Styled as a prequel to Luc Besson’s vigilante action trilogy of the same name, "Taken," which premieres in series form Monday on NBC, does share with the films a lead character named Bryan Mills, originally played by
(The series is set in the present, so if, as press materials have it, "in 30 years, this character is destined to become the Bryan Mills that we've come to love" from the movies — a retired CIA agent and the proverbial guy you don't want to mess with — someone is going to have to send him down a wormhole.)
At this point in his life, Mills (Clive Standen, "Vikings") is an ex-super-soldier newly recruited by Christina Hart (Jennifer Beals) into a hyper-secret, incredibly tiny "emergency covert action team." She finds him useful to her immediate ends; for him, it's, as they say in the pictures, "personal" — a matter of "Come for the revenge, stay for the national welfare."
Although they're tossed the odd "humanizing" throwaway line about a coffee maker or a falafel place in Fallouja, Mills' new co-workers at the spy shop — icy at first, soon to warm — are distinguishable one from another mainly by physical appearance. In the fashion of "24," they are either running around out in the field or back at headquarters guiding other characters as they run around in the field, via the satellites and closed-circuit cameras that make such scenes possible.
Some are played by actors you may recognize, including Jose Pablo Cantillo from "The Walking Dead" and Gaius Charles from "Grey's Anatomy." Jennifer Marsala stood out for me just by virtue of seeming to have a softer side in a show where grim determination is the dominant note. Standen is boyish and brawny. The actors aren't the problem.
Is there a problem? Developed by Alexander Carey ("Homeland," "In Plain Sight"), "Taken" is a meat and potatoes melodrama — garnished with a little bit of sentiment, seasoned with the odd teardrop, but fundamentally a thing of steak and starch. It may be overcooked and unexceptional, like a midlevel chain restaurant meal, but those places are full of customers and many will doubtless find it satisfying.
This may be because the show confirms them in their fearfulness, or fearfulness as an attitude they don't mind adopting for entertainment purposes. The writing takes a rather benign attitude toward the use of black site imprisonment and a discomfitingly gleeful approach to torture. (Mills' potential love interest, an "environmental lawyer" played by Brooklyn Sudano, may be a source of pushback.) There is a high body count; human targets are dispassionately dispatched, by bad and good guys alike.
But the show's approach to terrorism is at least ecumenical — it wants you to know that it knows that not all villains come from foreign lands, and that the greed of a giant corporation is no less evil than that of a gun-running narco-terrorist or a duly elected nutjob with apocalyptic tendencies. As is often the case in such stories, freedom is balanced on the back of the intelligence community. Maybe that's how it really is — I'm not at liberty to say.
When: 10 p.m. Monday
Rating: TV-14-LV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for coarse language and violence)
Follow Robert Lloyd on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd