It will find you. It may kill you. It's Taken – the TV show

‘Tell you this, dude’s got some skills’ … Clive Standen as Bryan Mills in Taken.
‘Tell you this, dude’s got some skills’ … Clive Standen as Bryan Mills in Taken. Photograph: NBC/Getty Images

Who doesn’t love Taken, the movie franchise that comprehensively rewired Liam Neeson’s career? The third film may have been terrible but like all the best slaps to the chops, the first came out of nowhere. Here, suddenly, was Big Liam pushing back against his Hollywood typecasting as a wise but expendable mentor. The Oscar-winner was reborn as a vengeful, door-kicking CIA dad with a big black coat, a memorable cellphone soliloquy about his “particular skills” and zero qualms about turning foreign cities upside down to locate his kidnapped daughter. Never mind that “Bryan Mills” sounded less like an iconic action hero and more like a journeyman defender with a handful of England caps; Taken was such a success it even sparked a wave of copycat “geriaction” movies featuring bus-pass badasses punching sketchy dudes in the throat.

Now, almost a decade after the first film, this stone-cold classic of modern action cinema has been reimagined for TV in the form of a prequel (albeit one rather confusingly set in the present day). This means a much younger Bryan Mills, played by Clive Standen, the beefy Brit best known as the volatile Rollo from Vikings.

When we meet him, Mills is already a Green Beret, so has taken his first steps down the road to becoming a worryingly lethal warrior-papa. But in this week’s opening episode, someone who means a lot to Mills is cruelly taken from him in a way that makes it impossible to retrieve them. Inevitably, this sets the decorated hero off on an unsanctioned solo mission on domestic soil, an obsessive rampage where his tireless efforts to wreak vengeance are punctuated by flashes of debilitating grief.

Time-shifting the story by three decades muddies the relationship between the adaptation and the source material to the extent that die-hard fans of the original – the sort of people who remember that Holly Valance played a pop princess in the first film – may find themselves struggling to see parallels. Showrunner Alexander Cary, recruited from Homeland, wisely resists the temptation to give Standen a menacing mobile phone speech to rival Neeson’s. There is the odd wink, though. After Mills has finished steamrollering his way through his first nest of baddies, a fellow warrior surveys the bloody aftermath and offers his professional assessment: “Tell you this, dude’s got some skills.” And at one point, the scowling Mills does pull on a big black coat, which in the Takenverse is always a reliable precursor to bone-crunching ultraviolence.

One bloody revenge mission does not a series make. But once Mills crosses paths with Jennifer Beals, playing the head of a covert black ops squad who routinely perform the impossible and let other US agencies take the credit, you start to see how TV Taken will move forward. Mills, the damaged loner, will be recruited into Team Beals, slowly relearning the skills necessary to function as part of a unit of killer elites. From her Flashdance welding days, Beals presumably innately understands what’s required to fuse together rather rigid components into a solid whole. By the end of its second episode, Taken has constructed a convincing enough dramatic chassis for an ongoing series.

Jennifer Beals, who – from her Flashdance welding days – innately understands how to fuse together rather rigid components into a solid whole.
Jennifer Beals, who – from her Flashdance welding days – innately understands how to fuse together rather rigid components into a solid whole. Photograph: NBC/Getty

But it didn’t have to be like this; there was another way to go. You could have built a TV show around Mills’s daughter Kim, played in the movies by Lost’s Maggie Grace. Maybe she finally gets so fed up of being abducted, she decides to join the FBI to learn some particular skills of her own. That’s not to say things will be easy for her. It’ll be tough to escape the shadow of her legendary father, especially since her classmates might be mildly horrified that he encouraged her to throw live grenades around Istanbul to try and triangulate his position by sound (as seen in Taken 2). Who can she turn to in moments of crisis? Easy: even though dad is off running security for U2’s world tour, he’ll still make time to phone in and offer moral support. Surely Neeson would agree to be like Charlie in Charlie’s Angels, phoning in his performance as a comforting disembodied voice? Fans would jokingly call it “Miss Taken”. Bung in a cameo by Holly Valance. We can make this happen, Liam. Call me.

Taken airs on NBC in the US on Monday nights; new episodes are available on Tuesdays in the UK on Amazon Prime.

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