We watch... so you don't have to.

Taken In

It's safe to say that the Sci-Fi channel's Steven Spielberg Presents Taken, currently midway through its two-week, 20-hour run, is a big deal for its host channel. After spending millions of dollars and a year's worth of marketing on this miniseries, it's time to see whether the American public is interested in seeking out the Sci-Fi channel and devoting two weeks of viewing to a story about UFOs and pesky gray aliens.

First there's the title. Although the series was created by, executive produced by, and written entirely by "Dante's Peak" screenwriter Leslie Bohem, the biggest investment Sci-Fi made in its quest for a channel-defining event was in getting Steven Spielberg to put his name above the title. How involved was Spielberg in Steven Spielberg Presents Taken? It's hard to say, but quite a bit less than he was in Band of Brothers would probably be a good guess. Still, Sci-Fi makes a point of uttering the Great Director's name at every opportunity, despite the fact that Taken's full title can easily be misread as being about the day a thief ruined young Steve Spielberg's chanukah.

And somehow I doubt that so many people would be excited by the 20 hours Sci-Fi is serving up if it were called Leslie Bohem Presents Taken.

In any event, titles and hype can only go so far. Once the reels are unspooling, all that's left is the work on the screen. And in large part, Taken isn't bad. Not that it's good, mind you, but it's not bad. This story is told across a large canvas, as you might expect from a 20-hour miniseries. In this case, the canvas is the last half of the 20th century. It's a tale of a couple of families, and how their lives are impacted by those selfsame pesky gray aliens.

If that description sounds a bit familiar, it should. Taken is, in many ways, not much different from NBC's two recent miniseries, The 60s and The 70s, both of which were about families growing and changing in the tumult of historical events. Taken is pretty much the same, except over five different decades and with a lot more alien anal probing.

That Taken tends to remind you of an NBC miniseries is no accident. Despite the presence of the aliens -- who are, at least as the story begins, mostly off-screen -- this is a decidedly mainstream miniseries. It's about lonely, mistreated wives; cruel and (sometimes) ambitious husbands; and troubled sibling relationships -- all set amid the turmoil of historical events from World War II to today.

Taken's scant science fictional element is nothing even the least sci-fi-savvy viewer hasn't seen before, what with its collection of flying saucers and big-eyed gray beasties. And that's no mistake. Taken may have been more than a year in coming to the screen, but in the past year the Sci-Fi channel has already started steering its channel into mainstream waters. Seeking out a larger, more demographically fit, and more female audience, the channel has de-emphasized outer space shows (goodbye, Farscape, and don't let Babylon 5 hit your ass on the way out the airlock) and pumped up the supernatural and down-to-earth.

Taken plays right into Sci-Fi's cards, providing a science-fictiony twist while staying close enough to home to attract mainstream TV viewers. Girl meets boy (who happens to be an escaped alien from Roswell, but disguised in the form of dreamy Eric Close), gives birth to creepy-yet-nice alien hybrid with psychic powers. Evil military-industrial complex captures dreamy alien's spacecraft and creates conspiracy to use alien technology for its own uses. Meanwhile, a disgruntled World War II hero and his family are repeatedly abducted by those gray guys, running metal tubes up their noses and presumably other orifices.

Why are the aliens here? What do they want? Why are they abducting these poor saps and torturing them? There are no answers, although presumably Taken will reveal more by the time it finishes than The X-Files ever did. And presumably, given the scant amount of screen time these aliens get, they will turn out to be doing good, and not evil, by taking our World War II flying ace into the skies and filling his colon with alieny goodness.

No, Taken isn't bad. But it's not really science fiction, either. It's a mainstream piece of entertainment that leverages the public's knowledge of the modern mythology of the space alien in order to tell the stories of a few families torn apart and brought together, sometimes all at once, by the tribulations of the 20th century. That's not a bad idea, per se. But sometimes while watching Taken you've got to wonder if it might not be better if they just took the aliens out of it altogether.

But then we wouldn't be watching Steven Spielberg Presents Taken on the Sci-Fi Channel, would we? We'd be watching Aaron Spelling Presents the 20th Century on the History Channel. And what would be the fun in that?


TeeVee - About Us - Archive - Where We Are Now

Got a comment? Mail us at teevee@teevee.org.

* * *