Saturday, September 19, 2015

'Limitless' Is Fun And Heartfelt, With An Extra Dose of Something Special

Limitless, "Pilot"
Season premiere: September 22, 2015

I flew into San Diego very late on the Wednesday night of Comic-Con. That morning, I had gotten up and put in a full day of work (8-5 PM), then ventured to the airport where delays and near-missed connections were waiting for me. So by the time I landed on the opposite coast at 12 AM, technically Thursday morning... well, suffice it to say that I was exhausted. But, as you do when you're at Comic-Con, I powered through on three hours of sleep and was insanely grateful for the light schedule I had on Thursday. "Light," of course, actually meant a three-hour block in Ballroom 20 spent with CBS's returning and new series, followed by another hour and a half in the press room with the cast and producers of the aforementioned series. CBS was the only press room that I had the opportunity to be in during SDCC this year, but it was an absolute blast. I got to talk with the cast and producers of shows like Under the Dome, Scorpion, and Zoo.

Plus, I got to talk to the producers and cast of the network's new series, Limitless. CBS screened the pilot for us during the block and I was really engaged with the story (even though I had never seen the movie). I was even more enthralled, however, when I spoke to the producers and director Marc Webb during the roundtable discussion. If you somehow missed our interviews with them and with Jake McDorman and Hill Harper, go take a listen. They were great.

Limitless follows a similar plot to the movie of the same name. And though it's destined to become another in a long line of CBS's procedural dramas, it has an extra dose of something special. And that "something special" goes by the name of Jake McDorman. In the series, he plays Brian, a young and struggling musician who watches everyone around him grow up and succeed while he desperately tries to cling to his dreams, even when they come crashing down around him. Brian is very much of a stereotypical slacker character -- one who you might assume would be played by Jake's former co-star Scott Michael Foster. (Seriously, WHY DOES SCOTT MICHAEL FOSTER GET TYPECAST SO MUCH?) The real, true gems in the Limitless pilot are the heart and emotional stakes that are interjected. Brian's father is sick and ailing and the relationship between Brian and his parents is the one thing in the episode that truly allows us to see Brian as a dimensional, relatable character.

It would be easy to categorize Brian as a slacker, of course, and write him off as nothing more. But Jake McDorman manages to unearth layers and nuances in Brian's character that are exceptional. CBS is full of crime dramas and multi-camera comedies. The network knows what it likes and what works for them. And really? I respect that. But in a crop of so many similar shows, Limitless manages to stand out because of Jake's endearing portrayal of Brian. Whether he's offering business advice to a hot dog vendor (played by writer and executive producer Craig Sweeny) or standing by the bedside of his father, Brian is a character who you actually WANT to root for. At our SDCC roundtable, Rebecca asked the production team why Jake McDorman was the right person for the role of Brian. Here is what executive producer Alex Kurtzman said:

Jake… there’s an inherent likability about him. [...] We need to sympathize with [Brian]. We need to feel his struggle. And Jake is just so likable and his range is really wide. He can play very goofy and funny and he can play very serious. Which is really [evident] when you see him in scenes with his father … You really felt this tremendous sense of bonding. And, you know, he throws himself into this dilemma to save his dad. If that storyline doesn’t work, the whole thing falls apart. And he did it beautifully.

That's exactly what will set this drama apart from all of the others that are debuting this season, and what set it apart for me and my Greek-loving heart: Jake McDorman's portrayal. As Alex noted above, too, Limitless is actually a very funny pilot. If you've seen the film, you'll definitely notice homages to it in the way of directing and also in mimicking some of the scenes that Bradley Cooper originated. Though Limitless is -- in some ways -- an off-shoot of the film, it stands on its own and doesn't really rely on the film as a foundation. From the opening action sequence to the comedic Brian-on-NZT montage to the emotional moments in which Brian breaks down, the series is laying its own foundation and inviting the audience into Brian's story. It's a complex story, mind you, because it's a story about a drug. This drug, called NZT, is a mind-opening one -- as Brian notes in the pilot's voiceover (there are a lot of those in pilots not just this season but in general, I've found) : "you remember a lot more than you think you do."

When Brian is high on NZT, he's extremely accomplished, extremely intelligent, and extremely poised. Obviously, off of NZT, Brian is seen by the people around him as a disappointment and as wasted potential. I love the contrast in the pilot and I love something that director Marc Webb (who I got to sit next to during the roundtable and who also directed things like, oh, you know... (500) Days of Summer and The Amazing Spider-Man) said. If you watch the pilot, take care to notice the differences, directing-wise, between Brian on NZT and him off of it. Let me know what you pick up on because I definitely didn't notice the subtle nuances that both Jake and Marc chose to implement, but they're rather brilliant.

Since Limitless is a procedural, of course, I would be remiss if I didn't talk about Rebecca (Jennifer Carpenter) or Boyle (Hill Harper). Boyle isn't as big of a presence in the pilot as Rebecca is, and though I never watched Dexter, I can appreciate great acting and Jennifer definitely brought it. There's a scene, in particular, that takes place between Brian and Rebecca on a rooftop that is really lovely. And there's a dichotomy there, too -- the relationship is one based on slight mistrust but also respect, but also a bit of an annoyance and maybe a little infatuation too. Because Brian is a riddle to be solved and an issue to be contained by Rebecca. I'm really excited to see how their relationship develops as they likely will continue to collaborate and clash (given the fact that Brian becomes a part of the team at the episode's end).

There are a few great surprises in this episode, none of which is as great as Bradley Cooper's appearance. He's an executive producer on the series but also will be occasionally guest-starring as his schedule allows (I think I recall them noting at SDCC that he's slated for at least four episodes? But maybe I'm completely making that up.). And even though I hadn't seen the film Limitless before watching the show, Bradley Cooper's Eddie Morra is a really great role model/threatening guardian figure for Jake McDorman's Brian. Their scene together in the warehouse is so great. Also, Bradley Cooper is gorgeous. Did you guys know that?

Overall, I definitely recommend that you check out Limitless when it premieres this Tuesday night at 10 PM on CBS. I'll most likely be live-tweeting, so feel free to join in!

Pilot Rating: 


Post a Comment