‘Limitless’ is the ‘Ally McBeal’ of Superhero-y Shows
Due to my superhero fatigue, I was surprised when I ended up hooked on a new Netflix show called Limitless. Focusing on a mind-expanding drug called “NZT,” the show isn’t technically a superhero show, but it might as well be. It focuses on a regular schlub who stumbles into greatness and might just end up saving the world.
The schlub in question is Brian Finch, played by Jake McDorman. I like to think of McDorman as the next Chris Pratt waiting in the sidelines, hoping that the Parks and Rec star will once again say something incriminating in order to sympathize with blue-collar America. He’s not as cute or charming as Chris Pratt, but he gets closer than most. You may remember McDorman from such roles as “The Craigslist Killer” or Fiona’s needy boyfriend on Shameless.
The chemistry between Brian and FBI agent Rebecca Harris, played by Jennifer Carpenter (aka Deb from Dexter) is what makes the show so good. Carpenter plays the perfect straight man (or woman) for a show that often devolves into creative editing and plain-old silliness.
A caveat before I continue. Limitless is not a compelling TV drama about the reality of addiction. In fact, those expecting to see a thoughtful portrayal of the dangers and thrills of illegal substances should probably bounce now. It’s also not a show that makes a whole lot of sense all the time. Limitless functions as a non-sequitur dive into our inner worlds more than as a Compelling Drama That Says Something About Society. To me, that’s more fun.
What kept me hooked, besides the enjoyable cast, was the show’s weird-ass editing and quirks. At one point, Brian gives himself synesthesia and chases colorful smells all over town. At another point, Riley from Buffy the Vampire Slayer shows up, takes NZT and causes a ton of murders. It’s a left-field plot I forgot about two episodes later, but I like the all-over-ness of this show. There’s even a segment that rips off the format of Drunk History, but it works.
In that way, Limitless reminds me a lot of Ally McBeal. Our old fave “high-powered female lawyer” show didn’t accurately represent how cases are fought in court, but it used visual hallucinations to explore a career woman’s inner world. Its side characters were odd, flawed and fun. And the drama never took itself too seriously.
Limitless is a sequel to a 2011 movie starring Bradley Cooper (who is also in the show) and Robert DeNiro, and is based on a book called The Dark Fields, by Alan Glynn. I haven’t seen the movie/read the book yet, but I still found the show to be well-rounded on its own. It’s definitely worth a watch for anyone who likes Chris Pratt types and wishes superhero dramas were weirder/contained better female characters.