CBS has a knack for basically producing the same show over and over again, until one variation of it finally works. So after striking out with “Intelligence” — a Josh Holloway vehicle, featuring an enhanced hero who could tap into the Internet — the network returns with “Limitless,” which brings not only name recognition from the movie on which it’s based, but a cameo (possibly recurring) by Bradley Cooper, who is among the producers. The resulting show, placing Jake McDorman in what had been Cooper’s predicament, isn’t bad, although in terms of dramatic possibilities, the formula hardly lives up to its title.
McDorman (last seen exploring romantic comedy’s lower limits in ABC’s “Manhattan Love Story”) plays Brian Finch, who stumbles upon a brain-boosting drug, in the form of a little pill, which opens up the tremendous capacity of the human mind. “Your brain is a miracle,” he’s told. “But it’s not efficient.”
This idea of unleashing the brain’s potential, of course, is a popular notion in science fiction, from “Limitless” to the Scarlett Johansson vehicle “Lucy” all the way back to “Forbidden Planet.” Mostly, though, the mysterious drug, NZT, is just another way to create a super-soldier, one who in this case is drafted by the authorities to assist in thwarting crimes, with his FBI agent contact (“Dexter’s” Jennifer Carpenter) and her boss (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) concluding grudgingly (aren’t they always?) that as long as Brian has these abilities, “Let’s make it our resource.”
Even with the presold aspects of the name, the movie wasn’t a huge hit, and the show will have to sink or swim without Cooper’s regular involvement. That said, McDorman credibly captures Brian’s mix of acquired genius and bewilderment, receiving only modest guidance from, among others, Cooper, who plays a U.S. senator able to use far more of his brain than most of his colleagues.
The main problem is that it’s all just an excuse, essentially, to produce yet another modernized take on Sherlock Holmes — think “Elementary,” only with the hero ingesting a different kind of solution.
Scheduled on Tuesdays, the show has little incentive to break too far from the “NCIS” procedural mold, which, as former time-period occupant “Person of Interest” discovered, isn’t necessarily all that hospitable to more adventuresome fare. On the plus side, the concept doesn’t have to move the needle much to register ratings improvement, and the notion of pharmaceutical enhancement should be pretty familiar to the network’s general demo that night.
Yet while “Limitless” is competently executed, what it lacks, finally, is any spark of inspiration. And alas, there’s no pill for that.