Limitless EP Craig Sweeny Talks Ferris Bueller Homage

Last night’s episode of Limitless, “Brian Finch’s Black Op,” was the Ferris Bueller’s Day Off homage that I didn’t know I wanted, but absolutely needed. I had the chance to chat with showrunner Craig Sweeny about why Brian’s life reminded him of Ferris, and how this episode came together. Read our full conversation below, and watch Limitless Tuesday night on Global TV in Canada and CBS in the US.

Limitless has been an unexpected surprise for me this season, and I think it’s doing a great job of balancing comedy and drama so far. Has it been challenging to walk that line between the two?

Without a doubt, it’s something we’re always looking at. There are ones where we feel like we maybe leaned too hard on the drama or more where we’ve found ourselves leaning too hard on the comedy. So as you said, it’s a balance. Exactly what it is, is not 100% worked out yet. It’s a challenge week to week but it’s a good kind of challenge.

This latest episode is an homage to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which is, without a doubt, one of the best movies ever. It’s the first film I ever saw without a parent. 

(Laughing) I’m trying to remember the exact number but I think I saw it five times in theaters when I was a kid.

I saw it twice in the theater. That was the days when things stayed in theaters for a long time. Now this isn’t the first show this season to have a Ferris Bueller themed episode. Why did you think that it would be a good fit for Limitless?

At the time that we took on the Ferris episode, we didn’t know about The Goldbergs episode, which we did some research on and it was great. I was cutting our second episode and I realized how much technical stuff from Ferris we were using, as far as putting lists of things on the screen and occasionally breaking the fourth wall. It occurred to me in a great rush — because I hadn’t thought about the movie in quite a while — that we were actually making something that was heavily influenced by Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. So then I decided, because the show is allowed to be playful, to make an homage, and keep my eye out for [an episode] where [we could do it]. I thought it would be just the opening and then we would just discard the gag, but it was seemed so natural to do in this [episode] because Brian has his own NZT and because things become so heavy later on in the episode. That’s sort of how it evolved.

How did you decide which of the characters in this story would be matched up with the characters in Ferris Bueller? Rebecca’s the obvious choice as Sloane, but how were the others aligned with characters from the film?

Rebecca, of course, she’s naturally Sloane. We have these three guys who are out there in the woods with Brian who won’t tell him their names. The guy in charge, who everybody has to somewhat resentfully listen to, becomes Rooney. There’s the quiet guy who has trouble expressing what he needs. Ultimately, that trait emerges in a very different way than it does for the character in the movie, but that’s why he becomes Cameron. Then there’s the guy that you never really hear talk. He becomes Abe Froman, who was often referenced as the “Sausage King of Chicago” but never seen in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

One of my favorite moments in this episode has to be the school bus scene at the end. It was priceless.

It was so fun. A couple of the writers on staff came in and pitched me that and we weren’t sure whether we should do it because Andrei [Arlovski]’s character, Aleksey, is not the Rooney. That moment happens to Rooney in the movie, but it was just too funny not to do. We’re really, really glad that we chose to do it.

Besides the obvious Ferris Bueller references, I found that it really embodied the spirit of other 80s films that I loved growing up, like Cloak & Dagger and WarGames. Was that intentional, or just a coincidence?

Interesting. Why do you think it made you feel that way? I love hearing that, but that was not intentional.

I was getting the Cloak & Dagger with Brian being brought unwillingly into something that’s super dark, potentially putting his life in danger even more than some of the other storylines we’ve seen up to this point. And also the angel/devil on his shoulders being a bit like Jack Flack. 

That’s really cool. It’s not anything that I was consciously doing but I think it’s a total valid interpretation of the episode.

I think the last time I remembered feeling the way that “Brian Finch’s Black Op” made me feel, it was watching those films. Intentional or not, it was great.

That’s a compliment that makes me feel very good. Thank you so much.

This is probably the most dangerous operation that Brian’s been a part of so far, and has another agency exploiting his abilities. Is it possible that he may be brought into something else down the line, willingly or unwillingly, by someone other than the FBI?

We wouldn’t do it too soon. The next episode deals with the fallout of the fact that somewhere, somebody internally gave the CIA permission to do that, and now they’re trying to figure out who it was. Brian, as a unique asset, would be of interest to a lot of people, and we will occasionally play with that. Since it just happened in “Brian Finch’s Black Op,” we’ll give it a little bit of a rest for a while.

Photo Courtesy of Global TV

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