Warning: Full spoilers for Limitless: Season 1 follow.
While CBS’s Limitless TV show started out feeling like a retread of the 2011 movie, it quickly found its footing in the second episode, as it veered into lighter, zanier territory. That’s not to say the show couldn’t be deadly serious when it wanted to, but throughout the first season the series struck a great balance of cheeky humor, strong character development and hard-hitting drama, while also unraveling the mystery of NZT — the series-defining “smart pill.”
It helped that the show was in the same continuity as the feature film, which allowed for recurring appearances from Bradley Cooper as Eddie Morra. (He also co-executive produced alongside Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, the movie’s director Neil Burger and showrunner Craig Sweeny.) Likewise, it kept many of the film’s stylistic traits, like the main character’s internal text graphics and monologue, and the cool/warm color schemes.
Of course, the series’ main character Brian Finch (Greek’s Jake McDorman, who previously worked with Cooper on American Sniper) was always going to be the make-or-break element of the show, and thankfully the actor nailed it. In addition to being likable, charismatic and funny, Brian seemed to have chemistry with just about everyone, including and especially his partner FBI Agent Rebecca Harris (Dexter’s Jennifer Carpenter). Together, these two laid the emotional groundwork for the story and played incredibly well off each other. Also, refreshingly, the writers opted out of a romance between the two in favor of a rare platonic friendship.
Indeed, if there was one thing Limitless did exceedingly well, it was subverting crime-procedural tropes. Whether it was Brian having to imagine what the FBI was doing when he wasn’t around or adding a sci-fi/fantasy element to the case of the week (genetic assassinations, robot arms, Ferris Bueller homages, etc.), the series almost always found a way to make the casework set itself apart from the typical CSI fare — even when the case itself wasn’t particularly remarkable.
Meanwhile, Limitless introduced a wealth of delightful secondary characters and developed more of an ensemble as the season went on. Allies like Naz (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), Boyle (Hill Harper) and Mike Ike (Michael James Shaw Tom Degnan) were consistent standouts, alongside Agent Sands (Colin Salmon) and Piper Baird (Georgina Haig) whenever they popped up. Even jokey side characters like James and Stavros had their moments to shine.
Granted, some guest stars “stuck” better than others. For instance, pretty much all of Brian’s family members — excluding Ron Rifkin as Brian’s father — and love interests were either forgettable or dropped from the main story entirely after one or two-ish episodes. (Like, whatever happened to Naz’s daughter Ava? Wasn’t she Brian’s pseudo-girlfriend at some point?) Ultimately, though, the cast boiled down to its main and recurring characters, which were on the whole very well-drawn.
In the end, Limitless took the original premise of the movie and expanded on it in fun and interesting ways. Not only were the cases enjoyable to watch on week to week, but the continued character development and underlying NZT mystery kept Season 1 engaging throughout, from beginning to end. Hopefully, Season 2 — if there is a Season 2, knock on wood — will continue that trend and start to reveal the truth about Eddie Morra and his master plan.
Surprisingly, Limitless: Season 1 turned out to be one of the best new shows of 2015/16, thanks to charming characters, clever storylines and a playful sense of humor. While not every new case was a hit, the series never lost its quirky sensibilities, even in its most dire moments. It also built on the Limitless mythos to reveal just how deep and ripe with potential it is, thanks in part to Bradley Cooper’s willingness to come back and play Eddie Morra. However, even when NZT wasn’t the focus of an episode, Limitless still managed to entertain and show us it had more than just ties to the original movie going for it.
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