Comic Con 2015 TV Pilot Review: Limitless
PLOT: Limitless is a continuation of the 2011 movie starring Bradley Cooper. The TV show follows Brian Finch (Jake McDorman) as a failing musician and a disappointing son to his parents. During his struggles, a chance meeting with an old friend introduces him to a powerful mind-enhancing drug that will change his life forever.
REVIEW: Normally when I hear Hollywood is taking a movie idea and turning it into a weekly TV series, I immediately cringe. The cringe becomes even more severe if I hear it is on one of the major networks where they always play it a bit too safe for my tastes. Not only did the pilot of Limitless fail to make me cringe, it positively surprised me at times at how well they captured the essence of the original movie it’s based on.
In full disclosure, I was a fan of the 2011 film with Bradley Cooper and in my opinion you really gain a lot going into the show if you have seen the movie, particularly knowing who Cooper’s character is and why he’s important to the story. But more on that in a bit…
The story focuses on Brian Finch, a struggling musician who is past his prime as a failed rock star. Over the years his bandmates have all moved on and he is left as a solo act just waiting for the big break that will never come. His family members all seem painfully aware of Brian’s failures and you get the sense that he is their little inside joke. I guess every family has one. Despite this fact, Brian’s father is his biggest fan and supporter and in turn is the one person who Brian wants to impress more than anything.
When his father starts experiencing the symptoms of a mysterious illness, Brian can no longer focus on writing music and ends up taking a temp job at a financial firm. Working at the firm leads to a chance encounter with his old friend and bandmate, Eli, who is now a successful investment banker and the two catch up over lunch. Brian admits his lack of focus for writing music which prompts Eli to convince him to try a very special drug to help him focus better then he ever has. With nothing to lose, Brian takes the pill and heads back to the office.
The pill immediately gives Brian full access to every memory he has ever had and full recall of every piece of information he has ever absorbed. (In the movie, they use the tired trope of being able to access the other 90% of the brain that we can’t normally call on. Luckily here, they avoid that direct wording.) The show really starts to shine as we see Brian perform nearly impossible tasks including researching and discovering what his father’s illness really is.
Like any drug though, the power bestowed to the user becomes too addictive and Brian seeks out more pills. When going to see his friend Eli to get his next fix, he stumbles onto his friend’s dead body and ends up on hunted by the FBI for his murder. Cue the trope of the typical nice guy on the run as a fugitive using his abilities to clear himself of a murder he didn’t commit. During the manhunt, the audience is educated about the origin and full effects of the drug known as NZT as the details are told to Rebecca, an ignorant FBI agent (Jennifer Carpenter of Dexter fame). From here we follow a cat and mouse game between the two leads as Brian tries to gather evidence to prove his innocence and Rebecca tries to convince her co-workers he’s not a murderer.
Along the way, we are introduced to Senator Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) as a fellow NZT user. Cooper certainly adds gravitas to the show and steals the scenes he’s in, though it’s very short-lived. He provides an enzyme to counter the negative effects of the drug and of course more pills to help Brian clear his name. Their meeting certainly opens up a great opportunity as a mentor/apprentice relationship but with some underlying threatening vibes foreshadowing their future together. There’s not many surprises as the show wraps up with Brian obtaining the evidence needed and clearing his name. However, the final scene sets up the entire show’s premise as Brian being coerced into working for the FBI on complex cases in exchange for a continued supply of NZT.
Overall, I thought the pilot episode worked and I was thoroughly engaged. I was worried about Jake McDorman not having the charisma required to pull off a character like this, but he surprised me throughout. He made it work. Jennifer Carpenter left me a bit cold and I never found much to like about her character. The rest of the cast did well but I do worry about the focus on the two main leads not having the chemistry or ability to carry a show like this. The effects were well done and fitting and certainly kept the spirit of the episode alive throughout. The feel of the drug-induced moments of superhuman intelligence seems akin to the internal monologuing of Sherlock Holmes from the Guy Ritchie movies… and I feel that’s a good thing.
Some criticisms about the show were in editing, script, and storytelling. For example, Brian leaves the door wide open to Eli’s apartment but yet we hear the FBI beating the door down a few minutes later. Another odd script choice (or possibly bad editing) was during a phone call scene between Brian and Rebecca. Brian tells her he has been shot but never mentions where the wound is while they are on the phone… yet magically she asks if the bullet is still in his leg. Maybe some dialogue was cut? Maybe it was a continuity error in the script? Regardless, I was jarred out of the show during that scene. Some of the dialogue is a bit forced and there were more than a few moments of ridiculous coincidence just to add drama. Of course, the writers would have us believe that all is forgiven of our lead character including robbing a bank with a loaded weapon and holding hostages while asking for his one specific contact in the FBI so he can clear his name. I guess Hollywood still hopes we believe that all’s well that ends well when it comes to felonious actions if you’re likable.
There’s a lot of talent involved in Limitless and I would like to see it succeed. My main concern is the de-evolution of the show into a standard buddy cop drama involving two single people of the opposite sex where one is endowed with some extraordinary power which relies on the other to provide the catalyst... in this case, his super intelligence is fueled by her provisioning of the NZT pills. If they fill space with that concept, that’s okay… but probably won't make for an engaging show. I hope they just remember to spend time focusing on the questionable dealings with Bradley Cooper’s character amid the underworld of NZT. The mysterious drug is the real highlight here and I hope they don't lose that aspect of the story. Will I continue to watch it? Yes. I am cautiously optimistic... but I also won't be surprised if it doesn't make it past the first season.
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