Limitless s1 ep 1; s1 ep 2

images-31Limitless arrives with a certain amount of baggage, for better or worse, from the 2011 Bradley Cooper-starring film. (Which I liked, but YMMV.) It also comes with ten – ten – executive producers, including Cooper himself; the Alex Kurtzman/Roberto Orci team from Alias and, more recently, Hawaii Five-0; Hangover trilogy director Todd Phillips; and (500) Days of Summer and Spider-Man reboot helmer Marc Webb, who directs these first two episodes. Too many cooks?

Well, let’s see. Twentysomething serial underachiever Brian Finch (Jake McDorman, not an actor with whom I’m familiar) is temping in a bank, and runs into an old friend, Eli, who provides him with miracle drug NZT. As we know from the film, NZT enables you to access all of your brain, or something, so quickly enough Brian is knocking the temping job out of the park, and in his spare time diagnosing his father’s (Ron Rifkin – always a pleasure) mysterious debilitating illness.

When he goes looking for more NZT, though – and who wouldn’t? – he finds Eli dead in his apartment, and immediately becomes the main suspect, pursued by Feds Rebecca Harris (Jennifer Carpenter, who was good in Dexter until she visibly lost interest), and Spelman Boyle (Hill Harper, who I didn’t see in CSY:NY, but who was interesting in the underrated Covert Affairs). Harris has a chance to shoot Brian, but seeing something in his eyes doesn’t take the shot: Secret Pain alert.

images-30Brian goes after one of Eli’s co-workers, taking a bullet in the leg in the process. So he phones Harris, looking for tips in how to administer field surgery on oneself. But he passes out, and comes to in the custody of Senator Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper, bringing star megawattage and genuine menace), who has bad news: NZT, in short, will kill you unless you have access to another drug which counters its less pleasant side-effects. Morra thinks it will be useful to have Brian in play for as yet undisclosed reasons, so offers him drug number 2 on condition that he doesn’t tell the FBI.

And when Brian works out who killed Eli – it’s a somewhat perfunctory Crime of the Week, but it’s the pilot, there’s a lot of exposition to be done, so let’s cut them some slack – Harris realises it would be nice to have him and his NZT-powered mind on board as a consultant, solving crimes and having adventures. She persuades her boss, Nasreen (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), who’s grumpy and demanding, and presumably will have cause to deploy the “…a word?” technique in early course. Unfortunately, it looks as if The Mentalist will continue to be the benchmark for tolerant, humorous FBI bosses. As it happens, though, The Mentalist is very much in point here: brilliant but maverick blond outsider (Jane/Brian) gets taken on as a consultant by the FBI to work with a dark-haired will-they-won’t-they? partner (Lisbon/Rebecca).

Which is how episode 2, ‘Badge! Gun!’ plays out. Brian is confined to the office to work as an analyst, while Harris and Boyle are in the field investigating the death of a journalist. He doesn’t want to be stuck there, of course, so against orders leaves his room – maverick! – to help out with the case, which quickly mushrooms into a ludicrous but fun story involving Genghis Khan (sic) and a genetically engineered virus.

There’s a bit of bespoke backstory as garnish – Harris’s father, Morra’s apparent ability to control the internet, and the nurse at the end was a nice twist – but on one level it’s a fairly standard procedural. It should be said that both episodes are shot with a remarkable amount of visual flair and wit. If you wanted evidence of how far TV has come in recent years – not the specialist cable shows, but standard network procedurals like this – it’s all up there on screen. It also has a certain playfulness which I found appealing: if Limitless were a person, it would have a raised eyebrow and a wry but likeable smile. On the downside I found Brian… a little annoying? There is, though, enough here to keep me watching.

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5 thoughts on “Limitless s1 ep 1; s1 ep 2

  1. e February 20, 2016 / 12:48 am

    It gets better and better. (And yes, there’s an off week or two) But it goes absolutely bonkers and in a very good way.

  2. CJ Cregg February 20, 2016 / 2:48 pm

    As someone who wasn’t overly keen on the film, I found the first ep a bit underwhelming – it seemed like basically the same story, but by the time it hit its stride in the second ep, I was charmed. I think Brian’s sweet, Harris grew on me (ship alert!) and I liked the tongue-in-cheek zaniness of it a lot, even if Naz needs to lighten up a whole bunch. “Badge! Gun!” on the post-its made me laugh and I absolutely loved the whole “Tag me in!”/”email me/ morale issue” stunt at the lab even if the Genghis Khan story was completely mad. I definitely see The Mentalist comparisons – I rolled my eyes when Harris actually said “hire him as a consultant” like EVERY OTHER SHOW ON TV – but I was thinking it’s basically Chuck with a bit more self-confidence. I’m good with either.

    Count me as one of the people who had no inkling Bradley Cooper was going to be a movie star when I saw him in Alias, but movie star presence was certainly radiating off the screen when he appeared in this first ep. “Star megawattage” is right. It suited the character, though. I think it’s v cool he did it, too. Lots of movie stars wouldn’t have.

  3. e February 21, 2016 / 2:48 am

    Feel very Chuck to me too. I really like that the FBI folk are competent. By the time Brian called about the license plate, they’d long since discovered things on their own.

  4. Jed Bartlet February 22, 2016 / 6:35 pm

    Yes, I liked that scene.

    *eye-roll* “Dude, we worked that out like hours ago, and we’re not on a miracle drug”.

    Fair point about Chuck, everyone – it crossed my mind as well while watching.

    The impression I get with B-Coop is that he appreciates what he’s got and where he came from, like some other actors who had to wait for success (Clooney, G. and Hamm, J. spring to mind). And he’s exec producing, I suppose, so it’s in his interests that the show’s a success.

    • e February 23, 2016 / 2:40 am

      Limitless is darker and richer than Chuck but it owes a lot to it. You were never meant to take the bad guys seriously in Chuck. Limitless takes place in a world as weary and worn as our own and a lot of the best parts of the show come from Brian’s need to deal with stuff that’s really horrible and unsettling.

      What I particularly love is how bad a genius he is. You can see this right from the start. He’s an irritating man child (who is blessedly allowed to grow a bit) stuck in an impossible situation where often there are no good answers. He has a kind heart but he’s a pawn.

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