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Mind Games 1.01 "Pilot" Review: Manipulation For Sale

    Mind Games premiered this week on ABC. The “Pilot” was written by series creator Kyle Killen and directed by Miguel Sapochnik. Killen may be best known as the author of The Beaver, starring Mel Gibson and directed by Jodie Foster, but he was also the creator of Awake and Lone Star. Both those shows dealt with main characters leading two lives, a theme that resonates in this series too. Sapochnik also directed Awake in addition to Under the Dome, Revolution, Banshee, Fringe, and House MD among others. The series stars Christian Slater and Steve Zahn as brothers Ross and Clark Edwards. I have to admit my draw for the show was Slater who has struggled to find a television vehicle that will stick – this is his fourth series in six years. I don’t think this is going to end up being the one.

    The basic premise of the show is that the two brothers run a consulting business that utilizes 60 years of research into human behavior and manipulation to help people achieve their goals. Ross (Slater) was convicted of fraud while Clark (Zahn) is a disgraced psychology professor. Clark also happens to be bipolar. I thought the basic premise of the show was interesting, and it was entertaining to watch them put the theories to work in the field. The show also has the opportunity to educate people about bipolar disorder. However, after about the first ten minutes of the episode, it was difficult to concentrate on the plot because Zahn was so over the top and shrill in his portrayal of Clark’s manic phase. I just wanted him to get off the screen. By the end of the episode, Clark is crashing, but he’s more bearable this way and we finally get to see his brilliant mind at work. It is hard to imagine, however, how clients would trust someone to manipulate or influence behavior when that person exhibits no self control whatsoever.

    The supporting cast was generally solid. Megalyn Echikunwoke plays Megan an actress hired to help re-condition people. Echikunwoke has had recurring roles on 24, The 4400, 90210, CSI Miami, House of Lies, and Made in Jersey. Gregory Marcel plays Miles a grad student of Clark’s who helps with the psychological aspects of cases. Marcel had a recurring role on Infinity Strategists. Cedric Sanders plays Latrell who worked for Ross previously and has been hired to run the office and handle the business end of cases. Sanders had a recurring role in 10,000 Days. Wynn Everett plays Claire Edwards, Ross’ ex-wife and Clark’s continuing support system. Wynn has had recurring roles on The Newsroom, The Event, and Hope and Faith.

    The supporting characters all bring something to the team with the exception of Clarie who has no logical reason for being there. I liked the dynamic of the brothers and the scene on the roof when Ross and Clark commit to each other and the company was well acted by Slater and Zahn who have undeniable chemistry. However, the final twist in which we see that Ross has paid off Beth (Katherine Cunningham), the woman whom Clark is in love with and who torpedoed his career, really hit a sour note for me. I wanted – and needed – to like Slater’s character, and now I don’t. It’s possible there will be some logical and commendable reason for him destroying his brother’s life and destroying his mental stability, but I can’t imagine what that may be. He’s a con man through and through apparently, and even though his brother is a brilliant psychologist, Clark can’t see himself being manipulated.

    Zahn does a great job portraying someone with bipolar disorder who experiences great highs and great lows on an emotional roller coaster. The episode does a good job in trying to explain why many people with the disorder simply don’t take their medicine. However, Zahn is also, to my mind, perilously close to going over the top with the portrayal. I would hate to see the character slide into pure caricature. The episode premiered with weak ratings in a very competitive time slot.

    I would give this “Pilot” 3 out of 5 stars. It’s worth another look to see if they can get the right balance with the characters and exploit the interesting plot elements. What did you think of the episode? Will you keep watching? If you didn’t check out the episode, what kept you away? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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