TV Review - Limitless (2015) (Premiere Week)

Like the new series Minority Report on FOX, this show is essentially a follow-up to a hit movie. Bradley Cooper starred and produced Limitless (2011), an adaptation of a book by Alan Glynn. Unlike the FOX series, this show integrates the movie's star into its narrative. Cooper played Edward Morra then and he plays Edward Morra now. Written by Craig Sweeney, this first episode does take place after the events of the movie, but oddly the inciting incident here is exactly the same as in the film.

Jake McDorman (Greek and Shameless) takes the lead as Brian Finch, a 28-year-old, aspiring musician who has not been able to get anywhere with his career. Mainly, it's due to luck but also due to Brian's own failings, either his frustration or his laziness. He gets a temp job in the filing room of a firm. He learns that a former musician and friend, Eli Whitford, played by Arjun Gupta works at the firm as an investment banker. Eli gives Brian a pill, known as NZT, a pill, as the movie taught, turns you into a genius, mentally brilliant and physically agile.

Once Brian takes the pill, he becomes Einstein-like and much more. His memory and cognitive skills are all super-enhanced. His brain becomes the most advanced ever, capable of reasoning or figuring out any problem or question, intellectually and physically. It also makes him extremely confident and a bit of a motivational speaker.

Sweeney was a writer and producer for CBS' Elementary, a modern-day and Americanized version of Sherlock Holmes, a character who is a genius in that way without any external forces or objects. Brian Finch is therefore a younger and hipper Sherlock Holmes. Because Elementary also pairs the male genius with a female counterpart, or sidekick, this series does the same.

Jennifer Carpenter (Dexter) co-stars as Rebecca Harris, a detective with the NYPD. She essentially is playing her same character in Dexter just supplanted in Manhattan. It's especially similar because Rebecca also has daddy issues. She sees something in Brian's eyes, which remind her of her father that draws her to him, not unlike Carpenter's character in Dexter who was drawn to her brother.

The inciting incident, which is the same for the movie, is the murder of the person who gives the protagonist the pill. Eli gives Brian NZT. Brian goes back to Eli to get more pills because he's become addicted to NZT, but he finds Eli dead. Rebecca investigates the murder and suspects Brian is the killer. Brian then has to prove his innocence.

Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci are the executive producers of this show. They also executive produced CBS' Scorpion, which is about a genius who becomes an unlikely consultant to law enforcement to help solve crimes week-after-week. The premise to Elementary is basically the same. Once Brian clears his name, Rebecca recommends he become a consultant too, making this show a carbon copy of both those prior CBS programs.

The difference between this and Elementary in particular is that the version of Sherlock Holmes in that series has Sherlock as a recovering drug addict. However, this series is encouraging Brian Finch to revel in a specific drug addiction. It's not comparable in that, thanks to Edward Morra, the drug isn't destructive to Brian's life. It only enhances, or at least the side effects are minimized.

However, I'm surprised that Sweeney didn't make the argument that the closest comparison might be to steroid use in sports. Brian will use NZT to solve crimes like murders, so no argument against that use could ever hold up or be as forceful as the anti-steroid arguments, but hopefully future episodes will explore someone being opposed to NZT use in favor of developing the brain naturally.

Director Marc Webb crafts this initial episode to look like all other CBS shows. There are some tricks from the 2011 film that Webb tosses in here like the successive, quick zooms but used to less effect. When Brian isn't on NZT, he's bathed in darker colors, predominantly blue. When Brian is on NZT, he's bathed in brighter colors, predominantly orange.

There's some over-arching mystery involving Edward Morra, which will be doled out in tiny pieces over the course of the season. It will probably play out like the mystery in ABC's Forever, which was cancelled this spring. If so, my interest in the series will cease. If not, and if Brian applies his genius to something more than just standard crimes, then this show could be special.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-14-LV.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Tuesdays at 10PM on CBS.

Note: This show is being reviewed as part of a series of one-episode reviews during premiere week, which for the major TV networks runs from late September to early October.

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