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‘How Do You Feel About Moral Ambiguity?’: Mind Games Pilot Review

ABC drama Mind Games is reminiscent of TNT’s Leverage with the mismatched team being put together to use their powers for good and help those in need. Even the pilot’s case was straight out of the Leverage playbook with the evil insurance company refusing to fund a surgery for a kid being subjected to routine operations that could be rendered unnecessary by this one, very expensive surgery. Like shows such as LeverageMind Games relies on its characters to push it forward in the procedural makeup of its show, and the pilot is far more interested in the characters than its procedural drama anyway particularly the two brothers at the center of Edwards and Associates, Clark and Ross.When the episode began, the brothers were preparing to pitch their business to a hopeful investor, and Clark (Steve Zahn) suggested they lead with their weaknesses in the hopes of being perceived as more likable by the end of their presentation. This is the way of the pilot which doesn’t pull its punches in laying out the issues of its protagonists. Clark is a brilliant scholar learned in human behavior and psychology, but he’s also bipolar. His reluctance to take his medication leads him into anxious episodes where he may or may not start excitedly trying to remove Ron Rifkin’s shoes to prove a point and sending a bunch of marbles rolling across the floor in some kind of parallel to Clark’s own disorder (as in literally having lost marbles). He was recently fired for having an affair with an undergrad he’s still hung up on. Then there’s Ross (Christian Slater), speaker of the line in the title, who was in prison for two years due to fraud, turned in by his own wife. He’s not the brains of the operation, but he has the business acumen and the unsteady moral compass his brother lacks.

Rounding out the team are Clark’s former student Miles (Gregory Marcel), struggling actress Megan (Megalyn Echikunwoke), and business savvy and straight-laced Latrell (Cedric Griffin). Ross’s ex-wife, Claire (Wynn Everett), was also brought in because she has a gift for calming down Clark though she and Ross are on bad terms after she turned him in for his fraud. None of these people are given much focus in the first hour which is understandable, but there’s enough there to make for a compelling mix of characters who could play well off of one another going forward. When the entire group was on site to put their plan into action it was an amusing scene and promises more of the same which will only get stronger assuming the show’s able to do more with the characters than having them play their stock roles.

The pilot on its own isn’t especially interesting. It has the ABC sheen to it where there may be something lingering underneath the surface in terms of being compelling but you also wonder whether or not this is just really a bundle of potential that’s not going to go anywhere. Creator Kyle Killen hasn’t had the best track record with his shows (the cancelled Lone Star and Awake were his creations), but Mind Games is a more straightforward conceit than either of those which may prove better for its longevity. There’s fun to be had with the show, which doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it could take itself seriously at one point as the episode’s final moments prove.

When the case went wonky, Ross stepped in and exercised some of that moral ambiguity and staged a press conference to thank the insurance company for the surgery they’d actually refused in the hopes that they’d be unwilling to step back from all the positive press by refusing their client’s surgery.  It was a risky move, and it almost didn’t pay off. It was only with Clark’s intervention that they sealed the deal, and there’s promise that it’ll come back to bite the start-up sooner rather than later.

Everyone was a bit put off about Ross’s morals (with the exception of Miles and Megan who didn’t mind at all), but the whole premise of Edwards & Associates is one morally grey mashup. Powers being used for good aside, there’s something disconcerting about watching a man be “programmed” on a bus to envision himself as a do-gooder, essentially tricking him into believing something different about himself and change his behavior to suit this new belief. The lighthearted score does what it can to lessen the disturbing factor of the proceedings, but it’s still pretty creepy to see a guy having his very understanding of himself be manipulated by some skillful psychology. I’m waiting for the moment someone questions what kind of bad things could be done with this, and if the grey-hued Ross has any say in it, Mind Games will go that route eventually.

Though Ross didn’t immediately come off as someone dangerous or even kind of conniving (except for the fact that he’s played by Christian Slater whose face doesn’t immediately strike me as trustworthy), his fraud past makes him well-suited to this line of work which is essentially just one giant, psychological fraud. But Ross is even more ambiguous than his ambition business plans.  Beth, the former student Clark got fired for sleeping with,  turned up and revealed that she’d come back to be with Clark and return the money that Ross gave her to seduce him and get him fired.  The immediate question is why Ross would do that to the brother he claims to love so much, and even though the pilot wasn’t anything particularly special, questions like those may be enough to give the show some depth.

Tidbits

  • I wasn’t planning on watching this show at all until I learned Megalyn Echikunwoke was in it, and at least I didn’t immediately regret that decision.
  • It’s unlikely I’ll take to reviewing this weekly since Tuesdays are a busy night already, and the pilot didn’t recommend itself as one worthy of weekly covering anyway though I’ll be watching the show regularly to see how it fares.

Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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One thought on “‘How Do You Feel About Moral Ambiguity?’: Mind Games Pilot Review

  1. Just stumbled upon your blog. We seem to have several shows in common so consider me a new fan. As for this show, I really wanted to like it.

    It seems like Leverage gone wrong. I also wish they wouldn’t paint medication as the enemy of creativity or romanticize professors having affairs with students, a 46 yr old professor (Zahn’s age) and a 22 yr old student is not romantic.

    Like

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