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On The Tube

It’s all in your head

2/19/2014

TV022014Clark (Steve Zahn) is a disgraced academic with bipolar disorder. Russ (Christian Slater) is his perpetually exasperated con-man brother, just out of prison for fraud. This odd couple starts an ethically questionable business that can alter the way people act, based on Clark’s experimental research on “adrenalized implantation.” In the pilot of “Mind Games” (Tuesday, 9 p.m., ABC) they test out their method to help a sick kid who’s having problems with the medical establishment. The idea is to sneakily put thoughts into the heads of key decisionmakers and thereby influence their behavior. The brothers attempt this feat by sending members of their six-person team undercover, in disguise. The ruse threatens to fail spectacularly.

“Mind Games” is like a funnier “Mission: Impossible.” The actors are resourceful, particularly Zahn as a genius with infinite shades of insanity. The script is playful, and the relationships even have emotional substance. I believe this is one of the best shows of the 2013-14 season — or did ABC sneak that thought into my head through adrenalized implantation?

 

“Ripper Street”

Saturday, 8 p.m. (BBC America)

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Last year I turned off the pilot of this period drama, grossed out by the violence. But other critics liked the tale of detectives investigating the seedy side of 19th century London, so I thought I’d check out the season-two premiere.

It’s true that “Ripper Street” does a good job with its setting, evoking grimy pubs and opium dens. But within seconds, a cop is thrown from a second-story window and lands…well, it’s too gruesome to describe in detail. I tried closing my eyes, but the sound effects were so awful that I had to reach for the mute button, too. I turned up the volume when our detective heroes (Matthew MacFayden, Jerome Flynn) took the grievously injured cop to a hospital, only to hear an angry surgeon tell them, “Remove yourself from my operating theater or I shall remove your nose from your face!”

I shut off the TV, fearing he meant that literally.

 

“Masterpiece Classic”

Sunday, 8 p.m. (PBS)

“Downton Abbey” erases the memory of last year’s artlessly tragic conclusion with a more satisfying season finale.

Rich American relatives Harold and Martha Levinson (Paul Giamatti and Shirley MacLaine) visit the Crawley family in 1920s London, scandalizing the reserved aristocrats with their improper New World behavior. Mary (Michelle Dockery) has recovered from the sudden death of husband Matthew (the dramatically unmotivated shocker from last year’s finale) to the point where she can flirt drolly with two suitors. The family plots to retrieve a purloined letter, and stuffy butler Carson (Jim Carter) contemplates the prospect of having fun — within strict limits, mind you. The family also faces a terrible moral choice: whether to turn in a servant who committed a crime or to repay his loyalty with their silence.

For “Downton Abbey” fans who couldn’t care less about the plot, rest assured that there are plenty of gay balls and elegant outfits. Best of all, there’s a showdown between the American and English grande dames, MacLaine’s Martha and Maggie Smith’s Violet. It’s as vicious as Alien vs. Predator, though this battle is waged with arched eyebrows and almost imperceptible put-downs. You may be stunned to see who wins. CV

Dean Robbins is a syndicated TV columnist from Madison, Wis. He graduated from Grinnell College and went on to become an award-winning journalist. See more of his work at www.thedailypage.com.

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