Mind Games: TV Review

"Mind Games"
One brilliant but bipolar brother thinks the study of human behavior can be manipulated with ease. The other, more scheming brother thinks such manipulation can lead to millions of dollars in consulting fees. So they start a business -- but it's not quite as simple as that. Which is pretty much the story of creator Kyle Killen's TV career.

Can series creator Kyle Killen break through on his third attempt to reach a network audience with this complicated series?

With absolutely no ill will toward series creator Kyle Killen, it's a little bit crazy to bet on his pilots taking off. He created the critically acclaimed and short-lived Lone Star for Fox, and the mostly critically acclaimed and short-lived Awake for NBC. Tonight his latest series, Mind Games, premieres on ABC at 10 p.m., up against Person of Interest on CBS and Chicago Fire on NBC.

Those are not good betting odds.

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The bottom line on all of Killen's creations is that he likes the notion of duality and also that his shows are complicated. Too complicated, apparently, for network television audiences, which is why critics everywhere who see Killen's talent have often wondered why he doesn't just make a cable drama and find some happiness.

But here he is again with a show about two very different brothers who desperately need each other (duality) and their nascent business plan that one of the brothers sums up thusly: "We change people's minds without them knowing it."

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There's your complicated part. Brilliant but bipolar Clark Edwards (Steve Zahn) is "a world-renowned expert in the fields of human behavior, psychology and behavior." Slicker and more scheming brother Ross Edwards (Christian Slater) served two years in a minimum-security prison for securities fraud but never lacks for a get-rich-quick scheme, which is how he envisioned this latest job idea of getting companies, politicians – or anyone – to spend millions on the ability to manipulate others for gain.

Or, as one client said: "You're offering me an alternative to fate?"

Not really, but perhaps that's possible according to Clark, who notes that 60 years of research into human behavior is at their fingertips and he has the know-how to manipulate that information into getting people to act and do as you want.

It's a stretch, sure, but also something of a keen idea (although, in the same vein of behavioral sciences, Fox's Lie to Me was an immediately more appealing series). Mind Games is less complicated than Killen's other shows – which raises its chances until you factor in the dreadful time slot it will inhabit. Yet even though Zahn is a lot to take while having his bipolar rants and motor-mouthed moments of anxiety, plus Slater's dubious end-of-the-pilot twist, there are elements in play with Mind Games that make it intriguing.

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But you have to wonder if the pilot will accurately get that message across to viewers, no matter how Killen tries to manipulate them. Why? Because the first story – a young boy's constant need for surgery has resulted in doctors suggesting he can live a better life with experimental surgery but the big bad insurance company won’t pay for it – does a lot of contortion to make its point.

Maybe too much contortion.

And yet, if Killen manages to beat the odds this time, there's room for growth in the series. Mind Games has, among its "manipulators," the by-the-book Latrell (Cedric Sanders), actress Megan (Megalyn Echikunwoke), and behavioral scientist Miles (Gregory Marcel), who has both Clark's bright mind and Ross' penchant for "moral ambiguity." There are story arcs for that group.

You can see people falling for a weekly procedural based on the cases the firm gets. On the other hand, Killen does introduce a couple of wild-card characters into the mix that may make the series more volatile and dramatic than viewers want. Of course, none of that matters unless there are enough people at 10 p.m. searching for something new and, when stumbling upon Mind Games, decide to help Killen end his losing streak.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com
Twitter: @BastardMachine