Those who have seen the Taken movie trilogy might remember the vaguely intriguing premise of a former government intelligence operative, Bryan Mills, returning to a life of danger and criminal pursuit after his daughter is taken by human traffickers while traveling through Europe. Given the dismal critical response that Taken 2 and Taken 3 received from critics and audiences alike, it might come as little surprise that a television show inspired by the franchise left viewers sufficiently underwhelmed and mildly confused. Monday night saw the series premiere of NBC’s Taken, and with it, the presentation of the first installment of a mostly clichéd and incoherent television show that made many viewers wish the episode hadn’t just taken the preceding hour of their lives.
The episode opens on a sunny train ride filled with light-hearted banter between Mills (Clive Standen) and his younger sister, Cali (Celeste Desjardins). When Mills realizes a suspicious person on the train is actually a terrorist, a chaotic scene, complete with flickering overhead lights and spastic gunfire, follows while Mills takes the man down. When the dust settles, it turns out that Cali has been killed, which sends Mills on a frenzied trip down the war path to bring to justice whoever is responsible for his loss. The viewer is thus dragged along for the ride while a haphazard flurry of scenes shows Mills attending the funeral, having flashbacks to an out-of-context war trauma, and angrily traipsing around a parking garage with a sellout DEA agent in an attempt to track down his sister’s killers. The muddled nature of the episode is only exacerbated by a seemingly unrelated, covert government team spying on Mills throughout the entirety of his exploits, which only begins to make sense when the team’s leader, Christina Hart (Jennifer Beals), goes to recruit Mills at the end of the episode.
The show had the potential to create a lot of emotional, human drama with the series of unfortunate events that unfolded. But the episode insisted on breezing through all of its plot in a disorganized and careless manner, thus ripping the viewer away from characters and events before they’ve had a chance to bond with them. This inspires apathy in the viewer, as every crisis and betrayal seems hollow and inconsequential, bound to be whisked away without a second thought as the underdeveloped scenes keep flying at the viewer. Take, for instance, Cali’s funeral. Besides the fact that the sister was on-screen just long enough for the viewer to size her up as a plot device and not an important character, her funeral and her family’s reaction to it came off as almost indifferent. Three seconds of grieving parents, a trite line by Cali’s best friend, and constant distractions of Mills’ sensing danger and inevitably spotting a suspicious van outside the window all detract from anything resembling actual emotion with regard to Cali. In fact, this all makes the whole ordeal seem like an obligatory stretch of the episode, biding its time before allowing Mills to get back to violent chases and taking names.
It is precisely this overtly formulaic plot and character structure that is responsible for the show’s shooting itself in the foot. The action-show genre is rife with car chases, foreign drug cartels (because they always seem to be the antagonists in this genre), predictable foreshadowing through clichéd dialogue, and enough gunfire and torture to disturbingly numb the viewer to it as the show progresses. In moderation, any of these conventions could conceivably work to create a compelling show, but Taken uses every trick in the book in a stale manner that bores the viewer, occasionally to the point of disbelieving laughter. By the time Mills gets to haunting a little-frequented MOTEL (yes, that was the actual name on the sign), and yelling at his adversaries in a random subway tunnel, the viewer comes to understand the show as little more than a less compelling version of the source material from which it draws.
In fact, in this prequel, Bryan Mills lacks the intensity that Liam Neeson’s character commanded in the Taken movies. Standen’s Bryan Mills appears to be constantly reeling from the events of the episode, which is worsened by the character’s tired, melodramatic moments that disappoint the viewer. The episode’s fast pace created a mostly disorienting, emotionally detached perspective on the show’s events, and as the checklist of every tired action genre trope was fulfilled throughout the episode, the viewer was left debating whether to just turn the television off altogether. But if they had done that, they might have missed a character earnestly respond to one of Mills’ text messages with, “K,” where Mills’ dramatic flipout in response to that constituted the highlight of the episode.
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