The drugs do work... eventually
Reviewing the show of the movie.
UK Broadcast Sky 1, Wednesdays US Broadcast CBS, Tuesdays Episodes Reviewed 1.01- 1.19
The history of television is littered with shows that started off badly, lost viewers and then, paradoxically, went on to become damn fine telly – Marvel’s Agents Of SHIELD is a recent example. Sometimes a new series can take anything from five episodes to almost an entire season to find its feet, a struggle which is totally understandable when you factor in just how hard it must be to write, act and produce a show when everybody’s still testing out their chemistry and figuring out what the hell they’re supposed to be doing each week.
Limitless is a textbook example of this syndrome. It spends half its first season lurching about like a headless zombie, fiddling with its characters ( lead Brian Finch is a dick one week, a saint the next), discovering its tone ( comedic farce or serious police procedural?) and, sadly, failing to add anything new to a genre that’s already fit to bursting. That genre – albeit this time based on a decent Bradley Cooper movie from 2011 – is basically a spin on Sherlock Holmes, aka “What would happen if someone with a special talent starts solving mysteries?” Here, we get an ordinary guy taking a drug that heightens his brainpower, leading to him joining the FBI as a consultant. You can see variations on this theme in everything from The Mentalist, House MD, Sherlock, Monk, Medium, The Dead Zone... well, you get our point.
However, things do start to improve as Limitless plods onwards. Once the writers – who are clearly geeks of the highest order – start to loosen up and have fun, so the show spreads its wings. The first clue that Limitless could become something genuinely
quirky begins around episode seven, which homages Ferris Bueller’s Day Off from start to finish, even down to the costumes. Dream sequences and animations start to become enjoyable rather than irritating. There are in- jokes and movie quotes galore: in one episode Brian helps George RR Martin with the ending of Game Of Thrones; in another someone says: “Let’s nuke it from orbit, it’s the only way to be sure.” By the time some crucial background characters finally get fleshed out in episode 11, Limitless has started to hook you. It’s just a shame that it took so damn long – what came before was, while undoubtedly enthusiastic, as generic as generic can be.
Even when the show has perked up, though, there are still problems. Brian’s drug- propelled leaps of logic aren’t always as clever as they seem to be – for example, he tracks down one of the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted by, er, talking to the guy’s girlfriend. Duh. Leading man Jake McDorman has a puppy- like charm, but he’s so ordinary, even when he’s supposed to be on the drug; just your standard white, 30- something American male TV actor.
At least it’s a great touch to see Cooper, also an exec- producer, reprise his role from the original movie in the show’s arc- plot ( although his scenes with Brian do feel as though Cooper’s cast a younger version of himself ), and Limitless’s cinematography is gorgeous, changing colour according to whether Brian’s taken his pills or not. You might have given up before this show cranked it up a notch, and that’s fair enough – but if you haven’t yet, do stick with it. It might just reward you. Jayne Nelson
“Take after meals with a glass of water.”
He’s so smart he don’t need no gun…
That jumper: an important part of his superhero outfit.