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'Mind Games': Wickedly clever

ABC Mind Games

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I've always been cautious in my reviews, never before writing anything after seeing only a single episode. That stops right now. After seeing the pilot to ABC's latest dramedy, Mind Games, I'm here to tell you that you want to get in on the ground floor of this show right now. Why? I'm so glad you asked.

The basic premise is this: Two brothers, both skilled in knowing what makes people tick, open an agency where, for a fee, they'll manipulate people so that you can get the outcome you want. The sheer audacity of the concept practically had me salivating for the premier.

Minnesota native Steve Zahn plays opposite Christian Slater in this one-of-a-kind spectacle. Zahn has been known for his goofy characters in film, whether it's the never-serious Lenny from 'That Thing You Do' to the more recent Eric from Knights of Badassdom,' and he's good at it. However, 'Mind Games' brings a whole different facet of his talent to light, much as 'Dead Poets Society' and 'Good Will Hunting' did for Robin Williams. Zahn's character is Clark Edwards, a brilliant professor of psychology who got into the field to help him understand his own case of bipolar disorder. Add to the fact that Clark refuses to medicate his condition due to how the meds dull his genius, and you have an instantly likable character who is at once funny and tragic.The vulnerability that Zahn brings to the role combined with the flashes of brilliance the character is prone to is mesmerizing.

Christian Slater plays Clark's brother, Ross, a man equally complex, but for reasons that are moral in nature, rather than mental. Ross understands human nature on an instinctive level and he has no problem turning it to personal gain. He's already served time in a federal prison for fraud when his Ponzi scheme fell apart. And make no mistake, Ross doesn't feel like he's really done anything wrong. According to him, if he'd had just a little more time, he could have turned it into a legitimate investment plan. This moral ambiguity (some might say moral bankruptcy) pops up again and again to not only complicate everybody's lives, but also to challenge Clark, who gets so busy using his genius to bail out his brother that he doesn't have time for his illness. Ross' amoral nature also seems to simultaneously betray and aid those whom he is closest to, making the character a kind of running paradox. It's a simple formula with endless possibilities to keep it fresh, easily, for at least 5 years.

While the supporting cast holds their own, there are no real stand-outs, with the exception of Wynn Everett. Playing the role of Clark's best friend as well as Ross' ex, her unflappable demeanor in the face of Ross' constant irritation at her presence makes for a performance that is memorable and hilarious.

For those who would say this show sounds too much like 'Psych,' I have news for you. 'Mind Games' is nothing at all like 'Psych.' While the latter is about a goofball investigator who pretends to be a psychic, the former is about using psychological trickery to manipulate people into doing what's favorable for the client. Where 'Psych' feels the need to quip at every little thing, 'Mind Games' lets its comedy arise purely out of the situation. They have very little in common.

While the fortunes of a television series are fickle and subject to the prevailing idiocy of network executives - I'm still mourning the loss of 'Golden Boy' - I'm desperately hoping that this one stays around. It's simply too delicious to be ignored.

Watch it now:

U.S. only - Hulu Plus ($8/month, includes HD feed)

U.S. only - ABC (official network site, loads of extras)