‘Limitless’ Series Premiere Review: This is Your Brain on Designer Drugs

Limitless CBS 3

The original movie “Limitless” was essentially a one idea movie, but it was a good one: what if someone gave you a pill that allowed you to access 100% of your mental capacity? In other words, you could retain anything and everything you ever saw, heard, read, etc. with perfect clarity, as well as having the ability to access that knowledge to use it moving forward to solve any issues you were having at the moment. With that kind of power, obviously the opportunities to further yourself in the world around you would be, well, “Limitless.” Hence the title.

However, beyond the fact that the drug in question was highly addictive and almost immediately hooked the user to the point that they fell apart if they stopped taking it, and, in some case died or, at the very least, deteriorated to the point that they could barely function, that was really about all there was to the movie. So, how were they going to make a show about this decidedly limited subject matter, if you’ll pardon the pun?

Well, given that the show airs on CBS, I might have known they’d turn it into a crime procedural. After all, the network is sort of notorious for that sort of thing, which makes up the vast majority of their output, especially when “CSI” was in full swing. Now, of course, “CSI” is about to be down to one show, with the original ending Sunday, September 27th, and only “CSI: Cyber” to be left in the game, but naturally, they still have “NCIS” and its various offshoots, so it’s not as if CBS was really hurting for a new crime procedural. And yet, here it is.

To be fair, the initial premise is a grabber, which is exactly why it worked great as a movie. Who wouldn’t want a pill that could help them achieve their full potential? Even if there were unfortunate side effects? And others clamoring for it? However, as the movie showed, that was about all one could do with said premise, beyond the fact that, at the film’s end, Bradley Cooper’s character had the bright idea to purchase a lab to study the drug and find out how to make it sans the side effects, which was basically where we left him, aside from the fact that he was moving into politics, which is where we see him when this show begins.

So, on the show, main character Brian Finch is the one who discovers the pill, when an old band mate who has mysteriously become a highly driven businessman gives it to him on the fly after they happen to run into each other at a job he’s interning at. Brian is smart, but lacks ambition and drive, and the pill gives him that, and then some. (Finch is played by Jake McDorman, formerly of “Veronica Mars,” who met Cooper while doing the excellent “American Sniper” and was recruited into the show from there.)

However, when Finch realizes that he could help his ailing father (Ron Rifkin, who also worked with Cooper on TV’s “Alias”) a little too late, Brian knows he has to take the pill at least one more time in order to figure out how to best do so. So, he seeks out his friend, Eli (Arjun Gupta, “Nurse Jackie”), only to discover he’s been murdered. To make matters worse, the FBI arrives just as he figures out what’s happened and only manages to find one of the pills in Eli’s place. So, he takes the pill to help him evade the law, but by the time he does and figures out what’s going on, he’s still unable to help his father as the pill has worn off again.

Bradley Cooper

Enter Bradley Cooper’s character, Eddie Morra, now a Senator since we last left him. Morra has his people keeping an eye on things, so he knows who also has access to the pill, and thus, knew about Brian and his situation. He informs him that not only can he give him the pill he needs to help his father, but that he’ll continue to supply him with the drug from there on out, along with a shot that renders him immune to the nasty side effects, but on one condition: Brian can’t tell anyone about his involvement or he’ll leave him to die in agonizing pain, with no access to the drug. Needless to say, Brian agrees, or we wouldn’t have a show.

Meanwhile, we also discover that the woman in charge of the FBI division that’s hunting for Brian, when they think he killed Eli, Nasreen Awad (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, of “Scarface” and more recently, “Grimm”) knows all about the drug, better known as NZT-48. Wanting to trace the drug back to its source so that they stop it, as it’s been killing off people for some time, she agrees to give Brian a little rope to hang himself, while Agent Rebecca Harris (Jennifer Carpenter, of “Dexter”) keeps tabs on him.

Of course, it’s pretty clear that Awad also has a hidden agenda of sorts as well. Thinking that Brian is somehow immune to the drug’s nasty side effects, it’s clear that she also hopes to figure out a way to make the drug safe so that her agents can start taking it as well and be that much more effective. Until such a time, she agrees to let Harris and Brian work together- you guessed it- using his newfound abilities to solve cases.

So, Brian saves his dad, is cleared of the murder charges against him, and becomes a sort of adviser to the FBI, in what is ultimately kind of a spin on the “Castle” set-up, in that Brian is technically a layman, but has certain skills that help him to effectively figure out some of the trickier cases out there. That’s the gist of the pilot, and one can assume we will move forward into a case-of-the-week type format from there.

I’d say that was sort of disappointing, but at the same time, like I said before, the initial premise is sort of limiting, so really, the show-runners had no choice but to come up with something that made it make sense for it to be a weekly show, and CBS loves them some crime procedurals, so the end result is, if you’ll pardon the pun again, a no-brainer. I’m not necessarily saying it’s a bad idea, though it remains to be seen if it can set itself apart from the multitudes of other crime procedurals out there- the general set-up also brings to mind the likes of “Psych” and “The Mentalist,” so it’s not as if it’s completely unprecedented.

Limitless

Still, will it be ultimately be able to distinguish itself from the billion other crime procedurals out there? We shall see. Until then, the pilot was entertaining enough for what it was, notable for some nutty ideas here and there (looking at you, talking fetus) that show what the series could be if it really went for broke and did some crazy stuff you might not expect. Hopefully, we’ll get some more of that particular brand of crazy, because I think the show would be better for it, but I have a sneaking suspicion that won’t be the case, and that the show will, in the end, be just another crime procedural in a sea of them.

Here’s hoping I’m wrong and it’s turns out to be something new and fresh, and fingers crossed for the best, but until then, it’s nothing to get overly excited about. The cast, which also includes “CSI:NY” vet Hill Harper and “Fringe” vet Blair Brown, is solid, and McDorman is a likable enough leading man. The visuals are also pretty cool, both drawing on the ones from the film before it, and adding a few new wrinkles to the formula, like that talking fetus. But it remains to be seen if that will be enough. Until then, “Limitless” is a decent idea that may or may not have the potential to be more than a one-note one.

What did you think of “Limitless”? Is it the sort of thing you’ll watch week-to-week, or have you had quite enough of crime procedurals? Did you like the main cast? Were you surprised to see Cooper back on television? Will you be tuning in next week? Sound off on this and more, and I’ll see you in a few weeks for a mid-season report!