“Mind Games,” ABC’s new Steve Zahn– and Christian Slater-starring drama about two brothers who started a business that uses manipulative tactics to make its clients dreams come true, is looking to have fun with its premise.
Though it’s based on real-life firms that study these tactics to help political campaigns and corporations sell themselves, creator Kyle Killen (“Awake,” “Lone Star”) is excited to apply that concept to more personal stories.
“In a weird way this show is about a group of people who are really underqualified to play God, but they’ve set up a business where they do just that,” Killen said Friday (Jan. 17) at the TCA winter press tour. “In terms of the likability of these characters, these are brothers who would like to connect. These are people whose general ambition is to help people.”
Zahn’s character, Clark Edwards, is a former professor who studied human behavior and psychology, but who suffers from bipolar disorder and is off his meds (a familiar theme of ABC’s midseason lineup). Slater’s Ross Edwards is a con artist recently out of prison who comes up with the idea of using Clark’s specialty to manipulate people for the benefit of their clients. Expect some backlash.
“One of the consequences of doing things without people knowing is they feel manipulated when they figure out,” Killen says.
The science of “Mind Games” is real, but Killen says some of its applications require a bit of “TV magic.” But for Season 1’s 12-episode arc, his team had a lot of fun playing with the “what if” of this type of manipulation. And don’t expect the explanations of Clark and Ross’s trickery to be too hard to understand.
“They do a really good job of taking these sometimes tricky and counterintuitive concepts and explaining it in a way that it feels like they’re explaining it to first graders,” Killen says. Zahn adds, “I’m basically explaining it to me.”
Killen adds of the show’s premise, “There are very powerful things to do with tweaking words; with how things are presented.”
“Mind Games” premieres at 10 p.m. ET/PT Feb. 25 on ABC.