Brothers Ross and Clark, the siblings at the heart of ABC’s newest drama Mind Games, are the kind of hot messes you’d never want screwing with your subconscious.
So naturally, that’s all they want to do.
Ross (played by Breaking In‘s Christian Slater) is an ex-con fond of get-rich-quick schemes. Clark (Treme‘s Steve Zahn) is a scattered, bi-polar genius who’s been fired from several academic posts and who can’t stop calling the woman who recently dumped him.
Yet these two have a new business enterprise, which we see in action in Tuesday’s series premiere: They want to mine decades of human-behavior research, they tell a potential investor at the top of the episode, “to help people manipulate the most important moments of their lives.”
Or, as Clark later simplifies, “We change people’s minds without them knowing that we did it.” (Whether they should do it for the good of humanity or for a giant paycheck? That’s up in the air.)
But Clark’s enthusiasm, boosted by a manic high point, sabotages the brothers’ last chance for funding, and it looks like their business will fail before it even begins… that is, until a mother and her sick teenage son walk through the front door. The boy’s insurance company won’t pony up for an experimental stem-cell therapy, even though it will save the boy years of pain, suffering and exorbitant hospital bills.
So Ross and Clark, along with a few staffers including Ross’ ex-wife Claire (Wynn Everett, The Newsroom), stage an elaborate ruse designed to make the stuffed suit in charge of the pivotal insurance decision feel like a hero… so he’s more inclined to approve the boy’s experimental treatment.
If the plan sounds like a stretch, it is – and so is the “science” employed by the merry band of manipulators. Still, it’s kind of fun to watch Clark’s machinations wind up in a happy ending for the boy and his mother – albeit not before Ross has to step in and, with a few deft lies and some whopping “moral ambiguity,” shame the insurance-company higher-ups into doing the right thing.
Along the way, we learn that Claire is the “magic feather” who can slow Clark’s manic spin, that Ross has a fear of being abandoned by his genius sibling and that Ross – unbeknownst to Clark – paid a grad student (the same woman Clark pines after, to painful and law-breaking effect, throughout the episode) a lot of money to lure him into a relationship and get him fired from a teaching gig.
When the woman shows up, returning the money because she’s actually fallen for the nutty former professor, she promises not to say anything about Ross’ arrangement. Hmm… what are the odds that an expert on human behavior won’t notice his girlfriend and his brother acting guilty?
With its socially-challenged-genius-and-his-more-adept-companion model, Mind Games is treading very familiar ground (see also: Elementary, House, Monk, The Bridge, etc.), and the way the gang’s scenarios play out give the show a light, Leverage-ish feel.
If it can keep the science from getting too goofy, and if it plays on the strengths of ensemble members like Megalyn Echikunwoke (CSI: Miami), we’d be quite interested to see what Jedi mind tricks Mind Games has planned for the future. (Also, about those upcoming episodes: Can Zahn and Slater take the volume down a notch? We get that their characters have an intense relationship, but do they have to shout at each other all the time?)
That’s what we thought of the premiere; now it’s your turn. Grade Mind Games‘ first episode via the poll below, then hit the comments to back up your selection.Follow @kimroots