Spring 2014 Review: Mind Games

17 Mar

Mind Games

Over the years, as more and more networks have started showing scripted programming, and this fragmentation has led networks to aim their programming certain niches, house styles have developed which have become strongly associated with said networks. For example, CBS and police procedurals; it’s not as if no other network has them, nor is it as if these preconceived notions can be changed, but since CSI’s emergence, CBS and police procedurals go hand in hand.  Sometimes it’s the subject matter that’s significant, sometimes it’s the character focus, sometimes the mood, sometimes the style. With the emergence of these house styles, it’s easy to watch a show and say it feels like an NBC show or an FX show or a TNT show and have that actually mean something.

Sometimes, then, it feels like a show is simply on the wrong network; they’re not a match. Either the show doesn’t really fit with the network’s other programming, or just as important, it would fit far more snugly somewhere else. I’ve been considering a post on shows like this, and though I don’t know whether or when that will happen, it’s been on my mind. Hannibal set me off on this recently; it’s on NBC, but clearly belongs on Showtime. Mind Games is another example of this phenomenon It airs on ABC, but it clearly belongs on USA.

Mind Games hews to nearly every basic tenet of USA programming, sharing some traits with many of the shows currently or recently airing on the network. The two main characters are two brothers with very opposite demeanors and personalities. (think Neal and Peter in White Color, Gus and Sean in Psych, Evan and Hank in Royal Pains). In this case, it’s brothers Clark (Steve Zaun) and Ross (Christian Slater). Ross is a hard, to the point, businessman, not particularly concerned with acting ethically to get what he wants, while Clark is a goofy bipolar academic who is loud, passionate, and with a firmer moral center.

One brother, Clark is savantish – he’s kind of a genius, but there’s something holding him back (Neal in White Collar, Michael in Burn Notice (the whole being burned), Suits). Clark is bipolar, which makes the business environment particularly difficult for him, He goes through highs and lows, and is on and off his meds, complaining that while he’s more even on his meds, he can’t think as clearly. Clark’s specialty is behavioral studies, and he wants to use this expertise to figure out how to change people’s minds but using visual and other behavior cues he learned from his research.

The two have to make a fresh start after experiencing some personal failure. Slater just got out of jail, and Clark was just fired from the school where he was teaching for sleeping with a student (Hank and Even again in Royal Pains, Michael in Burn Notice). They’re starting over with a joint venture, a firm that uses Clark’s specialty to change people’s minds. Ross handles the business, Clark handles the science, and they’re off and running.

There’s a clear procedural element with an ongoing plot (literally every USA show). Every episode is likely to feature a situation the gang will have to solve with their revolutionary mind-bending psychological techniques, while they’ll slowly move forward in the continuing story line. Aside from the general growth of the firm from being bankrupt upwards, he learn that Ross paid the student who slept with Clark to sleep with her, and that even though it started as work, she fell for Clark. Obviously, that reveal is a Chekov’s gun bound to go off a some time, many episodes away, were the show to last that long.

The two brothers have a motley crew of side characters surrounding them. Clark has an acolyte, Slater has his own business development acolyte, and they employ an actress named Megan. They also soon employ Slater’s ex-wife, Claire, because she’s expert in keeping Clark calm. Every week presumably, the gang will take on a new case, help some people, make some money, face some obstacles, but prevail over them by the end of the episode.

Interestingly, Mind Games is from Kyle Killen who struck out in his first two times as a broadcast network showrunner with two far more ambitious shows, Lone Star, and Awake. It’s almost as if he’s choosing to continue dumbing himself down until he finds a hit. Admittedly, dumbing down is harsh. Less ambition on television certainly isn’t a good thing, but it doesn’t have to be an outright bad thing. Still, like most USA shows, Mind Games occupies a world of decently high floors but also fairly low ceilings. By ensuring it meets a minimum set of criteria, Mind Games becomes an absolutely competent show but also a show unlikely to progress above competence. Because of this, as well as the procedural nature, there’s nothing compelling about it. It’s just a show that’s on TV, no more, no less.

Will I watch it again? No I don’t see anything that elevates this above any other USA-type show, and as I am two seasons behind on White Collar, I’m probably not going to start watching this version which doesn’t really seem better in any way.

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