In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.
If you despise any quality whatsoever of good television production, NBC’s new prequel/spinoff TAKEN is exactly what you need in your life. It’s filled with meaningless action and horrendous attempts at quality acting, writing, directing, and editing. However, if you believe that a good television show should include these aforementioned qualities, then you’ll have to look elsewhere for your action-loving indulgences. Bryan Mills (Clive Standen, aka the bargain-bin version of both Liam Neeson and Ryan Gosling) is riding a train with his beautiful younger sister (Celeste Desjardins) when the situation turns violent. Unfortunately, amidst the ensuing mess of guns, blood, shots, and bad edits, the sister is shot dead. Thus, his feeble character backstory is born.
This first scene is actually one of the worst introductions to a television show that I’ve ever had the misfortune of watching. The dialogue is immensely canned, and in combination with poor performances, the sibling characters seem flirtatious and attracted to one another. Good writing shouldn’t make an audience wait until explicitly stated to understand the relationship, as is the case with TAKEN. I thought the guy and girl were dating until Bryan says, “Just looking out for my little sister.” It’s almost like a lonely and love-deprived only child is imagining what sibling interactions might be like (hint: absolutely nothing like this). With a crummy introduction, it’s hard to write a compelling action scene or care about the deaths of boring or unlikable characters. Despite the fact that it was obviously intended to be a high-octane and exciting opener, my interest immediately dissipated and it was very difficult for me to keep watching.
From there, TAKEN continuously stumbles over its tangled plot and under-developed characters. (*Cough, cough* …a relative’s death is not character development…) In fact, there’s a moment near the climax of the pilot where I was convinced that the character on screen was the one I’d just witnessed being shot to death, and I’m still not sure whether they were twins, jumping in time, or just two similar-looking white guys. (Further complicated by the fact that I believe they both have daughters?)
Please help me
Though small and anecdotal, this is really symbolic of the show as a whole: confusing, unnecessary, and convoluted. The plot is a mess of drug cartels, government agencies, spying, and deceit, and it’s nearly impossible to sort any of it out. One specific element that the showrunners seem to have tried to work in (possibly in order to add a level of depth) is moral dilemma, showcased by one government employee questioning the morality of spying on Bryan Mills and using him to catch a villain. This moral discussion is only really mentioned in passing and they don’t return to the issue whatsoever, so it actually comes off as an afterthought as opposed to a serious questioning of society. Its inclusion also only serves to complicate the very ambitious and contrived storylines.
On a somewhat related note, whether the characters are good or bad is baffling. However, it’s not because they are morally complex, but simply because it is unclear which side anyone is on. This is likely caused by the fact that there are way too many small supporting characters that are not well defined. Narratively speaking, the purpose of the spying government workers is lost on me. I suppose it’s something that would become more clear as the show goes on, but for the sake of the pilot, they contribute little to the storyline and cutting back to their reactions is confusing and feels out of place.
As I mentioned before, every single aspect of this pilot was poorly done, even down to things that I normally don’t notice. For example, in several scenes the background talking felt almost too loud and yet not populated by enough different voices for the setting. There were also several instances (especially on the train scene) that certain posters or ads were distinctly featured or prominent, and yet were distracting and irrelevant.
Is this poor production design or product placement?
I understand that some of these criticisms are nitpicky details, but when something is not well thought out in every department, it can be very indicative of a poorly produced show. TAKEN is no exception. Several shows have a few saving graces—be it a likable character or a cool, big star—but unfortunately, there are none for NBC’s TAKEN, which fails in every way and on every level. Nobody should ever watch this, ever. Go watch the movie instead.
TAKEN airs on Mondays on NBC