Mind Games Review – Steve Zahn And Christian Slater Shoot For Every Emotion

Mind Games Christian Slater
ABC/Bob D’Amico

Mind Games, hitting on ABC February 25th, has a lot of things going against it before it even airs, and it’s difficult to judge the chances of overcoming the hurdles, no matter how much you might hope it will. Not only is Christian Slater having a rough run when it comes to TV series, but the show is also the creation of Kyle Killen, who just can’t catch a break.

With past projects Awake and Lone Star (both of them solid shows that deserved far better treatment) falling rather quickly, it’s hard to look at Killen as someone who can put things out that audiences will really get behind, or that will convince networks to stick with for an extended run if they have slow starts.

Our story here is that of Ross (Slater) and Clark (Zahn), brothers who are attempting to come together to create a unique business. While Ross is something of a master manipulator, and street smart student of human behavior – which translates in this case to mean that he is recently out of jail for selling people things that didn’t exist – Clark is a more legitimate genius in the human behavior field, but he’s also well-versed in the “having bipolar disorder” field.

The new business is a firm that, for lack of anything better, bends the will of others to the will of their clients. Using all the tricks of behavior modification, our gang maneuvers people into making the decisions we want them to make. The pilot episode finds the team taking on the Herculean challenge of getting an insurance company to approve experimental treatment, while other cases involve getting a daughter to leave a cult, and changing a Congressman’s mind about how he’s going to vote on a gun safety bill. The show spends equal time reveling in Clark’s genius, and deciphering his grand machinations, with a fair amount of trying to control his outbursts and general inability to control his own behavior thrown in for good measure. This leaves Ross trying to keep a lot of balls in the air at one time, and that’s before we get to the rest of the team, who have their own concerns over how this “business” is going to come together.

The show builds well, and is probably one of the best examples of establishment I’ve seen in years, mostly because it manages to avoid feeling as though it’s just throwing information at you. For example, in one of the clips below you’ll see Clark regurgitate his resume (and Ross’ into the bargain), but we’ve created a workable excuse for him to do so, as opposed to just having a character offer up foundational notes for no real reason.

ABC/Matt Dinerstein

Adding to the positives, Zahn and Slater are great together, with the possible exception of a very forced scene in the third episode, and watching them bounce off each other is worth more than most shows on television on its own. Moreover, the cases play out well, even when we get into the slightly overreaching “payback” angle, and the ensemble fill the gaps more smoothly than you’re used to getting from supporting characters.

The problem with the show is that it has certain problems with tone and delivery. It feels for all the world like an Americanization of a better British show that doesn’t actually exist. Despite being clearly good-natured, and working to bring about goals we can all cheer on, the show has hints of a darker side, both direct and indirect, and it feels as though we’ve tried to polish off the rough edges. Oddly similar to the actual recreation of Rake, which remains a good show, even if it is far brighter and suffers a lot more rainbows than the original, Mind Games turns on the charm too often, and leaves aside its most interesting explorations in favor of quick cuts to the bright sunshine of the next morning.

It’s still a good show, and one that will probably improve dramatically if it lasts long enough to really get its legs under it, but there’s a pre-whitewashing version of the scripts somewhere, and I’d rather watch that show.


With a little bit of science, a dash of con-artistry, plus a smattering of Jedi mind tricks, brothers Clark (Steve Zahn) and Ross Edwards (Christian Slater) and can tailor a plan to influence any life-altering situation, thereby making their clients’ dreams come true and their nightmares go away. They are partners in Edwards and Associates, an unusual business based on the belief that people’s decisions are influenced by their environment in ways they’re not aware.

A former university professor and world-renowned expert in the fields of human behavior, psychology and motivation, the frantic Clark has a checkered history, which stems from his bipolar disorder. Clark’s academic career imploded when the university became aware he was having an affair with a 22-year-old undergraduate. He’s still unable to reconcile losing the girl, and tries to focus his manic energy on Ross’ new fortune-making plan.

Ross, a brilliant schemer recently out of prison after a two-year stint for fraud, has come up with a business model that he believes can make him and his team millions of dollars. The divorced, incurable ladies’ man roiling with ideas, often confuses honesty with opportunism. Although his energy is infectious, his tactics can be questionable and his strategies border on the illegal. Now, if he can just keep his manic brother from going off the rails…

Their team of master manipulators includes the serious Latrell Griffin (Cedric Sanders), a talented young man from a tough neighborhood recruited by Ross, who saw a raw and untapped talent for business in him, and the geeky trust-fund-baby Miles Hood (Gregory Marcel), a promising behavioral psychology grad student with Clark’s flair for the science and Ross’ general disregard for ethics. Samantha “Sam” Gordon (Jaime Ray Newman) is an ex-con who Ross met during his court-mandated group therapy and rehabilitation sessions. Sam’s abilities to read people and improvise will serve her well, after she works her way onto the team.

Megan Shane (Megalyn Echikunwoke) is an actress who proves to be an invaluable asset to the team, using her beauty and acting skills to help them turn their scientific schemes into real world results. Beth Scott (Katherine Cunningham) is Clark’s former undergrad student with whom Clark had the affair. She claims to still be in love with Clark, but Ross wonders if she can handle an actual relationship with his brother. By using the hard science of psychological manipulation, the brothers commit to solving their clients’ problems. With Clark’s expertise and Ross’s con artist ways, each believing to know what makes people tick, and with their unique staff to help them, the brothers will use psychology and science to offer clients an alternative to their fates.

“Mind Games” stars Steve Zahn as Clark, Christian Slater as Ross, Megalyn Echikunwoke as Megan, Gregory Marcel as Miles, Jaime Ray Newman as Sam, and Cedric Sanders as Latrell. Written and executive-produced by Kyle Killen, the series is also executive-produced by Keith Redmon, Timothy Busfield and Donald Todd. “Mind Games” is a 20th Century Fox Television production.

Mind Games Sizzle Reel

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Mind Games Clips

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Marc Eastman
Marc Eastman is the owner and operator of Are You Screening? and has been writing film reviews for over a decade, and several branches of the internet's film review world have seen his name. He is also a member of The Broadcast Film Critics Association and The Broadcast Television Journalists Association.

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