Limitless is a show about a man who takes a pill to become a genius and works with the FBI to catch criminals. It is as weirdly brilliant as its premise.
The series is a follow-up to the 2011 film of the same name and follows Brian Finch (Jake McDorman), a twenty-something slacker who lives with his parents and performs in empty bars as the last member of his high school rock band. In the pilot episode he is introduced to NZT, the mysterious miracle pill that gives him perfect recall of everything he has ever seen or done, making him the smartest person in the world for the twelve hours after taking it.
He is soon paired up with FBI Special Agent Rebecca Harris (Jennifer Carpenter) who acts as his handler while the FBI investigates the drug and the reason why Brian is apparently immune to its fatal side-effects. Secretly, this immunity is from an injection given to Brian by Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper), the protagonist from the 2011 film, in exchange for Brian spying on the FBI’s on Morra’s behalf.
The series drops the thriller aspects from the original film in exchange for a slot in the crowded police drama market and, while the two leads do follow the cliché “responsible lady skeptic” and “quirky immature dude” pairing, what they do with the rest of the show is fascinating.
One thing that separates Limitless from other cop shows is its refusal to fully adhere to the normal “cop show” episode pattern.
We’ve seen the pattern before: dead body is found, cops investigate, weird evidence/complication, crazy theory, personal issues, sudden revelation, mystery solved. As the show goes on, however, this becomes less and less the plot. Recent episodes have dropped this pattern entirely, such as having Brian work to arrest the FBI’s entire 10 Most Wanted Criminals list as part of a bet to get his own office.
Where the show excels is how we see things through Brian’s imagination, like picturing his co-workers in dramatic action film scenarios before getting corrected. Another episode — where Brian visits his first bloody murder scene — has him retreat into his mind where a Barney the Dinosaur lookalike suggests replacing all the “scary” words with ” fun” words. Then the rest of the episode has the agents say things like “we have a serial hugger on our hands” and referencing the “soda pop” spatter on the walls and body.
In a recent episode, Brian bribes a high-ranking Russian official with spoilers for the ending of Game of Thrones. No secret mistress, no gun to his head, just a cellphone with a direct line to George R.R. Martin and the ultimate fate of Westeros. The writers of Limitless didn’t need to do that. But they did. And it made me smile.
It is moments like this that set this show apart. This fun little moment is Limitless in a nutshell, telling you everything you need to know about Brian Finch, about the world he lives in, and about the show itself. It is a fun, well-written show with likeable characters that is not afraid to buck convention.
And it is brilliant.
Limitless airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on Global.