Manipulation is at the core of “Mind Games,” an ABC drama that seeks to set up an elaborate caper format, with a human-behavior expert/researcher who, in theory, can dig into people’s psyches in order to produce a desired outcome. The twist, inevitably, is that said genius, played by Steve Zahn, is plagued by his own bipolar demons, leaving his business-oriented brother (Christian Slater) to try to keep his eccentricity from sinking the whole enterprise. Conceptually interesting but rather thin in its “Mission: Impossible”-type moorings, the show weaves in some unexpected threads but does little to warrant a second thought.
Of course, because Slater’s Ross and his brother Clark employ a crack team of psychologists and even an actress (Megalyn Echikunwoke) to help influence their marks, money is a constant source of concern, and they’re introduced trying to secure support from a major investor. Alas, Clark’s tics implode during that meeting, and it’s clear the business – while potentially worth billions – isn’t going to run all that smoothly.
So the passionate Clark takes what amounts to a pro bono case, trying to cajole an insurance company into approving an expensive operation, while Ross – whose conviction for securities fraud suggests a willingness to cut corners – endeavors to keep the enterprise afloat.
Created by Kyle Killen (“Lone Star”), the series certainly gets mileage out of its science-of-the-mind scenarios, and delivers an especially toothy character to Zahn, who got to be almost equally zany in his last project, HBO’s “Treme.”
Yet while the pilot hints at darker aspects of the fraternal relationship, the truth is “Mind Games” is going to be driven to a sizable degree by the quality of the clientele, and one can foresee those scenarios, however quirky, becoming a tad repetitive rather quickly. Nor does the rest of the office do much to distinguish itself in the previewed episodes.
On the plus side, the series enters a Tuesday timeslot where ABC’s expectations were quickly lowered by the lottery-drama “Lucky 7,” and the potential for comedy in the premise and cast does feel a trifle more compatible with the sitcoms leading into it. The show also marks a hat trick for Slater, who has starred in short-lived Fox and NBC series – including the former’s similarly themed “Breaking In” – before now landing on ABC.
Even so, “Mind Games” probably won’t have all that long to close the deal with viewers, and if a series about subtly manipulating behavior doesn’t make it in its quest to win over hearts and minds, one needn’t be any kind of expert to foresee the snarky headlines practically write themselves.