ABC’s second attempt at a mid-season replacement in the same time slot (replacing the cancelled Killer Women), Mind Games stars Christian Slater and Steve Zahn as the Edwards brothers struggling to prove their start-up company can make good on its promise to control and manipulate fate to achieve their clients’ desired outcome. As premises go it’s actually pretty good, although the Pilot episode features a lot of the characters struggling to convey the idea to both investors and the audience and might do well to incorporate some slick CGI work to visually help get their point across (like Numbers, Intelligence, or a number of other shows).
The Pilot introduces us to both brothers and the other members of the company. Zahn plays a bipolar disgraced professor and expert of the human condition, and Slater stars as his even more disreputable brother recently released from prison after a failed Ponzi scheme. The rest of the office includes Megalyn Echikunwoke as an unemployed actress hired to help the pair out in their schemes, Gregory Marcel as Clark’s (Zahn) former graduate student, and Cedric Sanders as the somewhat loosely-defined office manager who (at least in the Pilot) gets pulled into a more active role in the field.
Along with showcasing the brothers failing to sell their idea to the latest investment firm, and set-up the basic relationships of the core characters, the Pilot also gives the team the first real-life test of their methods to try and find a way to subtly push an insurance agent (Usman Ally) from denying an experimental procedure for a sick child to approving it (without realizing he’s been manipulated to make such a decision). Although partially successful, the company’s first job ultimately only succeeds with the help of Ross (Slater) bending, and breaking, the law to force the insurance company to capitulate to public pressure.
We’re also introduced to Wynn Everett as Ross’ ex-wife, and one of the few people who can calm Clark down from one of his maniac episodes, and Clark’s former student Beth (Katherine Cunningham) whose romantic relationship with her teacher got Clark kicked-out of the university (a storyline the show even makes more complicated in the Pilot’s final scene). As neither is shown in the full cast promotional photos I’m guessing we won’t be seeing as much of either character as the Pilot suggests. Jaime Ray Newman will apparently join the cast sometime during the show’s First Season as a fellow crook and love interest for Ross.
As with most Pilot episodes, the premiere of Mind Games is messy, but it sells me on the relationship between the brothers as well as the supporting cast (particularly Echikunwoke). As to the concept, I think the show needs to get better at introducing and conveying the ideas (and tone down Zahn’s mania a bit during these scenes), as well as work to offer more examples of success rather than have to rely so heavily on Ross’ criminal tendencies to get the job done. If the show can find a proper balance between bending the law and showcasing how to manipulate people to achieve various goals, while toning down the various nefarious subplots, then I think the Mind Games has a shot if it can stay on the air long enough to find an audiences (something Killer Women wasn’t able to accomplish).