Take this pill, and you turn into a human supercomputer. Careful though, ‘cause it’ll kill you. That’s the premise of CBS’s new crime drama Limitless, a sort-of sequel to the 2011 Bradley Cooper flick. The show kicked off last night, and has Cooper serving as executive producer and appearing as the hero-turned-villain from the original movie—oh, and there are a few seconds where he voices a talking fetus. SPOILERS AHOY.
Make no mistake: the Fantastic Drug trope on which this franchise hinges has appeared in pop culture and sci-fi before, from Batman’s Venom to Captain America’s Super-Soldier serum. (See similar tropes Psycho Serum, Addictive Magic, and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Heroin.) But that familiar premise, when paired with cinema-grade action sequences and some very original and weird moments, was more fun than I expected.
The basic plot of Limitless on CBS is similar to that of the original flick: Deadbeat dude Brian (Jake McDorman) is on the path to nowhere, but his rich, investment banker childhood friend Eli gives him a drug called NZT that’ll help him get shit done. In actuality, the pill turns you into an ultra-human, capable of instantly recalling every event in your life and every minute factoid, completing mental tasks in seconds and outsmarting and outrunning every other human on the planet.
Problem is, the drug is actually a failed government experiment that killed its test subjects, unbeknownst to Brian. After Eli is suddenly murdered, the FBI suspects Brian of offing him to steal all his magic tablets. Brian goes on the run, eventually crossing paths with maybe-evil senator Eddie Morra (Cooper), the main character of the original movie. Morra tells him how to use NZT free of the dangerous side effects, just like he has for years.
Eventually Rebecca (Jennifer Carpenter), the FBI agent tailing Brian, starts to trust him, and convinces the FBI to hire him as both a test subject—to figure out how to commercialize NZT once they realize he’s somehow avoided the deadly side-effects, thanks to secret injections Morra gives him—and also to use his drug-induced super smarts as a crime-busting consultant.
First off, why don’t we see Coop in more villain roles? Look at that GIF! Let this icy-eyed dude play evil and creepy more often, Hollywood. I like the idea of him playing a possibly shady presidential hopeful who’s the only person in history to master the self-administration of this deadly wonder pill that could dismantle society. But I like him even more as an animated talking fetus, which is exactly what happens in this episode.
At one point Morra asks Brian to imagine if he could remember everything, even being inside his mother’s womb. We, the viewers, can imagine that on our own. But Limitless goes further, taking us on an embryonic jaunt with a few glorious seconds of a peaceful, computer-generated baby-to-be hawking a wonder drug in the voice of 40-year-old Bradley Cooper:
Some campiness aside, there were also well-produced movie-like sequences, which made for a solid Limitless premiere. It’s no Mr. Robot, but it’s well-acted: For example, the dynamic between Brian and Rebecca is interesting—who’s using who? Brian is using the FBI to expedite medical treatment for his ailing father. The FBI is exploiting Brian’s well-being for dubious purposes until he’s a lifeless, drug-ravaged corpse.
Still, despite its cast and action-packed cinematic scenes, it still has the sticky fingerprints of network primetime: Too much happens too quickly, backstories and motives are too neatly spelled out, and constant background music never gives us a moment for silence or reflection to figure things out for ourselves.
Nonetheless, Limitless should be a fun ride–especially if there are more trippy, CGI-made talking fetuses in its future. Tell us what you thought about the show below.
Top image via CBS
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