Sunday, March 4, 2012

The best show you’re (probably) not watching

It’s hard to believe that ‘Psych’ is in its sixth season, but the little known USA gem has quietly made a name for itself – and garnered an ardent fan base.

The show, starring James Roday and Dule Hill is essentially about two 30-something guys who never really grew up. Roday plays Shawn Spencer, the son of Henry Spencer (Corbin Bernsen) – a rigid police officer who spent Shawn’s entire childhood teaching him a series of “valuable” lessons about life.

Shawn’s best friend is Burton “Gus” Guster (Hill) a pharmaceutical representative who is usually dragged into Shawn’s schemes against his will.

When the show premiered, Shawn was essentially bouncing from one career to another. The only thing he was sure of is that he did not want to become his father.

Problem is, Henry Spencer ingrained a certain ability into his son – I guess you could call it a super heightened sense of observation. Shawn found he could actually solve crimes with this ability – and hence an idea was born.

Instead of just admitting that he’s a pretty good police detective, Shawn billed himself as a psychic detective and opened his own agency to moonlight for the Santa Barbara police.

That’s the basic premise of the show.

I know it sounds convoluted, but the show is actually adorable in its simplicity. Shawn and Gus jump from one crime to another, not only solving the crimes but usually making a hilarious scene when they do it.

For me, personally, I think it’s the childlike enthusiasm Shawn approaches life with that I find so endearing. Gus is almost always the killjoy in Shawn’s plans – and yet he almost always goes along with them as well.
The supporting cast, including Bernsen, is also as important to the storylines as Shawn and Gus are. The other two standouts are Maggie Lawson (Roday’s real life girlfriend) as detective Juliet O’Hara and Timothy Omundson as Carlton “Lassie” Lassiter.

O’Hara has since become a love interest to Shawn – after about five seasons of buildup – and unlike other shows ‘Psych’ has not forced the issue and instead lets the relationship build naturally. While the couple has a solid following, most fans tune in for Gus and Shawn and not Juliet and Shawn.

Lassiter is the character that doesn’t believe Shawn is psychic, but can never seem to prove it. He even went to so far as to give Shawn a lie detector test this season – which Shawn managed to pass. How you may ask? Well, one of those life lessons Henry taught Shawn was how to beat a lie detector test.

The key to ‘Psych is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. There have been a few serious moments on the show, but the writers wisely don’t dwell on them. ‘Psych’ is not about depressing the audience but engaging it.

Another thing ‘Psych’ has become somewhat famous for (besides hiding a pineapple in each episode – don’t ask) is their theme episodes. It seems nothing is safe, including ‘Friday the 13th,’ ‘Twin Peaks,’ ‘The Fast and the Furious’ and ‘The Exorcist’ – among a bevy of other episodes.

CBS’ ‘The Mentalist’ – which has a lot more viewers – is kind of a rip-off of ‘Psych.’ This fact has been acknowledged on ‘Psych’ numerous times. The difference is that Roday is a lot more engaging as an actor than Simon Baker and the cast and writers of ‘Psych’ don’t ever take themselves serious.

That’s the charm of the show really – and that charm goes a really long way.

If you’re looking for an episode to see to introduce yourself to the ‘Psych’ universe, try one of the following episodes first:

5. Scary Sherry: Bianca’s Toast: In the season one finale, Juliet goes undercover to investigate the suspicious death of a sorority girl. When weird things start happening, Juliet asks Shawn and Gus to investigate what could possibly be a haunting. From the opening scene (best Halloween costumes ever) to Gus and Shawn racing out of the house and screaming like little girls when the disembodied voice showed up at the sorority house, this episode is nothing but funny. I especially loved Henry dashing Shawn and Gus’ childhood nightmare and the side story of Lassiter and his “unique” partner.
Gus: Listen, Shawn! I will not enter a room first. I will not enter a room last. I will not investigate any suspicious noises or go looking for a fuse box. And you will not, under any circumstances, leave me by myself without a weapon of some sort. Do you understand and agree to my terms?

4. Shawn Takes a Shot in the Dark: Only Shawn Spencer would get involved in a case revolving an ice cream truck. Not only does he get involved, but the episode essentially opens with Shawn in the trunk of a car being driven by the bad guys after being shot. This episode isn’t quite as funny as the rest, and a lot of it is shown in flashback, but the emotions in this episode -- by all the players -- are spot on. Between Henry’s worry for his son (and the hilarious flashback to how he taught Shawn what to do in case he was ever locked in a trunk) to Gus worrying about his best friend (but not allowing him to jump on the hood of his company car), this episode is one of ‘Psych’s’ best. Shawn’s ride on the hood of Lassiter’s new car at the end is one of the most entertaining scenes ever filmed.
Shawn: [Juliet and Gus pull up closer to the pickup truck Shawn is tied to, with their window rolled down] Whoa! Look at you, buddy! You're like Vin Diesel!
Gus: That makes Jules Michelle Rodriguez and you Paul Walker.
Shawn: This is no good!
Gus: Don't worry, Shawn! You're going to be all right!
Shawn: I'm know, I'll be fine! I just really don't want to be Paul Walker! Not even for one day!
Gus:  You could be Lucas Black from "Tokyo Drift", but then we wouldn't be in the movie with you.
Shawn: That's weird. I'll... I'll just be Walker.

3. Tuesday the 17th:  Shawn and Gus are approached by a former grade school friend to come out to their former summer camp because a counselor has gone missing. Instead, Shawn quickly realizes that this is a murder mystery camp for adults and not a camp for children. After the big reveal, though, that’s when things really start to get out of hand and everyone realizes there’s a real killer on the loose. As a rabid ‘Friday the 13th’ fan (which Roday reportedly is in real life, too), I may be a little biased on this one. Between Mackenzie Astin and his odd little doll, the Rick Astley piñata and Juliet showing up to save Shawn and Gus the entire episode has a decidedly 80s vibe.
Juliet: I don't like this, Shawn.
Shawn: Well, your hands are a little bit tied, aren't they? Plus when you showed up I was hiding in a closet, so I figure I'm due to man up. If I'm not back in exactly four minutes, please go looking for me. But really start giving it some serious thought after two. And if you think that there is anything even slightly amiss after forty-five seconds, you're the leader here.

2. Lights, Camera . . . Homicidio: A fictional murder turns real on Santa Barbara’s favorite Spanish soap opera set and Shawn and Gus are called down to solve it. Within short order, Shawn is cast as a regular on the soap (which means free Craft Services whenever he wants) and Henry comes down to the set because he’s a closet fan of the show. Per usual, Lassiter is not only annoyed that Shawn is on the case – but now he’s annoyed that he’s become an overnight sensation as a soap star. Shawn’s character is eventually tossed off the show, but not before Shawn solves the murder on live television.
Shawn: Aww, Jules! If you want to spend more time with me, you don't have to trump up some case. You just pick up the phone, give me a call, and say, Shawn, I'm here. I've got Pudding Pops.

1. Dual Spires: After receiving a strange email inviting them to a Cinnamon Festival in a nearby town (that is conveniently cut-off from the outside world and only has one tiny little spot that receives cell phone coverage) Shawn and Gus investigate the murder of a prominent young teenager. This was ‘Psych’s homage to ‘Twin Peaks’ and it really was fabulous. From the surreal (and slow moving town – which gathered together to watch episodes of ‘Everwood’), to inspired guest spots from Sheryl Lee, Ray Wise and Sherilyn Fenn (among a bevy of other ‘Twin Peaks’ regulars), the entire episode had something akin to an other worldly feel to it. My favorite moment is actually watching Shawn and Gus ride a tandem bike together. Of course, a close second is when a young town denizen mistakes Gus as Frederick Douglass.
Shawn: Do you remember the last e-mail, the one with all those weird hieroglyphics?
Gus: They were numbers and letters, Shawn.

‘Psych’ airs at 10 p.m. on Wednesdays.

What do you think? What’s your favorite ‘Psych’ episode?


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