We’re sporadically tackling new TV pilots throughout premiere season. Fresh on the docket: CBS’s Limitless.
Let’s bitch it out…
What’s it about? This is one of several TV adaptations of feature films (the other is Monday’s Minority Report) and like MI, this is billed as a sequel, not a remake. The 2011 movie introduced a smart pill, NZT, that turned average Bradley Cooper (reprising his role as Eddie Morra) into the smartest man on earth. Whereas Eddie was caught up in a conspiracy, TV series lead Brian Sinclair (Jake McDornan) simply gets caught up in a murder investigation and must work with the FBI agent Rebecca Dayan (Dexter’s Jennifer Carpenter).
Who’s it for? People looking for a cross between police procedurals and CBS’ best show, Person of Interest might get a kick out of this one. Limitless shares its premise with fellow newbies Blindspot and Minority Report, as well as the myriad of other “consultant works with police to solve crimes” series (Castle, Elementary, Sleepy Hollow, etc). Like those? You’ll like this.
What’s good? The show’s biggest defining trait is its visualization of the drug’s effects. Limitless’ visual palette is filled with cold sterile blues, but when Brian takes a pill, the world changes to warmer colour tones (yellows, golds). It’s a simple, but effective way to distinguish when he is under NZT’s influence. These sequences also frequently include a pulse-pounding soundtrack, infographics and sped-up/slowed down montages. It gives the show a bit of an edge over its competitors, which often favour talky exposition dumps.
What’s not so good? In spite of the innovative visuals, the plot is pretty derivative. The murder case in the pilot provides opportunities to build the world and the premise in a fairly accessible fashion, but as a compelling story, it’s completely DOA. Throw is some really egregious, schlocky voice over and the early part of the episode is almost painful. It’s not until the train escape, heavily featured in the trailers, that things start to gel and the hand holding eases back a notch.
The biggest question is whether viewers will care enough to return to watch Brian and Rebecca solve crimes on a weekly basis. The attempt at providing familial backstories for both of them – a sick father for him (Ron Rifkin) and a dead one who will likely come back to life during sweeps for her – is pretty lightweight. And as with Blindspot, peripheral characters (including greats like Fringe’s Blair Brown and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) are given next to nothing to do. One can only assume that they’ll be featured more prominently in the future, but it’s frustrating to see great actresses reduced to bland secondary character status.
Final Verdict: Limitless is the best of the “procedurals with a twist”, but that’s not saying much at this point. How it fares in the long run will greatly depend on whether or not the larger arc of the series is interesting since the cases could be fairly run of the mill. It will also be fun to see Bradley Cooper pop up on TV again every once in a while, too (RIP Alias).
Limitless airs Tuesdays at 10pm EST on CBS