It seems like the creators of Limitless, a TV adaptation of the film, saw the movie and decided that the film’s premise was … unlimitable.
But let’s step back for a second. What happened in Limitless: the Film? I saw it in theaters with my friend Rebecca during sophomore year of college in the spring of 2011 and this is what I remember: Bradley Cooper played a struggling writer with long, unkempt hair and he was absolutely the Worst — can’t write a book, can’t get a girlfriend, nothing. Anyway, he gets the magic Limitless pill and suddenly he is very smart. He writes the book, he gets the girl, he shaves a little and buys a fancy suit (I think??). So he’s very smart, and business tycoon Robert De Niro does NOT like that. I forget why. Anyway, the climax of the movie is, if I recall correctly, mobsters kidnap Bradley and take his Limitless pills. In order to become Limitless again, Bradley Cooper drinks the blood of a dude because the blood contains the Limitless potion. Then he runs for the Senate. Robert De Niro threatens him and gets into a car and that’s the end of the film Limitless. Also the director of the film has the last name Burger; I definitely remember that.
Which brings us to Limitless: the Series.
We open in Union Square, where Brian Finch (Jake McDorman) is running from some guys. Who are the guys? We honestly don’t know. He runs past a sign featuring a very serious Bradley Cooper, who is now a senator.
The men in trench coats chasing Finch get very confused by the layout of Union Square (Been there. That place is a mess.) Anyhow, one of the agents, Rebecca Harris (Jennifer Carpenter), catches up to Brian. It turns out she is from the FBI and wants to arrest him. So Brian jumps onto the tracks and gets hit by an L train. Haha, just kidding, he doesn’t die, the scene freezes and we hear some narration like “This looks bad” or something and then it flashes back. That’s a good formal device, very original.
It’s time to learn about Brian! He is aimless, he’s had a few run-ins with the law, he’s in a band, and everyone else in his family is successful in some way. Not, you know, super-successful, but they have families and careers and stuff. Meanwhile, Brian’s just here changing his shirt a bunch.
At a family dinner, Brian stammers through explaining his newest musical project (dropping on Bandcamp soon), but it’s under embargo, so nobody’s allowed to hear it. His dad collapses from a mysterious illness. Maybe he’s sick because of all the bullshit Brian’s dishing out.
Brian’s not a full-time musician, though. He also works as a temp. A large bank gives him a bunch of clerical gruntwork. It seems tedious! If only there were some sort of pill, like a super-Adderall that could make the work go a lot faster. Hmmmmm ...
At lunch with an old friend, Eli, now an investment banker, Brian lays out everything wrong with his life: his music career has stalled, his dad’s sick, nothing’s working out.
“I might be able to help,” Eli tells him. He breaks out a small case.
What’s in the case??? WHAT’S IN THE CASE?????
It’s the Limitless pill!!!
(If you enjoy close-ups of people’s mouths, you’ll love Limitless.)
Back at the bank, with the giant stack of papers, Brian is just waiting and waiting for the pill to kick in, but it doesn’t. Until:
kush Limitless pill hits you~~~
Here’s how the drug works: “Your brain is a miracle, but it’s not efficient. There’s a maze inside everyone’s head, a labyrinth of missed connections and untapped potential. But now, suddenly, I had access to every single brain cell.” Brian can now remember pretty much everything he’s ever seen, heard, smelled, or felt. And he uses this amazing power to do some really good filing.
He also takes some time out to give a kiiiinda paternalistic, rapid-fire speech to the woman who hired him. According to Brian, she should break up with her boyfriend, go to business school, get an MBA, and get a seat on the company’s board. Easy-peasey lemon-squeezey. The Limitless pill gives you the power to know what women want before they know what they want. Amazing stuff.
She gives Brian this look that says: “Uuuuhhhhhhh, boundaries, dude.”
It’s time for a montage. Brian suddenly knows how to shred on the guitar, play speed chess, execute a top-down rebranding of a hot-dog stand (???), and diagnose his dad’s mysterious illness by going back through generations of his family tree.
But the effects of Limitless pill don’t last forever ... the pill wears off. He goes to Eli to get another dose. But uh-oh, whoops, Eli is dead. He got shot in the chest and somebody ransacked his apartment. R.I.P., Eli! It looks like your mortality was not … it did not last forever. Brian manages to find another dose just as the police show up.
In the meantime, we, the audience learn about this show’s visual language. When scenes are orange and vibrant, Brian is limitless but when scenes are washed-out and blue, Brian is limited. I studied film for four years so I could pick up on this one thing.
It turns out the Limitless pill makes you very good at parkour. It also makes you very good at Frogger (or, if you are a millennial, Crossy Road).
The show also takes a page from Premium Rush (severely underrated film, in my opinion) and gives Brian the ability to predict when he will get hit by a cab.
So we’re back where we were at the start of the episode, with Brian about to get hit by an L train. But now we know one thing that we didn’t the first time around, which is that Brian is on the magic brain pill. The possibilities for him are … how should I put it? Sans restriction.
So Brian uses his newly unlocked knowledge of physics to play chicken with the train and then escape.
Cut to: the FBI office. It’s time for some more exposition. The name of the Limitless pill is actually NZT–48, the station chief explains to agents Rebecca Harris and Boyle, and the FBI has been doing some research on it. Not all of the quirks have been worked out, however. Things start to go pretty poorly for users about a year into taking NZT, probably right around the time of May sweeps, wink-wink.
Brian uses Eli’s phone to track down two other NZT users while Agent Harris heads to Brian’s parents' house. At the hotel, Brian finds one of the NZT users, already dead. Something is definitely up. We think he’s going to find the third user, but instead he heads to … Agent Harris’s place? Whaaaaaat? That seems like a dumb idea but I only have, like, 3 percent of my brain unlocked, so let’s see how this shakes out.
Brian offers to partner with Rebecca to solve the murders. He does the hyperobservant thing from Psych/The Mentalist where he looks around the room and figures out what her life story is. He deduces that her father was a drug addict because Rebecca doesn’t have a recent picture of him and she owns a copy of David Carr’s Night of the Gun. Rebecca has no time for this. She orders Brian to leave, telling him, “You’re not smart, you’re high.” Sick burn.
Brian goes to meet the third NZT user, Adam Honeycutt. Once there, he finds Eli’s pill case, which in turn indicates that Adam is the murderer. Adam pulls a gun on Brian and shoots him in the leg before they both run outside. Realizing that a public plaza in Manhattan in the daytime is maybe not the best place to do murder, Adam just threatens Brian and walks away.
So Brian’s got this bullet wound, and he calls Rebecca to coach him through patching it up. They’re each learning to trust each other! Surgery doesn’t go very well, and Brian faints. A hazy figure approaches Brian right before he passes out, and he wakes up handcuffed to a hospital bed. The mysterious man introduces himself. It’s Senator Eddie Mora, played by actual honest-to-goodness A-list film star Bradley Cooper.
“We should talk in an awkwardly spartan setup just two feet from each other on folding chairs,” he says. Okay, well, he doesn’t say that but he does say, “We should talk.”
Eddie explains that he’s still taking NZT constantly, having spent millions of dollars on private research and turning NZT into an injection without side effects. It sounds pretty good. Eddie leans in, like, too close to the camera because, really, how often are you gonna get Bradley Cooper to show up for your CBS procedural?
Then this scene goes just slightly off the dang rails. “Can you remember what it was like inside your mother’s womb?” Eddie asks Brian, explaining how good NZT feels. “I can.” Cut to: A fetus that speaks with Bradley Cooper’s voice.
This show is bonkers. I’m onboard with it. Bradley Cooper–Voiced Baby looks to be the breakout star of 2015.
Eddie tells Brian a few things: (1) This conversation never happened, (2) Eddie will install Brian to a position that suits Eddie’s needs, and (3) Eddie will give Brian a lot of NZT. An infinite amount. An … unending amount of NZT. No cap on how much NZT there is.
“You ready to become somebody who matters?” Brian accepts the offer and heads out, pumped full of NZT, to clear his name. He heads to the bank where murderer Adam stashes his NZT and, rather than just calling Rebecca, he stages a holdup and calls the FBI. Apparently, NZT can make you the smartest person in the dang universe but it leaves you with absolutely zero chill. I mean, look at this dude!
The pair finds evidence solving Eli’s murder in the safety deposit box. Mystery solved!
The FBI, intrigued, decides to keep Brian on a leash. He’ll help them solve crimes and research NZT, in return for the bureau finding his sick father a new liver. Unbeknownst to the feds, Brian is also on Eddie Mora’s leash. He’s on two leashes. Uh-oh, that seems like a real pickle!
And thus, an infinitely repeatable setup for a network procedural crime drama was born. The possibilities seem … without limits.