March 5, 2014

THE SKED Pilot + 1 Review: “Mind Games”


MIND GAMES:  Tuesday 10PM on ABC

A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on MIND GAMES:  Bipolar genius Clark Edwards (Steve Zahn), an expert in the study of the brain and how it responds to stimuli, was recently fired from his post as a Psychology professor after his obsessive romance with student Beth (Katherine Cunningham).  He’s partnered with his recently incarcerated shady businessman brother Ross (Christian Slater) to form a firm that uses Clark’s techniques to manipulate human behavior for the benefit of paying clients.  Their team hails from acting (Megalyn Echikunwoke as Megan), academia (Gregory Marcel as Miles) and business (Cedric Sanders as Latrell)–and then there’s Claire (Wynn Everett), the office manager, who’s both Ross’s fairly bitter ex-wife and the only person who can calm Clark down when he’s manic.  What Clark doesn’t know is that he’s been manipulated himself:  Ross set up the entire enterprise by hiring Beth to seduce his brother.  But the joke may be on Ross, because now Beth claims to genuinely be in love with Clark.

Episode 2:  Nothing in the first regular episode of Mind Games convinces one that series creator Kyle Killen (who wrote the episode, directed by Miguel Sapochnik) has a handle on the show he’s making.  The tone was all over the place.  The manipulation-of-the-week story had the team retained by a middle-aged woman executive who was in danger of failing to be promoted to the CEO spot; they decided to boost her chances by putting up a straw man additional candidate compared to whom she’d be the obvious choice.  A key banquet sequence was staged as a heist, featuring split screens handled without much finesse by Sapochnik, then it lurched into farce, as Clark upset the whole delicate mechanism of their plot by knocking over a pyramid of champagne glasses when he saw a tall man who might divert focus from the decoy executive.  The last act of the script alone was a mess, as things suddenly turned moralistic, with Ross delivering an oration about how their client couldn’t let the innocent decoy get fired (it turned out he didn’t want to interview for the CEO job because he’d lied about aspects of his resume), and she promptly turned down the job and quit, rather than let him be terminated–but no worries, she was instantly hired by a Silicon Valley start-up.  The episode’s final scene turned on a truly ridiculous coincidence, as Ross bumped into Beth’s former neighbor, who exposed his plot to lure Clark in front of Claire.

A fair amount of the episode was devoted to adding new regular cast member Jaime Ray Newman as an ex-con who will be joining the team (since it’s unlikely that Ross served his time in a coed prison, it’s not clear how they met), originally brought in to try and bribe Beth into going away with promise of a legal settlement, then proving her worth by departing from Clark’s script and convincing the mark to interview for the CEO post.  Newman is a solid TV actress who should add some personality to the team, but her presence won’t fix the major problems afflicting Mind Games.  The series isn’t working as either lighthearted caper show or psychological drama, and it has a fatal flaw:  when you’re telling a story about people who are supposed to be smart, they need to act like they have some level of intelligence.  Without any guiding viewpoint, the actors are left to fend for themselves, with Zahn pushing the manic intensity of Clark while Slater glowers and acts untrustworthy.  There’s very little compelling or likable about any of them.

Mind Games had a terrible rating on its premiere last week, and while it might run out the rest of the season (mostly because by now ABC’s shelves are just about empty), it would take a miracle turnaround to have a serious chance of renewal.  The series had a tough premise to explain and thus to market, but so far, it also isn’t being effectively dramatized.  Killen, after Lone Star and Awake, seems likely to go 0 for 3.

ORIGINAL VERDICT:  If Nothing Else is On…

PILOT + 1:  Can’t Even Manipulate Viewers Into Watching


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."