By Shirley Li
September 21, 2015 at 12:00 PM EDT
Michael Parmelee/CBS
  • TV Show

Brian Finch is high. Not high high, but NZT-high, as in wired-into-every-memory-and-experience-and-morsel-of-knowledge-he’s-ever-learned high, because that’s what NZT, the designer drug at the center of CBS’ new action thriller, does: It gives normal guys like Brian the temporary ability to do anything, once he quickly calculates how to do it. He can outrun police in the middle of a crowded square. He can leap, parkour-style, down a building’s fire escapes. He can play chicken on the subway tracks with an approaching train — and survive.

And on a sunny afternoon outside a Brooklyn brownstone, he can diagnose a baby’s genetic mutation because he’s, once again, high on NZT. Star Jake McDorman (Greek, Manhattan Love Story), who plays Brian, crouches in front of a stroller and acts opposite the doll seated inside. “You can see it in his eyes,” he says to the prop. “We could get a paternity test, but I mean …” He shrugs. “It’s obvious.”

The scene’s oddball setup — here’s a guy on drugs talking to a baby in order to solve a crime — is exactly how CBS hopes to turn viewers into addicts of the show. “There are similarly outlandish moments coming up,” teases showrunner Craig Sweeny. “NZT’s essentially a magic pill. There’s a little bit of a ‘why not?’ idea that animates Limitless.” Based on the 2011 sleeper hit starring Bradley Cooper, which was itself based on the 2001 novel The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn, the series picks up soon after the film’s events ended, with Cooper’s washed-up-writer character, Eddie Mora, having figured out a way to counter-act the drug’s side effects. Now a senator (and presidential hopeful), Eddie offers Brian the antidote he created in return for Brian’s willingness to do his bidding. But in lieu of having Cooper appear in every episode (the actor exec-produces the series and has promised he’ll turn up again), the show will introduce a man named Sands (Colin Salmon), who will keep a close eye on Brian. “Brian has a number of masters,” Sweeny says. “He’ll be drawn into the larger events. Who knows about NZT? Who’s using NZT? Where does it come from, what are the different agendas, and who’s trying to control it?”

RELATED VIDEO: Jake McDorman is a star to watch on ‘Limitless’

Brian’s introduction to the drug is easier to explain. A rock-star wannabe, he’s given the pill by a friend who’s trying to lift his spirits. In the process, he inadvertently becomes a suspect in a murder investigation and has to help FBI agent Rebecca Harris (Jennifer Carpenter) track down the real perp, which leads to a -longer professional relationship between the two that sets up the show’s procedural spine. “Even though it may not look like the wisest decision, she’ll see it through,” Carpenter says. “But Rebecca has to exercise a level of patience with Brian that she doesn’t have to with her colleagues.” Colleagues like her partner Boyle (Hill Harper), who’s not into adding a drug-dependent outsider onto the team. “It’s the FBI, they’re driven by code, so a drug? Really?” Harper says. “This guy could get us killed.”

In McDorman’s head, though, Brian’s use of the drug is more fun than fatal. “I compare it to, like, if you’re just at a party and you’ve had a few beers and you’re just on,” he says. “He’s at the FBI where everyone’s so serious, but Brian’s like, ‘This is so f—ing cool!'” (Much of that giddiness also comes from the series’ visual flair, with a pilot deftly directed by Marc Webb.)

With all those sides of Brian to play and the fact that Cooper personally recommended McDorman for the part — the two worked together in 2014’s American Sniper — could the actor be feeling the pressure? Not at all, he says. “I’ve got enough to think about. I have to sound like a genius on a daily basis!” If only there were some NZT lying around.


Want more? EW’s Fall TV Preview mega-issue has the scoop on 115 shows! Pick up your copy on newsstands now, or buy it here.

Limitless premieres Tuesday, Sept. 22, at 10 p.m. ET on CBS.

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