Neuroenhancers have so much potential but Limitless wastes it with procedural afterthoughts.
You’ll probably recognise the name of this show and the story concept from the 2011 Bradley Cooper film of the same name. If you don’t, then you really need to go watch that film to understand just how much potential Craig Sweeny (Medium, Elementary) held in his hands when he pitched Limitless to the CBS bosses.
Limitless tells the story of a 28-year old directionless slacker, Brian Finch (Jack McDorman, Manhattan Love Story, Greek), who refuses to give up on his dreams of musical fame. He’s a lost cause to his family. The only person who still believes in him is his father, played by Brothers & Sisters veteran Ron Rifkin. The last man standing, Brian turns to temping and runs into an ex-band mate whose got it all figured out. He slips Brian his secret to success, a clear pill called NZT.
Soon enough, Brian’s reaping the benefits that come with full brain capacity and figures out his father’s illness. And then the pill wears off. Brian goes to get more only to discover that his friend’s been murdered. In walks the FBI and the chase begins.
The first twenty minutes of Limitless are surprisingly captivating. The plot moves at such a pace that you’ll have a hard time recognising it for what it actually is: back-story and set up. McDorman’s wry voiceover is entertaining enough that you may even overlook the fact that the vast majority of it is attempting to explain NZT.
Brian’s purpose becomes clear very early on: he needs to save his father. His one driving force is the man who never stopped believing in him. And in stroll the FBI.
For the life of me, I can’t fathom why Sweeny settled for this tired storytelling device. Yes, you have a series to plan. Yes, you need something to drive the characters through from point a to z. Yes, you need to throw obstacles at them to add suspense. Yes, procedural has been done to death!
There were so many other plot devices that could have been employed to push what is essentially a superhero origin story through to conclusion. Sweeny could have been inventive with this. The world was his oyster and he settled for what he knows, boring procedural.
The pilot is entertaining, but the distinct lack of a procedural structure is what makes it compelling. The second episode, the third episode… yawn.
It’s too bad really. Limitless attracted a stellar cast, the cinematic visualisation of NZT’s effect on Brian is exquisite and Brian’s goal makes him very dangerous because he’ll do anything to save his father.
It could have punched through the blur of superhero shows blanketing our screens. Limitless could have trumped them all. But, unfortunately, Brian bled the potential out over the bathroom floor somewhere around minute thirty.
If you’d like to give Limitless a chance, catch Brian Finch on Sky 1 every Wednesday at 9 PM.