THE SERIES “Taken”
WHEN | WHERE Premieres Monday at 10 p.m. on NBC/4
WHAT IT’S ABOUT While watching the same-named movies starring Liam Neeson, you were probably thinking: Where did this mission-man acquire these mad action skills? Did he ever have a ruthless woman boss? What about his younger-self’s parents? Sister? Girlfriend?
Clive Standen arrives with some answers. TV’s latest British import, he’s been a savvy ensemble player in History’s “Vikings” (as Rollo). Now Standen steps up to star as Neeson’s Bryan Mills in this prequel of the operative’s hot-young-stud days. Having honed his skills and disillusionment in the military and CIA, he finds himself, in Monday’s pilot, back in his family’s New England hometown, nursing a new grudge against a global baddie, who’s got an old grudge against him. Which makes him ripe for the plucking by Jennifer Beals’ hardnosed secret-missions leader of a team that officially doesn’t exist.
Before that, of course, there’s serious gunplay, butt-kicking and body count. After that, of course, there’s more of the same. And in weeks to come, Standen’s hopelessly haunted hero — Beals calls him “still a work in progress” — goes to war against Syrian refugee slavery, government war-promoters, and even bad-side-effects big pharma (in the March 20 episode, sharply directed by Dix Hills’ Romeo Tirone).
Besides hints of far-reaching conspiracies, Standen begins to build a personal life, as Beals struggles with issues of her own. The other team members (including Gaius Charles of “Friday Night Lights”) solidly play good soldiers, amid the genre’s requisite moody post-industrial locations — abandoned factories, sub-sub-basements, parking garages.
MY SAY So is the genre exemplified by “Taken” just our current-day Western? Enemies face off at rusting power plants instead of old gold mines? Mercenary lackeys as nameless fatalities in place of Western gang members six-gunned off cliffsides? It’s all a lot more covert and conspiracy-ey, but otherwise seems to scratch the same itch.
Overseen by former “Homeland” producer Alexander Cary (a Gulf War veteran, who adapted with screenwriter Luc Besson), “Taken” exercises its thriller muscles effectively, dashing between locations and speed-introducing people as props to help/harm Mills while he races the clock to save the day.
That day is mostly gray, however, since “Taken” is shot around Toronto, with its telltale northern light and generic settings. Maybe it suits Mills’ dour outlook, but it gets tiresome. So does the show’s dialogue, hoarsely whispered a la Kiefer Sutherland’s “24” character Jack Bauer, often fading into the background and threatening to take star Standen with it. The less said about characters’ personal lives, the better. This show just isn’t taken with them.
BOTTOM LINE Coolly confident action.