Tuesday, September 22, 2015

REVIEW: 'Limitless' - Brian Finch Discovers the Drug NZT and Soon Lands on the FBI's Radar in 'Pilot'

CBS' Limitless - Episode 1.01 "Pilot"

Brian Finch's life takes an extraordinary turn when he uses a mysterious drug, NZT, that allows him to access his full brain capacity. However, when an NZT-related murder lands Brian on the FBI's radar, he uses the drug in an attempt to stay ahead of the authorities long enough to clear his name.

Brian Finch goes on quite the journey in this opening episode of Limitless. The opening sequence does a fantastic job at showing just what his life has been like up to this point. He's been a slacker with not a lot of ambition. He likes to goof off and have a good time. He's passionate about his music but not much more than that. He has a very supportive family who are always there for him no matter what. It's impressive how non-judgmental they are even after he describes his latest attempt to make it big in the music industry.

Brian's life changes when his dad collapses and the doctor's can't figure out what's wrong with him. Even after multiple tests and several days in the hospital across two months, they don't have a clue. Brian wants to help and support his family but he doesn't have anything he can contribute to them. He can't help and that discourages him from even trying. Instead he is able to fall asleep at his latest temp job knowing that he has two weeks to complete the task. He doesn't have a purpose in his life which is keeping him from having a fulfilling one.

An old friend returns and offers him a pill that will drastically change his outlook on life. Brian is no stranger to the use of substances to feel good or help with performance. But he's skeptical that anything can be done to make things better for more than a few hours. The pill is NZT which is a drug/device that makes Brian the smartest person in the world. When he takes the pill, he is able to understand and remember everything he has ever learned and is able to do things most regular people cannot. He does become an entirely different person. One who is capable of helping his dad when he desperately needs it the most. Brian is the one who finds the diagnosis - for which his parents are very grateful though also surprised by how he has changed.

But taking NZT has certain consequences that Brian soon learns about. The group of friends who gave him the pills in the first place are also being killed off for the drug. That then lands Brian on the FBI's radar do to his proximity to the first murder scene. Brian is forced into a procedural format because that's what a CBS show requires. He isn't able to use his newfound smarts to make the world a better place for himself. He is a thoughtful and caring person. But he is also forced on the run in this opening episode by the other regular characters on the show. The FBI aren't completely stupid when it comes to running an operation. But they are purposefully shown to be inadequate when it comes to investigating this NZT-related murder. That props Brian and his importance and intelligence up a little too far. This investigation is straight-forward and the narrative makes the audience believe too much that Brian on NZT is the only way this case can be solved.

Brian acting outside of the FBI does allow the show to get around some of the legality of his actions. He is able to pick locks and stage a robbery all in the name of finding out who killed his friend. He is treated as a suspect and his actions do carry consequences. The robbery is a charge that is filed against him. But it is also treated as an afterthought because the FBI needs him as a consultant and someone to study. They are determined to better understand NZT and where it comes him. Brian is seemingly immune to the side effects of the drug. That makes him a valuable resource for the bureau. A resource they are able to get working for them because of that charge against him. All Brian wants is to make his family happy. He won't agree to anything until his father gets the liver transplant he desperately needs. After that he's willing to do whatever Rebecca tells him to do.

All of it is formulaic in a broad and sensible way. But the ongoing series will have to be different than the kind of tricks Brian is able to do here. As a consultant, he will have the support of the bureau but he also won't be able to get away with the same things he does here. It also may mean less narration in the future - though that's always a stylistic choice the creative team could overly enjoy. That could also make way for more development of the supporting characters. None of them stand out as more than being typical FBI suits who are doing their best but that isn't good enough. Still it should be fascinating to see where this goes.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Pilot" was written by Craig Sweeny and directed by Marc Webb.
  • Of course, the big promotable moment of this premiere is the cameo of Bradley Cooper reprising his role from the movie. It's a scene largely filled with exposition as the side effects of the drug are written away for Brian. Though that should set up an interesting dynamic for Brian on where his loyalties lie - helping people with the FBI or listening to the man who can get rid of the side effects of NZT.
  • Rebecca is also connected to NZT somehow considering her father was a drug addict and seemingly had it in his system the last time she saw him - which was just before he was killed.
  • How fast does NZT work? The first pill Brian took didn't have much of an impact for a few hours. He took it outside the restaurant and the effects didn't start until he was back at the job. But then, the second pill he takes works instantly because he needs to get out of a tricky situation.
  • Brian doesn't seem like the kind of guy who took trigonometry classes and knew about the railways sealed off from the public.
  • How did Rebecca know that Brian was shot in the leg? He called her saying he was shot and her reaction was wondering if it was still in his leg? He never said where he was shot. So that's a curious plot hole.
  • It's fun knowing that Jennifer Carpenter was eight and a half months pregnant here and noticing all the various objects and framing techniques used to cover that up.