The CBS procedural Limitless was the story of Brian Finch, the guy who followed the movie’s Eddie Morra into the land of complete mastery of the brain via the drug NZT.
NZT enabled Brian to do some amazing things, including: solving the murder for which he had been framed; save his father’s life; work with the FBI as a special consultant and even find a little romance.
Maybe if the audience had had access to NZT more would have appreciated its inspired boundary jumping/genre mixing.
The pilot, which was mostly a straightforward procedural with only a few hints of wackiness to come, introduced us to Brian (Jake McDorman, Shameless, Manhattan Love Story) – a perennial near miss of a guy, still searching for that special area in which he could excel.
When a friend gives him an NZT pill, suddenly Brian is the brightest guy on the planet – which comes in handy when he finds his friend murdered and becomes the lead suspect. This is when we meet FBI special agent Rebecca Harris (Jennifer Carpenter, Dexter) – who starts out hunting him down and winds up his handler/partner on increasingly weird cases as the show progressed.
At first Brian was used strictly as a resource – working from a filing room in the basement (insert X-Files joke here) – but using the brilliance NZT gave him, he soon found his way into the field. While in the field, he worked with Rebecca, but when he was in the office, he had a pair of minders whom he referred to as Mike (Michael James Shaw) and Ike (Tom Degnan).
His work led to some problems with his family – father, Dennis (Ron Rifkin, Alias); mother, Marie (Blair Brown, Fringe) and sister, Rachel (Megan Guinan, Gossip Girl, Public Morals) – which, in turn, led to problems with Senator Edward Morra (Bradley Cooper, Alias, American Sniper), who had provided him with a drug that prevented some nasty NZT side effects (almost always fatal) and Morra’s right-hand man, Sands (Colin Salmon, Arrow, 24: Live Another Day).
Perhaps the show was a bit too complex, but it only got more so as the writers started playing with the conventions of the procedural – dropping Brian into a Ferris Bueller riff in an episode about CIA black ops, or giving his subconscious play in an episode where all words with a nasty connotation are replaced with much nicer ones (stabbed = tickled; murdered = hugged).
Then there were Brian’s presentations – no Power Point presentations for him! It wasn’t uncommon to see some kind of handmade post-it sculpture or patterns trace in string featuring prominently as Brian explained his theories.
Nominally in charge, Assistant Director Nasreen Pouran (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Grimm, Law & Order: Criminal Intent) recognized Brian’s NZT- generated genius (and the way it didn’t have side effects for him) and put him to good use – though, ultimately, he was always unpredictable, she was prepared to put up with the headaches he might produce.
Stylistically, Limitless was a chameleon – mimicking whatever genre that played to the story (in Brian finch’s Black Op, that style bounced between Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and any number of rogue CIA movies; in Stop Me Before I Hug Again, Brian’s subconscious plays like a kids educational series (think Barney & Friends) while the actual case is played by standard procedural conventions, only with nice words substituted for nasty ones.
An episode could go from straight procedural to Tex Avery/Chuck Jones lunacy and back in a scene – or even in the middle of a line.
As an experiment, it was risky as hell; as a CBS series, it was maybe a little (okay, a lot) over the top. Still, it was on the high side of the bubble when it was canceled, so it’s too bad that it didn’t get a second season once its audience solidified. It could have been a delightful pinch hitter on an otherwise somewhat staid schedule.
Simply put, Limitless was a fun, infinitely varied experiment couched in the format of a procedural. It lasted one season but lives on in home video where we can enjoy its unique delights whenever we choose.
Although there’s barely an episode that wouldn’t have made for an interesting and entertaining audio commentary (and especially the two I’ve reference by title above), the Limitless DVD set does not have even one.
On the other hand, the features we do get are very good: Five Pre-Launch Promos; Big Screen to Small Screen: Launching Limitless For Television; The Style Of Limitless (the style of the show – not the wardrobe); More Of Who You Are (how NZT affects a person); Brian Presents (the best of Brian’s non-Power Point presentations), and a Gag Reel.
Grade: Limitless: Season One – A+
Grade: Features – B
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