September 29, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Pilot + 1 Review: “Limitless”


LIMITLESS:  Tuesday 10PM on CBS

Previously… on LIMITLESS:  Office temp Brian Finch (Jake McDorman) got his hands on a drug called NZT, which made him an unmatched genius for 12 hours, allowing him to use every cell of his brain to outlearn, out-calculate, and out-strategize anyone.  Unfortunately, NZT also leads to painful side effects.  After a murder in which Brian was an (innocent) suspect put him in contact with the FBI in the person of agent Rebecca Harris (Jennifer Carpenter), US Senator Eddie Morra (Executive Producer and occasional guest star Bradley Cooper, reprising his role from the original movie) told Brian that he’d be provided with a steady supply of another drug that eliminates the NZT side effects–if Brian went to work for the FBI.  Brian didn’t know what Morra’s angle was, but hungry for the NZT high, he took a job as a Bureau consultant.

Episode 2:  Limitless is another of the fall’s procedurals pretending to be something more substantial.  For a series about an incredibly smart individual, it may also be the dumbest.  The script for the second hour, written by series creator Craig Sweeny and Executive Producer Marc Webb (and directed by Webb), had Brian jazzed about his new position as a Fed, only to be crushed when he found out that senior agents Boyle (Hill Harper) and Pouran (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) were planning to confine him to an office, using his super-brain to learn Farsi and do research.  This was silly enough, but soon Brian was running rings around the Bureau and escaping the building–not by doing anything particularly brilliant, just the kind of maneuvers (he knocks down a dry wall between offices) every hero in every lone wolf movie has perfected.

The plot got progressively more ridiculous as it went along.  What appeared to be the murder of a crusading journalist turned out to be collateral damage to the real crime, which was the attempt to kill a General who was going to vote against continuing the biological warfare funding of an evil multinational pharmaceutical company.  In order to kill the guy, the company’s CEO created a virus that would only kill the (apparently potentially millions of) descendants of Genghis Khan.  If that wasn’t enough, the super-brainy way Brian caught the CEO was to stand in the middle of his office and loudly encourage his employees to send e-mails of incriminating evidence–which they did.  It’s one thing for a series about a genius to be only moderately intelligent (Elementary, which Sweeny previously worked on, comes to mind).  It’s quite another for such a show to be downright moronic.

Meanwhile, since Bradley Cooper had better things to do this week (as he no doubt will most of the time), the show used many clips of his scene from the pilot, and suggested Morra’s menacing power by having any computer crash if Brian tried to use it for a search of the Senator, and making the nurse hired to take care of Brian’s ailing father (Ron Rifkin) be one of Morra’s underlngs.  Ho hum.

McDorman is pleasant enough, but never convincing as particularly intelligent whether or not he’s on the medication.  Carpenter tried for some repartee, while mostly looking like she wished she’d had a better pilot season, and Harper and Mastrantonio are just cashing checks.  As a director, Webb tried to give the episode some visual bounce with animated graphics of Brian traveling around town on various missions, but it wasn’t nearly enough.

Limitless had a mediocre start in the ratings, and that was against limited competition from special editions of Best Time Ever and Dancing With the Stars.  When genre dramas Chicago Fire and Wicked City are in place, things will only get tougher, and there’s little reason for Limitless viewers to stick around.

PILOT:  If Nothing Else Is On…

PILOT + 1:  Where’s the Antidote?

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."