The Taken TV series is heading for a big change for the second season. Only main star Clive Standen and his on-screen boss played by Jennifer Beals will appear, as six of the regular cast have departed. That’s along with the first season showrunner, Alex Cary, who is being replaced by Greg Plageman and a new vision for the show. With that in mind, is it still worth catching up with the first 10 episodes, currently available on Amazon Prime?
Before looking at the television version, it’s worth reminding ourselves where the idea came from. Back in 2008, the first Taken film sparked a bit of a re-Neeson-ce in action films featuring slightly older heroes. Liam Neeson had played everyone from Oskar Schindler (Schindler’s List), Michael Collins (Michael Collins) and Alfred Kinsey (Kinsey), to Rob Roy McGregor (Rob Roy), Ra’s al Ghul (Batman Begins), and Qui-Gon Jinn (Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace). And of course, the superhero Darkman in the cult 1990 film.
So playing an action role in a fairly standard thriller wasn’t necessarily a stretch. But the fact that Neeson was older (56), and not a sterotypical gun-toting, musclebound action hero lifted what was a reasonable, but otherwise unexceptional film. So much so, that he originally thought it would be a direct to video side project rather than something which led to two sequels, and the likes of Unknown, The Grey (despite being a very different type of film), and the 2018 action thriller The Commuter. The later Taken films actually grossed slightly more from the box office for producer Luc Besson. Original director Pierre Morel since tried to add to the 50+ action hero stable with the Sean Penn film The Gunman. And we’ve seen the likes of Bruce Willis appear in both another Die Hard film, and the movie-adaptation of the comic Red, which featured a cast of veteran actors in action.
Meanwhile the Amazon-Netflix-HBO revolution has continued with medium-budget movies becoming television binge-watching, at which point the Taken TV series appears on NBC and then Amazon.
Taken By TV:
So this year saw the history of the Bryan Mills character played by Liam Neeson in the films explored on the small screen. Alongside the references to his famously ‘particular set of skills’ the younger Mills was played by Clive Standen, who like Neeson, was born in Northern Ireland, but grew up in England.
We discover that Mills is particularly unlucky, losing his sister as part of a revenge attack years before his daughter and ex-wife develop a strange habit of becoming kidnapped. And we learn that the ex Green Beret special forces soldier ends up being part of a shadowy Government department, led by Christina Hart (Jennifer Beals).
Part of the problem is that you can predict Mills will take time to integrate and be accepted by the special intelligence unit. But that he’ll eventually become a respected leader of the team as he overcomes the loss of his sister and the desire for revenge. And in the meantime, get involved in various other missions to hone his particular skill set.
Being slightly predictable isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After so many spy shows, it’s hard to imagine something which doesn’t have some of the genre traditions. And there a few interesting moments, whether it’s featuring the terrorist and drug lord Carlos Mejia, who murdered Mill’s sister in revenge for the death of his own son by Mills during a Colombian drug bust. Or with some of the side missions, involving other U.S agencies, Russian SVR agents, and a member of the Iranian Quds Force.
But it’s a little too formulaic. You can predict the personalities of the special intelligence team from the moment you meet them. And the same is true of Mill’s love interest, and most of the additional cast. You don’t need special intelligence to predict what’s going to happen. In fact, Taken has a strangely anaesthetic quality, as it dulls all your senses if you risk binge-watching more than one episodie at a time.
The other problem is also down to the cast. Clive Standen is a fine actor, and he has excelled as Rollo in the series Vikings. Having previously also appeared in Robin Hood for the BBC and as Sir Gawain in Camelot for the Starz network, you can understand he might want to be involved in something more modern. The problem is that he’s great at the action work, but despite being slightly shorter than Neeson in real life, he’s broader and more imposing. So as a special intelligence spy, he tends to stand out a fair bit in a crowd. The approach of Taken appears to have been to have him disguised by wearing some particularly crap jumpers.
The loss of main cast members for the next series isn’t a particular susprise after the first season. Any of them could turn in a great performance with a bit more to work with. But every time they seemed to start showing some kind of investment and talent, they’re kneecapped with some cliched dialogue or a moment so implausible, you don’t even register the fact that Bryan Mills 20-year-old history appears to be taking place with 2017’s technology. Presumably the budget was a bit tight to recreate the vehicles, surroundings and old Nokia handsets.
It’s a shame, because in throwaway lines about the backgrounds of team members, there are some potentially interesting insights. One may have robbed banks. One has a family. One ends up helping out his brother by disrupting a local drug lord in a sub-plot which is now completely irrelevant as the character will vanish. Given that such a large part of the cinematic Taken was about family, surely that could have been reflected more? And given 10 hours for the first series will be expanded to 16 for the next, there’s more room to explore the psychological side of special intelligence?
Ironically one comparison is with the British TV series Spooks, which recently attempted a switch to the big screen. It also struggled to adapt what worked well in one format to the other. The typically low key British cast generally kept their muscles hidden under a suit or sensible wax cotton jacket and relied on brains as much as strength. And characters tended to have more interesting personalities and back stories. Despite having a fairly low survival rate, which many of the characters not making it through more than one or two seasons.
Taken Season Two might turn things around. At which point you might be intrigued to go back and watch the first series. But it’s hard to recommend spending almost 10 hours or your time on the initial season when it doesn’t reveal an awful lot, and six of the main characters aren’t going to be around any more.
Especially with so many other good crime and spy dramas on Amazon Prime right now. At the moment off the top of my head, there’s Prison Break, Bosch, Sherlock Season 3, before you get into the likes of Mr Robot, Ripper Street and more. And obviously there’s no shortage of great spy and crime series available on DVD. Plenty of people mention The Wire, but I’ll still pick The Shield first. Or head to Scandinavia for Wallander or The Bridge etc. And stick to watching The Vikings for Standen’s brilliant performance as the headstrong viking turned French Duke with the help of an equally stubborn wife.
When it comes to our Taken TV Series Season One review, it’s not kidnapped characters that are a problem, but the missing plot and excitement.
Also published on Medium.