In adapting a popular film to television, there is often a great deal of style lost in translation. After all, these pilots are essentially made on the catering budget of their film counterparts, and as such must naturally adapt to these new-found constraints. However, this new iteration of the criminally underrated 2011 Bradley Cooper movie of the same name seems adamantly determined to avoid this demise. It aims to not only re-create the aesthetic choices of it’s older brother, but to keep in continuity with it by incorporating the Cooper character into it’s story. I was certainly intrigued for these reasons alone, even if the idea of continuing one of my favorite movies in this format seemed a bit rattling.
This first episode introduces us to Brian Finch (Jake McDorman), a down on his luck musician struggling to find medical help for his ailing father. Brian unexpectedly crosses paths with a former band-mate turned cooperate success, who gives Brian the little white brain booster known as NZT to help him get a jump start. Brian isn’t prepared for exactly how effective the drug is however, and soon finds himself caught up in a string of murders as he attempts to track down more. Meanwhile, FBI agent Rebecca Harris (Jennifer Carpenter) is assigned to track Brian down, her superiors seeing the resurgence of NZT as very beneficial to their future endeavors. It’s a story that definitely re-treads some of the same ground that the film explored, but by the time the episode ends, we’re in entirely different territory.
Watching Limitless is like slipping into a freshly washed pair of the coziest clothes in the closet. Remarkably, so many of the quirky visual eccentricities that made the film such a delight are either re-created or added onto here. Although the movie’s director, Neil Burger, was not able to kick us off, Amazing Spider-Man helmer Marc Webb steps in and does a very nice job indeed playing with this world. The show does a fantastic job of making the viewer feel like they’re inside Brian’s head. When our ivy league dope-head is on his NZT, he sees the world in an entirely different way. These subtle differences and enhanced memories are viscerally brought to life by fluid combinations of on screen graphics and camera tricks that enhance the experience without feeling over the top. The constant narration that acted as a compass for these visuals is also back, and it acts as a punchy and effective way for us to get to know Brian.
One of the greatest strengths of the original movie was just how compelling Bradley Cooper was in the lead role. Although he certainly shows potential, McDorman does not possess this level of watchability just yet. He comes across a bit cookie cutter, like he was pulled from a file of thousands of handsome rugged white dudes who want to be on TV. After all, he was hand-picked by Cooper for the role seemingly just because he played a minor role in American Sniper. Similar things can be said for Carpenter, but I suspect that is more the fault of a slightly under-written character than her performance. I’m sure as the episodes go on, both will grow into the roles just fine, but for now they most certainly are coasting on the surprisingly sharp writing. One person who certainly does not need to coast is Cooper himself, making the first of what will hopefully be several appearances as a radically changed Eddie Morra. Although he is only on-screen for a few minutes, his presence is so magnetic that he creates an entirely new level of intrigue that the show will hopefully pay off in the future. Personally, I’m just hoping they don’t kill him off to save money.
It certainly seems that the creative team was using one hundred percent of their brains when building Limitless. The pilot establishes that this is very much the same world that made the film so wonderful, while still distinguishing itself enough to become it’s own animal. I’m certainly very interested to see what direction the general scheme of episodes will take, as the ending of this hints that it will be a police thriller of sorts. While that’s certainly an interesting place to take this concept, I personally hope that its connection to the film will not become forgotten in evolution. For now, let’s just call it one of the smartest and most entertaining new shows of the year, and hope for the best.
Limitless is on Tuesdays at 10/9 Central on CBS