Disastrous film adaptations on broadcast television are nothing new. They’ve been popping up for decades, and — despite the many flops — network executives continue to apply cross promotional deal mechanics to generate revenue streams for synergy jargon. They love extending a brand’s lifespan via TV, and hey, sometimes it works. “Lethal Weapon,” one of the better examples of late, was just renewed for a second season and remains a treat for franchise fans and “Rectify” die-hards. (Clayne Crawford, keep up the good work.) It works, among other reasons, because the movies were made to fit the procedural formula. The show compliments what inspired it in spirit, character, and execution.
“Taken,” however, represents what happens when everything goes wrong. What made the movie special is ignored again and again in the new series. Though the films arguably proved why the original premise wasn’t sustainable — after two movies, filmmakers stopped worrying about the kidnapping angle — NBC nevertheless tried to extend the franchise not only without Liam Neeson, but sans every facet of the original film that made it addictive entertainment.
Below, we’ve chronicled the events of the pilot to better illustrate exactly why this version of “Taken” feels nothing like the films — and not in a good way. [Editor’s Note: Below, there are spoilers for “Taken” Episode 1.]
1. That Train Scene is Actually Worse After Learning the Twist
First things first: It’s absolutely fine that “Taken” starts with Bryan Mills (Clive Standen) failing to save his sister, Cali (Celeste Desjardins), instead of failing to save his daughter. There doesn’t need to be a kidnapping to kick things off, and the idea of instituting a parallel emotional track — one that would spark Mills’ vengeful fury — is conceptually sound.
There are two major problems in the execution, though: a) Cali dies and her killers are either shot dead or caught, and b) when we find out who really killed her, it undermines Bryan’s credibility. Working backwards, we need to know that Bryan Mills is a stone cold killer capable of anything. He has a heart and cares deeply about his family, but his decisive actions in the opening sequence are supposed to exhibit his intellect and capability. In the films, when Mills’ daughter is taken, there’s nothing he can do about it. He recognizes the situation he’s in, determines the best course of action to protect his family, and then methodically goes about setting things right.
Here, not only does he let Cali die — a no-no when, since he’s in the room with her, he technically could have saved her — but we later find out he didn’t spot the man pulling the trigger. The drug lord in disguise slipped Mills’ cunning eye, leading to his sister’s death. So we’re starting off the series on the wrong foot: Mills messed up, and that’s not something Neeson’s Mills would allow to happen.
Worse off from a momentum standpoint, Mills isn’t given a reason to start a crusade. With his sister dead, her killers accounted for, and no reason to think she was the target (at first), Mills simply grieves with his parents and suspiciously eyes everything in sight. We want to see him go after some guys, and instead, he’s just sitting around.
2. Compared to the Movies, This Mills Doesn’t Really Give a Crap
We’re not saying Mills doesn’t care about his sister. He does, but he doesn’t care to the same degree as his film counterpart. Mills spends the middle portion of the pilot immobile. He’s awkwardly sauntering up to Cali’s friend at her wake (which, come on, is not the body language of an ex-Green Beret). He’s making a microwave dinner and watching TV. He’s going to bed after warning his old army buddy to an imminent threat.
Are you kidding me with this nonsense? In what world does Bryan Mills lay down on the job, needing eight good hours of beddy-bye before he can continue his quest for vengeance? Bryan Mills sleeps when he blinks, he doesn’t rent a hotel room because he’s a little sleepy! He doesn’t take breaks! He doesn’t slow down for anything! He’s a man on a singular mission, and you better get the hell out of his way or face the firing squad.
Or, that’s what we signed up for when we sat down to watch a show based on the film “Taken.” That’s clearly not the case here, so we’re clearly far less interested.
3. No One Can Replace Liam Neeson
Chalk this one up in the “no shit” category. Liam Neeson’s voice alone is iconic, let alone how he physically followed through on his bone-chilling threats. Clive Standen wisely doesn’t try to imitate Neeson, and — as evidenced above — the show seems more than OK with letting the audience forget who Bryan Mills once was.
But why? Mills is what makes “Taken” worth watching. The original owes quite a bit to director Pierre Morel, as well, but the only reason we’d want to watch a series about “Taken” is if Liam Neeson was in it (dare to dream) or the series was modeled after his particular set of skills. We’ve already noted how those skills aren’t on proper display in the pilot, but Standen’s performance lacks any of the urgency, stoicism, confidence, or general authority expected in Mills; a combination that proves costly.
4. Bryan Mills Would Never Do That
I can’t tell you how many times I thought this during the pilot, but here are a few moments that stand out:
- Mills spotted the men on the train because they were both wearing strange hats. Sporting a fedora gives the public good reason to avoid you, but it shouldn’t indicate you’re toting a semi-automatic weapon.
- Mills let someone close to him die while he was in the same room.
- Mills chases a van and, instead of jumping on board, gets thrown into a parked car.
- Mills takes a break to have a snack.
- Mills sleeps.
- Mills doesn’t kill the guy responsible for getting his sister killed. OK, maybe Movie Mills would have let him go, too, but there’s no way that dude leaves without a bruise.
- Mills lets himself be taken.
- I’m going to say that again: Bryan Mills lets himself be taken. By the bad guys. Without an escape plan. Without any indication he would get to kill the bad guy. He just let himself get strung up and tortured by the guy who killed his sister.
- Mills would never need anyone else to save him. And he definitely wouldn’t rely on Jennifer Beals’ mysterious team — who he was not in contact with — to save him.
5. No One Gets Taken
And now, we come full circle: If the TV version of “Taken” isn’t going to follow the same successful formula of the films, nor does it model Bryan Mills after the Mills fans know and love, then someone has to at least get kidnapped…right? That’s the name of the show, the inspiration for the movies, and a simple call to action for the show to implement. At the very least, there has to be a cursory effort in the story to justify adapting “Taken” into a TV show.
Alas, we can’t find one. No one is taken in “Taken,” and that sentence alone should tell fans just how far removed the show is from the films. If you want to get nit-picky, Mills himself was taken, but we already covered why that doesn’t count. And yes, his army buddy’s daughter was taken, too, but by the good guys! That’s not the same thing, at all.
Ultimately, this is just the strawberry on top of a poorly prepared sundae. Nothing about the show matches expectations, making it a confounding (and largely boring) viewing experience. Using a film purely for inspiration is fine. Taking a film and stripping it of everything that made it special is not, especially when what’s replacing the original’s particular skill-set is basically routine competence.
“Taken” airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on NBC.