TV Review | ‘Mind Games’ more shallow than smart

At the center of ABC’s new psychological drama Mind Games” is a puzzling contrast: its core premise relies on manipulation of the mind and moral ambiguity, but somehow it still manages to come off as fuzzy and heartwarming. The series showcases the intrinsic darkness of human nature and how it can be twisted – through lying, cheating and other illegal practices – to help those in need. If these things are done for the good of the underdog, it’s all okay, right?

This is the question creator Kyle Killen, of short-lived shows “Lone Star” (2010) and “Awake” (2012) fame, wants the audience to ponder. Like in his previous works, which achieved critical acclaim but less-than-substantial ratings, Killen formed the backbone of “Mind Games” on the quixotic nature of morally questionable characters. The difference here is a lack of depth. In an attempt to blend in with ABC’s usual airy, straightforward lineup, Killen has sacrificed genuine nuance in favor of ratings and accessibility.

Perhaps this is not such a bad thing. “Mind Games” is likely the most uplifting television show about psychological exploitation ever created. It chronicles the success of two brothers, brilliant psychologist Clark, played by Steve Zahn of HBO’s “Treme” (2010-2013), and businessman Ross (Christian Slater), as they attempt to get their start-up off the ground. The goal of their company? To “change people’s minds without them even knowing [they] did it.”

This manipulative power is presumably used for good, at least for now. In the pilot alone, they are able to reverse the policy of a cold, bottom-line obsessed insurance company that had previously refused to fund an ill teenager’s experimental surgery. Clark and Ross, interested more in the potential of what they describe as modern “Jedi mind tricks” than laws or ethics, are able to pull this off with a few calculated moves. When the audience sees tears of gratitude streaming down the young boy’s face after he finally receives the medical care he needs, they forget all about the brothers’ lack of moral conviction.

The same goes for the skeletons in the protagonists’ closets. The former suffers from severe bipolar disorder and has been left broken-hearted by one of his underage students