Super human with limits

Brian Finch (Jake McDorman) is a slacker whose life changes after he consumes a brain-boosting drug that gives him superhuman abilities.
Brian Finch (Jake McDorman) is a slacker whose life changes after he consumes a brain-boosting drug that gives him superhuman abilities.PHOTO: RTL CBS ENTERTAINMENT

Recycling the premise of 2011 thriller Limitless, this TV series of the same name makes for comfort viewing at best

Is it ever a good idea to turn a movie into a television show? Hollywood evidently thinks so, even though the hits (Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Parenthood, Friday Night Lights) seem far outnumbered by the misses (The

Odd Couple, Nikita, Clueless and countless more).

Debuting tonight is yet another stab at recycling the premise of a hit film - in this case, Bradley Cooper's 2011 thriller Limitless, which was based on the rather seductive idea that human beings use only 10 per cent of their brains.


    RTL CBS Entertainment HD (StarHub TV Channel 509, Singtel TV Channel 318)

    Debuts tonight , 9pm

Cooper had played Eddie Morra, a struggling writer dumped by his girlfriend because his career was going nowhere.

Then he got his hands on a mysterious brain-boosting drug called NZT, which enables a person to tap into 100 per cent of their cognitive abilities, and turned his life and fortunes around.

It is a notion that has been roundly debunked, of course, with neuroscientists showing that we already use almost every part of our brains. But the "10 per cent brain myth", as it has been dubbed, continues to pop up on screen in films such as Lucy (2014), where Scarlett Johansson also found a nifty little drug that harnessed 100 per cent of her grey matter.

Both this and Limitless the movie worked partly because the premise appeals to our vanity: If we could only access all that untapped potential in our brain, we would be geniuses.

And popping a pill seems somehow more feasible than, say, getting a radioactive spider to bite you.

Although nootropic drugs are an emerging field of pharmacology in real life, make no mistake: Limitless is basically a superhero story and with a disguise that is about as convincing as Superman putting on spectacles and pretending to be Clark Kent.

And what it is disguised as is depressingly familiar. Whereas the film delved into the dark side of taking brain-boosting chemicals, with Morra quickly learning that the drug can have debilitating or even fatal side effects and that his success attracts enemies, Limitless the TV show has instead chosen to become a case-of-the-week procedural along the lines of the Sherlock Holmes-based Elementary (which Limitless' executive producer Craig Sweeney also happens to work on).

The series turns its attention to a new character, Brian Finch (Jake McDorman from the 2014 movie American Sniper), a slacker whose music career never took off. Feeling sorry for him, a friend gives him some NZT, which gives him superhuman abilities.

Like Morra, he can now remember, understand and use every scrap of information he has ever seen or heard and this turns him into a brilliant musician, chess player and medical diagnostician, who is able to figure out what is wrong with his ailing father when no one else can.

But things soon go south: The friend who supplied him with NZT is killed; Brian is implicated in the murder and goes on the run, tailed by an agent for the FBI (Jennifer Carpenter from the series Dexter) who eventually comes to believe he is innocent.

Cooper, who also executive produces the series, reprises his role as Morra, who will be a sporadically recurring character.

Now a senator and a millionaire, he reaches out to Brian offering to supply him with a safe form of NZT - but he has an agenda and expects something in return.

The FBI, too, demands its pound of flesh: It wants to recruit Brian to help solve cases.

On the plus side, the pilot is action-packed and has a big-name director at the helm, Marc Webb of The Amazing Spider-Man franchise (2012 - 2014).

McDorman is also thoroughly likeable as Brian, which he needs to be because of the character's frequent, and slightly inelegant, voiceovers explaining his powers.

Still, it does not look like there will be much to distinguish this from other procedurals based on characters with savant-like abilities, such as Monk or Unforgettable.

This could make it a good candidate for a bit of mindless comfort- viewing - just do not expect to experience an NZT-like brain boost watching this.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2015, with the headline 'Super human with limits'. Print Edition | Subscribe