agency outside the law, playing judge and executioner when they deem necessary, but the show still remains critical of many of our government’s questionable modern practices (one of the few understated lines–and as a result one of the most effective–addresses the use of drones). But it’s all undercut by how much the team lacks self awareness about how they too are playing by their own rules. Bryan might have doubts about whether he is doing the right thing, but then he does them anyway. So are they any better than the people they are trying to stop? Is anyone a hero? Are there any actual laws in this version of America?

TAKEN -- "Pilot" -- Pictured: Jennifer Beals as Christina Hart -- (Photo by: Christos Kalohoridis/NBC)

The moral gray area the show explores is one of our favorite elements, but it needs to be handled with more care for it to work, otherwise it will continue to feel heavy handed and absurd.

As for the episodes themselves, each one told a standalone story, with some major plot lines being carried throughout, such as Bryan’s desire to avenge his sister. It gives every hour action-packed urgency, but it doesn’t leave us on the edge of our seats for next week. There’s a reason we thought a lot about Jack Bauer while watching: the show feels like a mix of 24 and the Jason Bourne franchise, but instead of leaving us craving the next episode like 24, it’s feels like we’ve wrapped up a mini-movie and it doesn’t matter how long we wait for the next installment.

We don’t need season long arcs, but we’d like to see some multi-part episodes take place with cliffhangers. It would make for a better experience, which is what we really want from a Taken show.

TAKEN -- "Pilot" -- Pictured: (l-r) Jennifer Beals as Christina Hart, Ali Kasmi as Marzoki, Jennifer Marsala as Riley, Simu Liu as Faaron -- (Photo by: Christos Kalohoridis/NBC)

As for the “30 years” issue, the show is set in 2017. So yes, it’s an origin story, but the same way the X-Men movies with Fassbender and McAvoy are: it doesn’t actually make sense. We can overlook it though, since it allows the show to have something to say about the world it is set in, both fictional and real. (Plus we sorta have to ignore the timeline so our nerdy, cannon-obsessed brains don’t break.)

There’s a good foundation here, with a leading man in a beloved role making it his own while still making him feel like the character we love. The show has a conscience at a time when more television programs should, especially when dealing with major, world-changing issues. However, it needs to find a better balance between incorporating them in a meaningful, more nuanced manner, while keeping us entertained.

That’s a tall task, and one that will require a particular set of skills. But this early on we’re interested in finding out if Taken can pull it off.


Taken premieres Monday, February 27 at 10 p.m. on NBC.

What elements from the movies do you think will be the most important for the show to pull off if it wants to be successful? Tell us in the comments below.

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