Airtime: Tuesdays at 10/9c on CBS
Tweetable Takeaway: Underneath Brian Finch’s brain cells, there’s a slacker heart of gold. Tweet
CBS’s LIMITLESS gave a strong second episode to follow up its very good pilot. In a short montage, the pilot episode was condensed into about forty seconds of explanatory voice-over. So if you’re coming to late to the game, Limitless will help you get up to speed.
The biggest surprise that comes in watching this show, especially after seeing the 2011 movie, is how humorous the CBS series is and continues to be. The contrast between Brian Finch’s genius abilities and his slacker tendencies will be a near endless source of humor. In this episode we saw government scientists studying Brian’s ‘unique brain’, which amounted to observational studies of Brian eating Cheetos (he has a distinctive lick-the-cheese-off-first-then-eat-the-Cheeto approach), playing video games, and putting on crude puppet shows. It appears Limitless will definitely play to a lighter side, similar to shows like Psych, Monk, or Chuck. Indeed, Jake McDorman is a skilled comedic actor, his dumb looks or stalled pauses when he’s off NZT are quite funny. In the scenes where ‘normal’ Brian Finch tries to explain a thought he had as ‘smart’ Brian Finch, Jake McDorman really shines as an actor portraying a man caught between two mind-states.
Another striking aspect of the series is the high level of post-production and special effects. I don’t recall ever seeing so many effects in a television program before. There is a vast array of special effects used to convey Brian’s altered thinking patterns when on NZT. When Brian is thinking, numbers will float across the screen, people move in slow-motion, thought bubbles will appear, in addition to many other effects. The most remarkable thing is that all the effects are fresh and effective; I don’t feel like I’m being barraged by hackneyed tricks. Instead, I am very genuinely entertained and surprised by the creative ways the post-production enhances the scene.
Episode two is very different than episode one, in that it begins the procedural aspect of the show. In this episode, McDorman and Jennifer Carpenter investigate a biological assassination. At first, McDorman is locked in a filing room as an ‘analyst’, but after several breakthroughs (both literal and figurative), he proves he’s just as valuable in the field. The investigation itself was rather bland, but the manner in which Finch solved the case was very entertaining. I imagine Finch’s unique problem-solving approach will be much more the focus of the episodes than the actual cases themselves. In this way, again, the show promises to be like Psych or Monk.
Bradley Cooper must be busy, because episode two really milked the little footage they had of Bradley Cooper from the pilot episode. Though Bradley Cooper didn’t appear in any scene in this episode, he had about 2 or 3 minutes of screen time in the form of flashbacks to episode one. A still picture of Bradley Cooper’s character, Senator Eddie Mora, appeared on a television screen while a reporter talked about him as well. I am sure that for every scene that Cooper finds time to shoot, the writers will think of ways to use it several times across the series.
In this episode, Finch built a bomb, researched the blood ancestry of several Pakistanis, and tracked down members of Genghis Khan’s lineage to solve the case. This process was entertaining, if a little fantastic. However, despite all of Finch’s brilliant problem-solving and heightened IQ points, the investigation hit an absolute brick wall towards the end of the episode. This is where the series showed its intelligence. Because at this point it wasn’t Finch’s genius that won the day, rather it was his deeply ingrained slacker instincts that finally cracked open and solved the case. It was Finch’s experience as an under-achieving temp worker and his deep hatred of working for douchey bosses that solved the crime. You’ll have to watch the episode to see what I’m talking about. Perhaps this is why Brian Finch will be an NZT-user worthy of his own series; he surpasses the other geniuses in the world because beneath the brain cells he has a slacker heart of gold.
The mystery around Cooper’s character is building as well. Every time Finch tries to google ‘Eddie Mora NZT’, the computer he’s using crashes. Actually, in that last sentence, I misspoke. Finch didn’t ‘google’ Mora, he used some off-brand search engine. Normally, this isn’t the sort of thing I’d notice, let alone mention, but the website was shown so many times I couldn’t help but notice it. Did Google cost too much in the show? Or maybe Finch is smart enough that he doesn’t want Google to have all his data? Anyways, that pointless digression aside, Bradley Cooper holds an eerie amount of control in the Limitless universe. Finch cannot escape, and after the twist at the end of episode two is revealed, we learn that neither can his family.
So far, Limitless has been an excellent series. It is funny, exciting, and is not weighed down by the usual backstory and clichés most procedural shows suffer. For example, McDorman isn’t falling in love with Carpenter. At least not yet. The one significant personal relationship in the series is between Finch and his father (played by Ron Rifkin). The relationship is genuine and played at an appropriate level of intensity. That is to say, no one has left a room screaming or invoking some past family tragedy. Rifkin is very good as the father. I’ve seen the very same subtle looks of contentment or restrained frowns of disappointment from my own father. The other characters in the family are rather non-existent at this point, but appropriately so, as it seems the father-son relationship has been the vital and driving force in Finch’s life.
Mike Gioia strategically plans trips to the fridge during commercial breaks. Since subscribing to Netflix, he has shown early signs of emaciation.
Mike Gioia | Contributor