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‘Taken’ Down a Notch

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“We’ve got to ditch Liam Neeson, but ‘Taken’ must go on.” This isn’t a sentence any sane person would say. And yet on Feb. 27, NBC premiered their new series, “Taken,” a Neeson-free prequel to the film franchise.

From almost any angle, this series looks ill-conceived. Liam Neeson carried the “Taken” franchise. As divorced father and retired CIA operative Bryan Mills, Neeson added a bizarre middle-aged twist to the standard action movie form. He famously warned his daughter’s kidnapper that he had “a particular set of skills,” and dispatched a host of gunmen with the same cold and precise efficiency the euphemism evokes—all with a soft Irish brogue and a gloomy, tired expression. Removing him from the franchise excises everything that was memorable about “Taken.”

Instead, the role of the young Bryan Mills is played by Clive Standen, whose primary achievement here is that from the right angle, and in dim lighting, he looks uncannily like a young Liam Neeson. Standen doesn’t do a bad job, exactly, but he certainly does do an uninteresting one. His younger Mills— motivated by a cocktail of rage, regret, and testosterone—lacks the strengths of the original and doesn’t bring any of its own to the table.

Some of the premiere’s action scenes do capture the peculiar charm of the first film. Mills outmaneuvers pursuers in a garage with clockwork efficiency, and when killers creep up to his house he calmly shoots them through the front door. There are a few winks to fans of the films as well: A pursuer comments that Mills has “got some skills,” for instance. (Get it?)

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The episode’s plot as a whole, on the other hand, is entirely devoid of charm. Mills’ sister is killed; he embarks on a bloody revenge spree. The pace does pick up a bit in the second half of the episode, but the first half is simply an unpleasant slog.

There are a few things to praise about the premiere. The best performance of the night, such as it was, was delivered by Kris Holden-Ried, playing a onetime comrade of Mills’. His character couldn’t fairly be described as interesting, but there was at least a little nuance. (Ried will not be returning to the show for another episode.) No performance was so spectacularly bad as to distract from the rest of the show. The action scenes were competently handled, and in a few places downright good.

On the basis of the premiere alone, there is very little reason for anyone to watch “Taken.” In the interests of charity, however, it should be noted that the pilot episode is almost totally unrepresentative of the rest of the show: “Taken” appears to be an ensemble show about a team of covert operatives. Apart from Standen’s Mills, none of the other members of the ensemble have really been introduced yet. The pilot demonstrates that neither the leading man nor his backstory will be particularly interesting, but an ensemble show can get by with a bland lead as long as the minor characters are interesting.

With that in mind, I will not pass judgment on “Taken” yet—it may be that the parts of the show that emerge in later episodes will be much better. With that said, no one should have any reason to watch the pilot.

—Staff writer J. Thomas Westbrook can be reached at thomas.westbrook@thecrimson.com.

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