June 26, 2014

THE SKED Series Premiere Review: “Taxi Brooklyn”


TAXI BROOKLYN:  Wednesday 10PM on NBC – Change the Channel

NBC’s summer action comedy TAXI BROOKLYN has a remarkably full history for such a negligible project.  It started as a French movie hit in 1998, written and produced by Luc Besson, who’s now much better known here as the mastermind behind a slew of Eurocentric bam-bam franchises including Taken and The Transporter.  (Fun footnote:  the girlfriend in the 1998 movie was played by future Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard.)  Taxi itself had 3 French sequels, and in the midst of them, in 2004, it became the basis for an American remake that flopped, starring Jimmy Fallon–during his brief attempt at becoming a movie star–alongside Queen Latifah.  Now it’s made its way to small screens in the US.

In all its incarnations, the set-up has been the same:  a cop who lacks a driver’s license (here Chyler Leigh as NYPD Detective Caitlyn “Cat” Sullivan) is forced to join forces with a local cab driver (Jacky Ido as Leo Romba), both for transportation and because the cabbie helps the cop solve crimes.  Taxi Brooklyn changes the gender of the cop, and since it needs to sustain itself for 13 weeks, it adds a continuing storyline about Cat’s obsessive search for the killer of her father, also a detective.  Cat also has an untrustworthy FBI agent ex-husband, Gregg James (Bill Heck), and a somewhat slatternly mother (Ally Walker).  Leo, for his part, has been given a backstory explaining his illegal status in the US in the most sympathetic way possible (he had been wheelman on a bank robbery in France, but cut a deal with prosecutors to get the real criminals who’d hired him, and who are now hunting him down), as well as a cute young son still in France with whom he can only communicate by Skype because his ex-wife remarried and took sole custody.  (The supporting cast also includes Leo’s tablet, which is so thoroughly and distractingly featured throughout the pilot as a result of the show’s product placement deal with the manufacturer that it should receive co-star billing.)

Back in the days when the broadcast networks were the only shows in town, an amiable nothing like Taxi Brooklyn might have been seen as a welcome hour of fresh content to fill time during the summer months.  With this era offering so much else on cable (not to mention alternate platforms), it’s much harder to overlook the shoddy script by series co-creator Gary Scott Thompson (it’s not clear what the involvement of his fellow co-creators Stephen Tolkin and Franck Ollivier is intended to be).  The crime storyline featured in the pilot is nearly incoherent, a mess of convenient clues and barely-motivated intuitions, and the scenes setting out the characters and backstories feel like material from an outline that was placed in the script without revision.

The pilot’s director Olivier Megaton is a veteran of Besson’s Europa Corp production company, with Transporter 3, Taken 2 and Colombiana among his credits.  He gives the pilot some saturated color that makes it pop a bit, but also ragged editing, an overdose of cliched shaky handheld camerawork, and so little feel for the actual Brooklyn locations that the show might as well have been filmed in Canada.  Since the supporting actors have almost nothing to play, that puts the show squarely on the shoulders of Leigh and Ido.  Leigh is a likable performer, but she’s somewhat miscast as an embittered grown-up tomboy who can’t form lasting emotional attachments–she’s too darn cute for her role.  Ido, for his part, is written to be so ingenious, irresistible and compassionate that he’s one step removed from an alien, and not the kind from Europe.  The two of them have moderate chemistry together, but it’s not enough to make up for the rest of the show.

Taxi Brooklyn falls into the increasingly familiar foreign co-production financial model, and since that keeps costs low for the US network, and since this is summer when standards are low to begin with, the series probably doesn’t have to score much of a rating to be considered a “success.”  If so, it’ll mark another small step for the broadcast networks along the road to total disposability.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."