Some movies have a premise that can easily work as a TV show and should be turned into one, some just don’t and shouldn’t. I think this is likely to fall into the latter category!
Based on the 2011 movie, Brian (Jake McDorman) is going nowhere fast in life, but an old friend gives him NZT, a drug that enables him to use all of his brain and achieve great things, which he applies to his work, family, and solving the friends murder.
I’ve seen the movie ‘Limitless‘, I didn’t love it but it was good enough as a movie. I never felt it was ripe for a sequel and certainly not as a weekly TV show. Simply the premise just isn’t right for that adaptation to be done naturally without making considerable changes, and then why link it to the movie and cause yourself problems in making the two agree with each other? This is how I felt going into watching the pilot episode, and I’m sad to say it’s exactly how I felt after seeing it too.
Putting all preconceptions and the movie aside for a minute, the first problem was that I didn’t warm to the main character at all. Ron Rifkin who has a small role as his father is a lot more likeable but that doesn’t help enough. Brian is a bit down-on-his-luck as a failing musician doggedly pursuing his dreams, but that’s not endearing, and when he’s on NZT he isn’t charmingly suave and sophisticated, nope, he becomes somewhat smug, though McDorman seems very aware of this and seems to be trying to control the smugness but unable to play the character any other way!
All the cast throughout (with perhaps the exception of Rifkin) show no clear no chemistry, there’s no life. Despite being directed by Marc Webb (‘The Amazing Spiderman’), the pilot struck me as having no distinctive visual style, sure it used a few effects with the colour palette to indicate the difference between Brian on and off the drug but that’s not the same as having flare or cinematic qualities. All in all the whole episode felt distinctly lacklustre.
The show shares some of the same producers as ‘Scorpion’, Kurtzman and Orci, and that show has been accused of some of the same criticisms. While I partially agree, at least ‘Scorpion’ is fun and has its tongue-in-cheek to know that it is a bit silly but is wise enough to embrace that and uses it as a strength to make it somewhat endearing. This takes itself quite seriously, and deals with weighty matters in a way that’s completely mishandled, but I’ll come back to that in a bit.
Bradley Cooper makes an appearance in the show, his role however is not to add all the needed depth to the show (though he does briefly add a little life and interest) but more a perfunctory appearance to legitimize it. Reprising his role from the movie just made me wish that the show was more about what he had done since 2011 rather than this less likeable character I’ve been watching. Sadly also his presence brought up one aspect of the movie I had a severe issue with, that of his using the drug completely beneficially with no side effects or consequences, and then passing that on to the new guy so that apart from having had a few stomach cramps, all side effects like that will be eradicated so he can continue addictive drug use for the shows run (which I predict to be mercifully short) with no problems and only benefits. In fact, a side storyline has been clunkily added to the show to try (feebly in my opinion) to counteract this criticism, but I said it about the movie and I’ll say it again, showing addictive drug use, no matter how fictionalised, as being a good thing is not the way to do things. People could, and do, argue that certain substances used in certain ways and amounts can yield limited benefits, and while there may be some truth in that, the wider reality of substance use is devastatingly negative as the majority of addicts don’t use in those ways or amounts.
Coopers involvement in the production also intrigues me, if you really wanted to do this, why not join forces with HBO or Netflix and make a limited series with him in the lead role? That would be far more popular and likely to succeed, this feels like Cooper having to essentially put his money where his mouth is after a conversation at the pub where he tipsily said Limitless should be turned into a series and he would love to be involved. Bradley, I applaud you trying to be a man of your word, but in this case you should have gracefully backed out!
Even with the involvement of Bradley Cooper, this is trying to make something out of practically nothing, creating a show from a middle-of-the-road movie when there was no call for anything more to be borne from it. It’s now going to be a police procedural, following the tried and tested format of person with skills aids law enforcement in catching bad guys each week and eventually solving a bigger case, very much like ‘White Collar’, ‘The Mentalist’, ‘Psych’, ‘Forever’… the list goes on. Sure they have worked in the past, and yes those above have all now come to an end, but no, this is not the show to fill that gap.
My reason for saying this is not just this pilot episode, but more that the movie wasn’t a police procedural at all in any way. The little appeal it had was due to the lead being the charismatic Bradley Cooper, playing an unlucky schmuck who rises above his ordinary life thanks to a chance encounter and uses his new abilities in ways that massaged the fantasies of unlucky schmucks everywhere, to make oodles of money and succeed in all aspects of life. Redoing that with someone who lacks Cooper’s charisma, and shoehorning it into an FBI genre show is really not going to work! Why not start afresh with a similar premise, rather than bending and shaping the decent enough movie that we had all forgotten into something that feels so devoid of life or heart.
All this being said, it’s perfectly possible that the writers have a plot development planned out that will rectify these issue and make me look foolish for jumping to harsh conclusions based on the pilot alone. Somehow I doubt that very much. What I don’t doubt, here I go jumping to those conclusions again, is that audiences will tune in to see Bradley Cooper but find little else to hold their interest and quickly abandon this show until it gets cancelled, likely around mid-season, or at the very latest by the end of the season. I don’t need mind-enhancing drugs to work that out, just a little experience, good taste and a dash of social consciousness.