If we’ve learned anything as a planetary collective in the past almost-3 years, it’s that we live with limitations: with finite and seriously unevenly distributed resources, we’ve run up against hard limits on who gets vaccinated and how quickly, who gets treated for illness, who gets aid during a global crisis, who is allowed to work from home to be more protected, etc. The notion “limitless” seems naive and quaint, a 20th-century idea reserved for space exploration and early cancer research.
But “limitless” is back, this time riding in on a TV series hosted by Chris Hemsworth, the Australian actor who (among other things) has been busy playing Thor in Marvel series movies. I’ve watched all the episodes except one.
Content Warning: the episode I didn’t watch was about the alleged benefits of fasting. I won’t be reporting or commenting or devoting any blog space to such behaviors.
Full disclosure: I enjoy the Marvel movies, for all their flaws. And I admit to enjoying watching the magnificent Chris Hemsworth perform athletic activities on land, sea and air. That said, I’ll press on.
Okay, one more side observation: in the Hulu advertisement for the series, the picture of Chris looks eerily like a younger David Hasselhoff, of Baywatch and Knight Rider fame. See for yourself.
The show’s premise is what Chris Hemsworth should do about approaching 40 as an action movie actor, family man and mere mortal. We get treated to a jumble of reality-show-style challenges, rushed training sessions, and boiled-down motivational advice from a raft of specialists.But mostly we’re there for Chris himself, watching him live though painful physical training, absurd environment conditions, intrusive questioning, and difficult news.
Here’s a list of feats attempted in the series:
- walking across a crane on top of a tall building (while harnessed)
- swimming in Arctic waters to a buoy offshore
- climbing a 100-foot rope dangled from a tramline in the Blue Mountains (also harnessed)
- navigating a two-day bush walk with a friend without a map
- confronting his own decline and death through a bunch of elaborately staged stunts
For the first three on the list, there are topic experts, coaches, friends and family and others clustered all around supporting him, helping him process whatever issues come up around the feat: fear of heights, drowning, injury, weakness, aging, loss of control, death, to name a few. There are takeaways– for him and for us– at the end, like “add two sessions of meditation or two sessions of swimming or one session in nature with family per week”. Unlike some celebrity-focused shows, there don’t seem to be product placements– no GOOP-style gadgets or ointments or elixirs or potables on offer. Whew– that’s good. And honestly, marketing box breathing and cold water immersion seems mild and benign enough.
The last two episodes are not like the others– there are no dedicated training sessions or takeaways. Instead, Chris confronts and processes feelings of his own vulnerability and mortality with us and more experts. No spoilers here, but I’m guessing that if any of us subjects ourselves to extensive testing on multiple levels, something’s bound to crop up.
There’s something refreshing about sharing a protagonist’s thoughts and feelings as they are confronting dramatic events. But, as this is a so-called reality show, and one designed to disarm us by making us privy to Chris Hemsworth’s thoughts about his life, health, family and future. The producers and experts are sending us a message about our ability to smooth out our responses to fear, anxiety, aging, even death. They offer us tips on how to extend our health and longevity.
To me, this suggests that we, the audience, have more control over our lives and our fates than is actually true. Yes, perhaps we can get used to perilous heights or develop super-core strength. And we will want to respond in constructive ways to news about health risks and health conditions as we age. I think acceptance of limits, creative thinking around alternatives and development of support around limitations is more sound. Chris Hemsworth may be doing just that. In short, the show is ill-named: “Limitless” is not at all what it’s about. Beneath the surface, it’s “Living with Limits”. Which is what we all do everyday.