It should be stated, first and foremost, that Steve Zahn really should be in just about everything. The underrated, scene-stealing actor is the best part of anything he's in (see: That Thing You Do!, Rescue Dawn, Joy Ride, among others) and always seems to be the missing link that improves a movie or TV show. The goofy, but lovable Zahn is, without a doubt, the best thing about the new dramedy Mind Games, but even his talents can't save this from being an ultimately ridiculous -- but most notably, boring -- slog.
Zahn -- returning to the small screen for the first time since Treme wrapped up -- plays Clark, a brilliant, but manic and disgraced psychology professor battling his own struggles (he's bipolar) and heartache (he had an affair with a 22-year-old student that went awry). Zahn is definitely playing to the cheap seats in this one and I'm certain this is an inaccurate portrayal of bipolar disorder, but he's still the most interesting thing about the show.
Anyway, Clark and his recently-released-from-prison con artist brother Ross (Christian Slater, still snarling his way through just about everything) run a business that basically allows them to play God. Let me explain: Clark and Ross use their respective skills to change the outcome of situations by getting into people's heads. For instance, in the pilot episode, one of their clients is a desperate mother looking to get approval from a health insurance representative for her son's much-needed surgery. (You know how easily swayed those health insurance folks are.) Cue Ross, Clark and their quirky, good-looking team (which includes a hipster nerd trust-fund kid and a beautiful actress, among other ultimately forgettable players) to alter the situation to the outcome they want.
There's a lot of talk about moral dilemmas here (do they use their "powers" for good or evil or should they even be attempting any of this at all?) which is necessary. In fact, at one point, Ross literally asks one of his employees out loud, "How do you feel about moral ambiguity?" But the big issue here is why the majority of the issue is focused on bickering (especially when Ross's very annoying ex-wife comes into the picture) instead of the whole, you know, mind game aspect. After a lot of explaining to the audience what they're doing (an "adrenalized implantation" makes people think they've found their true selves in high-pressure situations) we do get to see the set-up of their plans, but not the actual outcomes of said manipulations.
And never mind that this is a wholly absurd premise to begin with (they can change anyone's mind and change the course of an event to their liking) because it is. It's actually far more frustrating to watch them complain about their failing business (maybe don't have your office in a trendy Chicago loft, if that's the case) and express their feelings ("Maybe Clark doesn't need me, maybe I need him," Ross says in a moment of self-discovery) or an absolutely ridiculous third-act twist revolving around Clark and the girl he still loves/has been desperately stalking.
There's a scene where Zahn's character Clark is triggered by "Summer Lovin'" and takes to the streets screaming, and the gall and blatant stupidity of Mind Games may make you want to do the same exact thing. Slater's Ross sarcastically declares to himself at the end of the episode, "I'm sure it's going to be smooth sailing from here on out" as if to tempt viewers with a "It's about to get soooo crazy, stay tuned!" message, but I'm not falling for that mind trick, thanks. You can't even sway me with Zahn.
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