Limitless “This is Your Brian on Drugs” Review (Season 1 Episode 11)

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On the mid-season winter finale of “Limitless,” Brian Finch (Jake McDorman) finally got a long-overdue wake-up call on his behavior, in “This is Your Brian on Drugs.” Interestingly enough, it was in an episode in which he was the least of the focus, perhaps more so than ever before. Of course, given the show’s general approach to things these days, that atypical move is actually in keeping with the norm of the show in a roundabout way.

This being the midway point of the show, it seems like a good a point as any to reassess where we are in the grand scheme of things and how the show has progressed over the course of the first season. In order for a new show to thrive, it has to grow and reinvent itself just enough to keep things interesting; otherwise it runs the risk of becoming all too predictable.

Factor in the fact that this is essentially a crime procedural at heart, and one can see how this might be an uphill battle. After all, such shows are like comfort food: we know exactly what we’re getting into, and we don’t expect too much in the way of surprises. But just as you wouldn’t want to eat your favorite meal every day, day-in and day-out, over and over again, so would it become tedious if this show had simply devolved into a typical “case of the week” scenario, like so many other shows populating the TV landscape right now.

So, the trick instead becomes how to still do that, and thus, deliver the expected goods, without getting stale and predictable in the process. The whole point of a crime procedural is to solve a case in an allotted amount of time, so one can only get so left-of-center, right? Well, if the first half of the season of “Limitless” has proved anything, it’s that such may not necessarily be the case.

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To wit, how many crime shows can you name that have animated sequences, musical montages, stop-motion claymation, use of split screen, mixed-up narratives (a la Tarantino), computer effects, sped-up camerawork, and lots more where that came from- sometimes within the same episode. I want to say there were even puppets at one point!

Now, don’t get me wrong. This has NOT gone over well with some. For instance, some have lamented that the show has diverted too much from the more serious-minded original film it was spun off from, which wasn’t really the case in the early days of the show. This experimentation the show has steadily become more involved in as it has progressed was definitely a more gradual thing, and not everyone is onboard with it.

Some fans have lamented that the show has become silly, that McDorman is too much of a goof as the lead, and that the show often isn’t very realistic, if not out-and-out ridiculous at times. These are fair enough complaints, and I can see where some would think that way.

Just as, for instance, some deride another CBS show, “Scorpion” for playing fast and loose with science and technology and what is possible or not- particularly in regards to situations with limited resources- many have leveled the same charges at “Limitless” for verging on self-parody, and playing almost more as a spoof of the movie it was derived from rather than a straight spin-off within the same universe, and for asking us to buy some truly out-there scenarios.

Once again, these are all valid enough complaints, but guess what? Just as those who are not able to buy the whole nerd “MacGyver” antics of “Scorpion” probably shouldn’t continue to watch that show, those who don’t particularly care for what “Limitless” has become should probably have stopped watching long ago because it is what it is, and if you don’t like it, it isn’t likely going to change much going forward. You should probably quit while you’re ahead, quite frankly.

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Granted, tonight was a bit of a turning point in the show, in that someone finally died as a direct result of Brian’s actions that he actually knew and played a part in getting killed. Yes, it wasn’t truly his fault, in that he wasn’t the one who pulled the trigger, but he certainly set the events in motion that caused it, and it undeniably served as a wake-up call for the character.

Does that necessarily mean we won’t continue to get the occasional wacky episode filled with the sorts of things I mentioned? Hopefully not, because it’s precisely that sort of irreverence that made me really become a fan of the show, after a fairly predictable beginning early on. Once they started getting truly experimental with the format, that was when I got onboard with it, not the stuff early on, which was admittedly truer to the source material, but also not all that interesting and original, either.

I mean, I get that a continuation of the ideas and approach broached in the original movie was exactly what brought a lot of people to the show in the first place, and also why some of them became disillusioned and disappointed with it when it veered away from that. But to me, as someone who has to review a lot of this sort of thing, and who has seen a lot of shows- many of them on CBS, I might add- that are entirely too predictable and oft-hard to get through precisely because of that, I can tell you, a little inventiveness goes a long way with me.

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There’s nothing more satisfying as a reviewer than to think you’ve got something pegged early on, only to be proven wrong when it takes a turn into something you never could have expected. I mean, honestly, you couldn’t have scrubbed the smile off my face when they did animation on the show for the first time. I was, in a word, completely charmed.

I just love it when the show does quick-cut editing and wacky montages and homages to various source material, as we got, for instance, in the “Ferris Bueller” tribute episode earlier on in the season. As far as I’m concerned, if the show had gone on like that, I would have been fine with it, at least for the foreseeable future. That said, I also got why they had to take the turn they did tonight, but I don’t necessarily think it means the end of good times, either.

If characters don’t grow and learn from their experiences, then a show often becomes stagnant and repetitive, so for “Limitless” to acknowledge that and take that turn was a smart move in a show that, despite the occasional ventures into wacky territory and the surreal, still nonetheless prides itself on intelligence and clever solutions to complex problems. Who knows? Maybe the move will win back some of the audience it lost when things got a bit too wacky for their tastes, by reeling it in somewhat moving forward.

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Overall, the show has done well enough to warrant a full season, which is always a good sign, though perhaps not as solid a vote of confidence as an early renewal. You certainly can’t blame CBS for erring on the side of caution, though. I imagine the show is fairly costly, between all the mixed mediums it employs at times and the presence of Bradley Cooper alone, even if that presence is only of the glorified cameo variety. (He’s still an executive producer on the show, so I imagine that doesn’t come cheap, either.)

Personally, I quite like the show, and hope it continues to grow, while maintaining what made me a fan in the first place, which is the combination of the clever premise and inventive execution, coupled with a solid cast and a spirit of adventure and fun. I mean, as we saw tonight, even what could have easily been tossed-off non-entities of characters, the pair typically referred to as “Mike and Ike,” have actually developed into people we kind of care about- and even Brian has come to, after a fashion. That’s not too shabby for characters that could have easily become a one-joke cartoon.

So, good on you, “Limitless” for not taking the easy way out, and going down the road less traveled, in pursuit of something a cut above the rest of the crime procedural pack. That approach may have scared off some in the short term, but I suspect that those who like it will be sticking around, much like myself, and that’s something to celebrate, IMHO.

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What do you think of “Limitless”? Were you among those who were disappointed when it turned into something other than what it started out as? Do you wish it had stuck closer to its source material? Or do you prefer what the show has become? Do you like the more experimental forms the show takes? What was your favorite left-of-center moment? Did you have a favorite episode? (I’d have to go with “Brian Finch’s Black Op,” which was the first show where I felt the newer approach coalesced, closely followed by the highly-amusing, if a bit overstuffed-with-riches “Headquarters!”)

What would you recommend the show do moving forward, approach-wise? Do you think it should dial it back more? Or should they simply alternate between the more sober-minded, serious early episodes and the more wacky episodes of late? Would you have a problem with a little of both within the same episode? Or would you prefer that Brain continue to “grow up” and start behaving in a more serious manner? Would the show even be the same if he did?

Sound off on this and more down below in the comments section and keep an eye out for another update later on in the season when the show returns next year!