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TV Series Review

Nancy Reagan told us all to “just say no” to drugs. Brian Finch tells us to hurry up and say "yes."

Forget the idea that drug-addled brains look like eggs in a frying pan; crack Finch’s egg-of-a-brain over a sizzling skillet, and out’ll pop classical Athens. Drugs are bad for you? Pish. Finch was a shiftless nobody until he started taking ‘em, and now he’s literally the smartest guy in the room—whether that room’s a shady dive by the pier or the Oval Office.

Sure, drugs still might get Finch killed one of these days. Just not in the way First Lady Reagan would’ve guessed.

Finch is no ordinary drug addict, of course. And NZT, his drug of choice, is no ordinary illicit drug. The tiny clear tablet is, essentially, industrial-strength Sudafed for the brain. It opens up the mind’s synapses and stimulates the cells, turning Finch’s gloppy gray matter into a white-hot thinking machine. He can learn scads of languages, remember the tiniest of details and serve as his very own supercomputer until the 12-hour-dose starts to fade. Moreover, he doesn’t seem to experience the same bevy of unfortunate side effects other users have suffered—and lots of folks, both good guys and bad, would love to know how he manages to do that.

Because of his remarkable drug-aided abilities, Finch has become a prime asset for a special division of the FBI, partnering with agent Rebecca Harris and operating under the close supervision of Naz Pouran. And while his abilities are met with skepticism at first, he’s mostly accepted into the fold and given his daily government-issued dose of NZT to keep him functioning in top form. But, of course, most everyone in this drug-dappled picture seems to be harboring secrets and working with ulterior motives—including Finch himself.

Popping Programs

It’s one of television’s strange ironies that programs predicated on supersmart protagonists are often a bit dumb. CBS’ Scorpion probably leads that particular flotilla, but network stablemate Limitless qualifies for a few likeminded honors, too. The show relies on the charisma of its characters (particularly Jake McDorman, who plays Finch) to zoom past the myriad plot holes on the series’ road. Limitless aims no higher than escapism, and is about as challenging and interesting as, say, an afternoon game of Clue.

But while the show feels pretty light, it does come with some fairly weighty caveats. Language can be raw and offensive. Sexual allusions are dismayingly common. (A recent episode came caked with double entendres concerning a certain sector of the male anatomy.) And while the show isn’t nearly as violent and grotesque as other CBS procedurals, blood and gunplay should be expected. And then there’s the show’s NZT problem.

This Is Your TV on Drugs

Limitless is a sequel to the 2011 movie of the same name. The movie’s star, Bradley Cooper, even makes cameo appearances, drawing lines from the well-received movie and this middling TV show while giving the proceedings some A-list prestige. But while the Limitless movie at least tried to suggest that there were some ethical questions surrounding such a drug (and made a bigger deal of its side effects), NZT mostly works like magic on TV. It’s a pharmacological version of Captain Marvel: Say shazam! And suddenly you’re a superhero.

Now, this isn’t the first fictional hero to be chemically enhanced, of course. Captain America did it well before anyone had even heard of steroids. But given these drug-sensitive times, Limitless sends a strange, disturbing message. When professional athletes are constantly being suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs, and when so many folks abuse illicit drugs and prescription medications so they can feel smarter or stronger or better, Limitless’ premise feels pretty problematic.

Finch has found some snake oil that actually works—that improves upon the miracle that is mankind. And that’s what we’re placing our hopes in these days? Drugs? Have we been so spoiled by our smartphones and computers that we feel that we, too, need an upgrade?

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Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Limitless - Nov. 10, 2015 "When Pirates Pirate Pirates"



Readability Age Range



Jake McDorman as Brian Finch; Jennifer Carpenter as Agent Rebecca Harris; Hill Harper as Spellman Boyle; Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Nasreen 'Naz' Pouran






Record Label




On Video

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Paul Asay

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