Review of Limitless, starring Jake McDorman and Jennifer Carpenter
When I first heard that the 2011 film Limitless was being turned into a TV series, my first thought was, “Why?” I saw Limitless when it came out, and while I remember enjoying it as a fun little thriller, it wasn’t really the kind of thing that stuck with me. I am curious to know who was desperate to turn a fun – but forgettable – thriller into a TV series.
Limitless, the TV series, is about what I expected it to be. Set up as a “sequel” to the film, our main character is Brian Finch (Jake McDorman, who looks eerily like a younger version of Bradley Cooper), a 20-something who had dreams of being a rock star. Instead, he is an aimless slacker, supporting himself as a temp, while his surprisingly supportive family smiles and nods. A temp gig in the file room at a Wall Street firm reunites Brian with Eli, a former bandmate who is now a successful suit. The two have lunch, and Eli introduces Brian to NZT, the clear pill that unlocks 100% of your brain cells.
The results of NZT are impressive to Brian, but when he starts to come down, he goes looking for another fix. When he arrives at Eli’s apartment, he finds him dead, his place trashed. Someone was clearly looking for his stash. Brian finds a single pill and escapes as an FBI team raids the apartment, but this makes him the number one suspect. He uses his NZT-brain to reach out to FBI agent Rebecca Harris (Jennifer Carpenter) and helps her solve Eli’s murder.
Along the way, Bradley Cooper reprises his role of Eddie Morra, the main character in the film. Morra is now a successful senator, running for re-election. He has been “tracking” Brian since his first dose, and makes him an offer: get an occasional injection, and he can take as much NZT as he wants with no side effects. All he wants is for Brian to “one day fill a position he will need to fill.” Brian agrees. Next comes the deal with the FBI. Several government agencies conducted NZT tests among their agents, but it had lethal side effects. Nasreen (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), Rebecca’s boss, is shocked to discover that Brian is immune to NZT’s side effects. They want to study him, and Rebecca suggests he become a consultant. Brian agrees.
Limitless the series tries desperately to imitate the film, but none of it gels. In the film, non-NZT moments are robbed of color, while the NZT moments are bright and clear, almost golden. The TV series achieves this effect by putting a blue tint on the non-NZT scenes, a yellow-tint on the NZT scenes. Brian continues the tradition of the voice over, which is unnecessary, especially when, while on NZT, Brian works things out by talking with a physical representation of himself. He talks to himself and the audience. While it was nice to see Bradley Cooper return (he is an executive producer on the show), and his role could produce a new wrinkle to the plot, his involvement surely will depend on his film schedule.
CBS has managed to take an intriguing sci-fi idea and force it into a standard procedural template. That’s what CBS does (which is why most of their shows are spin-offs of spin-offs) and that is why I worry about Supergirl. By the end of the pilot, it becomes very clear that, week to week, Limitless will follow Brian and Rebecca as they solve FBI cases using Brian’s “gift.” Other than the NZT allowing Brian to see all possible outcomes, I sense this is going to be a very standard cop drama.
Limitless premieres September 22 on CBS