Friday, September 25, 2015

Pilot Reviews: Limitless & Rosewood

I've decided to put my reviews of these two new shows, CBS's Limitless and Fox's Rosewood, in one article for a few reasons. They actually share more in common than meets the eye: both are procedurals; both feature an ingenious lead who solves crimes (one through the use of a mind-enhancing drug, the other just through charm and knowledge); and both are a huge bore.

Limitless (Tuesdays at 10:00 on CBS)

I've never seen the Bradley Cooper film of the same name, on which this series is based and serves as a kind of sequel, so perhaps I'm predisposed to dislike the show. The concept is absurd: a new pill called NZT gives those who take it access to parts of the brain otherwise unavailable to people, to absorb information very quickly and access memories and functions otherwise dormant. It makes people into geniuses. Brian Finch (Jake McDorman, of last season's bomb Manhattan Love Story) pushes paper and is dealing with the slow decline of his father's health when a friend offers him one of the pills. He takes it and ends up figuring out what truly ails his father. But then Eli turns up murdered, and Brian is the prime suspect. Eddie Morra (Cooper, in a cameo as his character from the film) offers Brian access to unlimited supplies of NZT in exchange for his silence on the pill's effects. Meanwhile, FBI agent Rebecca Harris (Dexter's Jennifer Carpenter) wants Brian's help in finding the drug dealers who killed his friend.

It's probably pretty obvious to anyone who reads this synopsis that Brian doesn't choose a side, but rather splits the difference and takes what he wants from both parties: he lies to Eddie to get the NZT, and he also agrees to help the FBI. The premise is flimsy, with the addition of super-genius powers for the Everyman lead placing Limitless squarely in CBS's wheelhouse. There's very little difference between this show and Intelligence, from a couple seasons back. It also shares heavy ties with The Mentalist. CBS loves these kinds of shows where ordinary people are made better by the use of ridiculous mental powers, real or fabricated. So despite its relationship to a hit film, Limitless feels more like a product of the procedural machine than an extension of a franchise.

Also like other procedurals with semi-genius leads, Limitless doesn't always make sense. How does having access to parts of your brain others don't mean you know exactly how much weight the muscles in your hands can withstand? It's silly, really. Writers use these kinds of concepts as a sort of free reign to do whatever they want and explain it away, but when you think a little bit about it... it doesn't really add up all the time. So we end up with shows featuring "super smart" leads that are actually the opposite. And when that happens, I tune out: I get bored and restless, and I stop caring. That point came less than halfway through the Limitless pilot. It doesn't help that Jake McDorman is a really bland leading man, and that feature director Marc Webb (The Amazing Spider-Man 1 & 2) casts everything in washed out grays and ashy blues.

It's not that there's anything terrible about Limitless, because as far as procedurals go, this one is slick and fast and perfectly adequate. But adequate isn't interesting, and it doesn't make me want to come back for seconds.

Rosewood (Wednesdays at 8:00 on Fox)

If Limitless is an exercise in mediocrity, Rosewood is an exercise in mundanity. It's utterly terrible in almost every way, not the least of which is its implausible, totally insane crime-solving pair. Morris Chestnut (V, Legends) is Dr. Beaumont Rosewood, Rosie to his friends, Miami's top private pathologist (is there really more than one?). He's really smart and has a winning smile, so he's endeared himself to almost every woman he's ever met... until Miami's newest detective, Annalise Vega (Jaina Lee Ortiz), comes along and stonewalls his attempts to ingratiate himself onto her first case.

That's the plot: mismatched, male-female buddy cops. So unique. Rosewood has the most advanced technology at his fingertips, far beyond even that used by the CSI team, and he also has a seemingly endless knowledge of medical conditions and crime scene missteps locked away in his mind. By the fourth or fifth time he spits out something about petechia or stomach lining or whatever, Rosie's charm turns to smarm. Rosewood is also a totally unique character because he's dying; he has a congenital heart defect that causes him to have strokes, his hands in a constant state of shaking and the huge surgical incision across his chest glistening when he runs shirtless. When the most unique thing about your show is that you placed a "sell by date" on your protagonist, you have a problem: your show is not unique at all.

Unless by "unique," you mean "nonsensical." Because Rosewood is definitely that. It's like creator Todd Harthan (a former writer for Psych, one of my favorite detective shows that at least embraced its absurdity) has absolutely no concept of what police work actually entails. Vega routinely breaks the law (allowing Rosewood to illegally search a suspect's house for the food which made the victim's last meal; recording conversations without the consent of the other party; etc.), and she never lets on about why the hell she's even working with Rosewood in the first place. The man is a pathologist, not a police officer. Why is he going with you to question suspects? To crime scenes? To undercover operations?

Not much thought went into Rosewood, apparently. The plot and characters are kiddie-pool shallow, unworthy of your time or attention, even if you are just waiting around for Empire to start at 9:00.

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