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Review: CBS's 'Limitless' Is an Inexplicable Superhero Procedural

By Dustin Rowles | TV | September 22, 2015 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | September 22, 2015 |

I don’t have anything against Bradley Cooper’s 2011 thriller, Limitless. It was a fine enough movie that gained a sizable following on Netflix, and my only real issue with it is the lack of consequences for Cooper’s character, Eddie Morra, who gets to take this drug that opens up the powers of his mind and never has to suffer any repercussions (and though I’m not certain, I feel like the movie also used that “we only use 10 percent of our brain” line that nearly drove SLW to madness in Lucy).

Eddie Morra is back again in the CBS sequel series to the movie. He’s a Senator considering a run for President. Cooper is executive producer of the series, and his character only has one scene (for the promos, yo!) and Morra still hasn’t been dealt any consequences for taking a drug that literally kills everyone else that takes it within a year or two. Turns out, Morra used his expanded brain power to create a serum to immunize himself from the side-effects of the drug, so now he’s basically the Superman of brains. Must be nice.

The series doesn’t really concern itself with Morra, however. He’s just a hook to bring you back in. The series centers on Brian Sinclair (Jake McDormand, Shameless), a wayward musician who has spent the last couple of decades as a spectator to others’ success while his life goes absolutely nowhere.

Then one day, while working as a temp at a Wall Street firm, he bumps into an old friend who — seeing that Brian is struggling in life — offers him one of those Limitless NZT-48 pills, which unlocks Brian’s brain power, allowing him to diagnose his ailing father (Ron Rifin). One pill is not enough, of course, so Brian returns to his friend’s house for more pills, only to discover that his friend has been murdered. Brian, at the scene when the police walk in, is the assumed murderer, and he spends the rest of the episode as Harrison Ford in The Fugitive, running from the cops while trying to solve the murder for which he’s been framed.

It’s a fine enough episode, and Jake McDormand is reasonably likable, but as soon as Jennifer Carpenter (Dexter) shows up as an FBI Agent, you realize exactly what this show is going to be. Limitless is yet another police procedural. That’s all that network television appears to know how to do: Take an idea and wrap it around the procedural format.

Here, it’s even dumber than usual, because Brian is given the same serum that Cooper’s character is given, so he can continue to take NZT-48 without consequence, meaning he basically has a superpower, and that superpower is the ability to be Sherlock Holmes. What do you do with a guy with off-the-charts intelligence and an encyclopedic knowledge of everything? Use him to solve murders, of course!

It feels like such a waste, really, to take an interesting-enough concept and use it this way, because if there’s one thing CBS doesn’t need anymore of, it’s a show about solving murders. After all, as Steven discovered, there are “twice as many murders being committed in fictional Manhattan on network television as there are happening each year in the real Manhattan” and — aside from a scruffy-but-likable lead character with unlimited brain power — Limitless does little to separate itself from the conventional competition.

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.