Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Give ABC series a look...then make up your mind

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It's a bit of an ironic twist -- in this case, the real-life ABC network could use the help of the fictional firm at the centre of its latest drama series.

Mind Games, which premieres tonight at 9 on ABC (and, in Canada, Citytv), tells the story of a unique company that specializes in changing people's minds without them knowing that they've been manipulated. It's an unusual premise for a TV drama, and it might take a special and subtle kind of convincing to get viewers to give this somewhat intriguing mid-season entry a try.

If the realms of fact and fiction overlapped, perhaps Edwards and Associates could lend a hand. But they don't, so all ABC has at its disposal is the usual array of promotional spots and brief preview trailers to convince its audience that this complex and not-easily-explained series concept deserves a look.

And really, it does. Mind Games, which stars Christian Slater and Steve Zahn, focuses on brothers Ross and Clark Edwards, who have combined their rather unique skill sets to create the aforementioned firm that offers its clients life-changing applications of "the hard science of psychological manipulation."

Ross (Slater) is the business brain behind the operation, a results-focused type who isn't averse to cutting a few corners (as evidenced by the fact he recently completed a two-year stint behind bars for securities fraud). Brother Clark is more principled and immensely more talented -- he's a former university professor and a world-renowned expert in psychology and human behaviour, but he also suffers from an intense bipolar disorder and his frantic, unpredictable outbursts are as likely to spark wildly inappropriate behaviour as they are to inspire brilliant life-influencing strategies.

They've got a plan. They've rented office space. They're hired a small staff of variously skilled experts. Now, all they need is a client or two to start the money rolling in.

As the series opens, it's this last bit that proves to be challenging, thanks in large part to the fact every time they have a meeting with someone who might write a cheque, Clark's erratic client-pitch antics tend to build toward an out-of-control moment that sours the potential deal.

Of course (because otherwise, there's no possibility of a second episode), Ross is able to rein in his sibling/partner sufficiently to land them a first job, and how the Edwards boys and their team subtly convince an insurance company's executives to approve an experimental medical procedure that could save a young man's life is pretty cool and entertaining.

Mind Games' pilot sets the stage for what appears (based on a second episode previewed) to be a tidy caper-of-the-week kind of thing, at the same time developing the brothers' characters slowly.

The supporting cast -- led by business-development guy Latrell (Cedric Sanders), behavioural-psychology grad student Miles (Gregory Marcel) and sting-operation actress Megan (Megalyn Echikunwoke) -- is able and likable, but it's clear from the outset that Mind Games is very much the Slater/Zahn show.

Their on-screen partnership is mostly effective, though it must be said that the notion that these two deeply damaged sorts could somehow succeed in a shared business venture seems hard to believe, particularly during scenes in which Clark's manic behaviour (which, while well acted by Zahn, are at times difficult to watch) threatens to short-circuit the entire enterprise.

There's a fascinating set of characters and circumstances at the heart of Mind Games, but one can't help wondering whether viewers will be inclined to stick around long enough to understand and appreciate them.

If only there was someone -- or, perhaps, some company -- that could subtly convince them to give this show a chance. Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 25, 2014 C3

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