What if you took a drug that gave you instant photographic recall of every memory you’d ever had? What might you accomplish with that power? The 2011 film Limitless saw its pill-popping hero use brain-enhancing drugs to make money, cavort with women, and run for political office. Meanwhile, the protagonist of the new TV show Limitless, a quasi-sequel to the film, gets his hands on the drug and uses it to solve some fairly boring mysteries. With this new series, CBS seems to have squandered the potential of a weird, compelling premise by cramming it into an average procedural crime-show mold.
Like many CBS dramas, Limitless is made with aggressive competence. There’s a cinematic sheen borrowed from Neil Burger’s film, which starred Bradley Cooper and was enough of an unexpected hit to spawn this spinoff. There’s a brief cameo from Cooper himself as now-Senator Eddie Morra, who gives his blessing to his successor Brian, a struggling musician played by Jake McDorman who starts popping the magic pill NZT and draws the attention of the FBI. But there’s a depressing lack of originality to Limitless, which quickly positions itself as a dull cop show despite its wackier sci-fi origins.
As one might discern from the title, there are many directions Limitless could take to explore the powers NZT bestows and their consequences. Aside from granting complete memory recall, the drug’s powers are vaguely defined and can seemingly offer whatever the taker desires (in the film, it ranges from literary success to political acumen). But Brian takes about as narrow an approach as possible. At one point, he uses his new powers to pick a lock; as the show’s self-serious narration tells us, he learned that skill by watching a random YouTube video years ago, and NZT finally granted him the power to deploy it.