Psych is a quick-witted, fast talking dramedy following the adventures of Shawn Spencer, the fake psychic who consults with the Santa Barbara Police Department; with the aid of his reluctant friend, Burton Guster, a pharmaceutical salesman, they ‘investigate, catch bad guys, and eat pie.’ Of course, they start with the pie – always. 😊
The show aired on the USA Network from 2006 to 2014 that began as a same night companion show of USA’s Monk. The two shows worked well together, both being about a quirky private detective working with the police department, but quirky in their own ways. Whereas Adrian Monk was a quiet, OCD, former police detective, Shawn Spencer is a zany, man-child in constant search for snacks.
In the pilot episode we meet Shawn who has spent years away from Santa Barbara traveling the world avoiding responsibilities; especially avoiding the expectations of his retired police detective father, Henry Spencer, to follow in his footsteps and become a cop. In the course of the episode we learn that Shawn is extremely gifted with observational skills and an excellent memory. Henry spent Shawn’s childhood drilling him to hone those skills in the hopes that his son would follow in his footsteps and become a cop. That doesn’t happen for reasons that are explained in later seasons (spoilers, sweetie).
Shawn has no job when we first meet him and supports himself by using his skills as he watches the news and calls in tips to the police station. It works, and it works so well that the police suspect that he is in on the crimes. Shawn knows that no one would believe his skill set and the training by his dad, he quickly comes up with something more believable – he’s psychic!
I won’t go into everything he does to convince the police, but it’s enough to get him involved in an ongoing investigation. To help him in the investigation, Shawn goes to his lifelong best friend Burton “Gus” Guster, who is the more uptight, rule-following of the two, and gets him to come along.
After a wacky adventure the private investigation agency ‘Psych’ is opened!
Why am I telling you about Psych?
Psych is one of my favorite shows; top five at least. It premiered the same year I graduated from High School and went off to College (I know, I just dated myself), and it served as a sort of comfort TV in a period of my life that had big changes. As the seasons went on and I met new people, I would introduced the show to them and it lead to me bonding with people who are now some of my closest friends.
Before the show first came on the air back in 2006, no one really thought it would go anywhere. The show creator, Steven Franks, came up with the idea of Psych after working on the movie Big Daddy in 1999. It was rejected at first, but Franks refused to let go of it and tried it again years later with the help of Kelly Kulchak who later became executive producer for the show. Together they pitched an hour of drama and comedy along the lines of Moonlighting and Remington Steele to every major network. People laughed, people cried from laughing, but no network was willing to bite since there were not that many dramedies on air during that time. USA Network was a last attempt of pitching.
During this time USA Network was in, what was called, their ‘Blue Skies’ era with the slogan of “Characters Welcome”. The network was undergoing a rebranding of itself and launched a campaign that included promos that were themed around simple interactions of the characters from their programs (which lead to some of the best, unexpected crossovers ever). Thus, their original programing had comedic and optimistic action/drama series while other cable networks’ programs were dark and gritty. Psych was a perfect fit for this ‘blue skies’ approach and became a launchpad for the network’s other original programs after its premiere season brought in record ratings for a cable scripted show.
When the show was shooting the pilot episode Franks admitted that he tempted fate: “I kept going around saying, ‘This is absolutely getting on the air, and we’re doing five years of it.'” Well he was wrong – they were on for eight years.
I reached out to the Psych-o community to learn what exactly about the show they loved. Thank you for all your responses! There are many reasons why the show developed a consistent loyal fan base (go Psych-os!), why it influenced the tone of other shows on its network, why it had eight seasons with over a hundred episode, a musical, and a tv-movie that came out three years after the finale, and why I (and so many, many other Psych-os) love all the malarkey, shenanigans, and tomfoolery.
To start off this is a show that is silly for silly’s sake and it revels in that. Not an episode goes by without a laugh – a good belly laugh that you need to pause play just to catch your breath. The cast and crew had fun working and it shows. Hill and Roday have great buddy chemistry that bleeds over into real life with both actors actually becoming good friends. They, along with the rest of the cast, were given a lot of creative freedom by Franks. This led to some of the best elements of the show – a pineapple in every episode, Shawn and Gus’ banter, the Psych-Outs, and even some of the tops episodes.
You cannot talk about Psych without talking about the characters and the relationships between them. Besides Gus, Shawn, and Shawn’s dad Henry, there is Head Detective Carlton Lassiter of the Santa Barbara Police, his partner, Junior Detective Juliet O’Hara, and Police Chief Karen Vick. At the heart of the show there is the epic friendship of Shawn and Gus. As I mentioned before Roday and Hill have great chemistry making it believable that their characters have been friends since they were five years old and constantly have each other’s backs.
Gus is the only person, outside of Henry, who knows that Shawn is not a psychic. Whenever Shawn is playing up his visions, which are always over the top and generously silly, Gus there going along with it or even acting as a ‘translator’ for them. Shawn is always pushing Gus outside of his comfort zone to have fun.
It’s difficult to find a good, strong, solid male friendship on televisions or movies. I am a huge nerd for stories about strong friendships. I can’t get enough of them. Honestly, I live for epic friendships in any form. We have the Fellowship from The Lord of the Ring, Holmes and Watson from the Sherlock Holmes series, Pooh and Piglet from Winnie the Pooh, Calvin and Hobbes from their self-named comic. Often these friendships get pushed by either canon, fandom, or both to have a romantic angle of some kind. It gets annoying. Not all friendships lead to a romantic entanglement. Male-to-male friendships are important. They allow men to be themselves in ways that they wouldn’t be able to when hanging out with women; the same goes for female-to-female friendships.
USA Network at this time had a few shows that were driven by strong friendships; we had White Collar, Burn Notice, and Suits (which I believe just recently had their final season, thus being the last of the Blue Skies programing to go off the air). Of these shows I content that Shawn and Gus have the strongest friendship of them all; if not the past decade of any programing (I welcome more examples if you have any). We see them support each other when pursuing a girl with encouragement, brainstorm together for a case, get after each other when doing something stupid, and play off each other during a ‘vision’ (i.e. Gus “translating” a vision of Shawn so others can understand).
It is a friendship for the ages.
The relationship between Shawn and his father, Henry, starts out as extremely abrasive (there’s a reason Shawn spent years away from Santa Barbara). Henry is all about tough love. Most episodes we are treated to a flashback to Shawn’s childhood where Henry is trying to teach his son something; whether it has something to do with training Shawn’s gifts or the typical lessons parents teach their kids, e.g. don’t cheat, think before acting, or how to escape out of the trunk of a car. Wait . . . I don’t think that last one is a run of the mill lesson. Oh well, moving on.
In the present day Shawn constantly goes to Henry for help on a case. At first Henry is reluctant thinking that the psychic detective agency is another thing that Shawn will stop doing once he becomes bored with it. Over time the father and son relationship gets better, and it’s done in a believable, subtle manner.
Over at the Santa Barbara Police Department we have Head Detective Carlton Lassiter, Detective Juliet O’Hara, and Chief Karen Vick. Lassiter, or Lassie as he called by Shawn and Gus, is a grumpy, by-the-book detective who is good at his job. The show could have easily made Lassiter the constant antagonist to Shawn who is consistently made the fool by the faux psychic. But where is the fun in that? He knows that Shawn is not a psychic but is never able to prove it. In a moment of drunkenness (Lassie is going through a separation during the first few seasons and he’s not taking it well) he admits that he is astounded by Shawn’s ability.
Lassie’s partner, Juliet O’Hara, is a junior detective that he is forced to take under his wing to train. Jules (Shawn loves giving everyone a nickname) is set up as a potential love interest to Shawn. But is not her whole character; she stands on her own. Recently transferred from Miami, she is determined to show that she can handle being lead on a case, can puzzle through the clues to solve the case, and does not back down from danger. She is more willing to listen to Shawn and his ‘visions’ than Lassie, and to help him and Gus with information sharing.
At first Lassie is reluctant to train Jules, but as the seasons progress, he becomes more tolerant of her and their partnership grows into a close friendship. We see Lassie teaching Jules the basics of what to look for in a crime (motive, method, etc.), how to conduct an interrogation, and the like. One episode has Jules wanting to be the lead investigator on a case and throughout Lassie is giving her lessons on how to do it, i.e. don’t quote cornpone country-bumpkin sayings to your commanding officer. There are small moments when Jules asserts herself in an investigation as she grows more confident and you can see a small proud and impressed smile on Lassie’s face.
Jules, in her own right, has an influence on Lassie. Early seasons we see her encouraging Lassie to be kinder and to think of other people’s feelings. Lassie does soften around the edges with each seasons which leads him to a happier life. (It’s amazingly cute – I’m not even joking)
Lassie and Jules grow to rely on each other and trust each other with their lives. They are proud to be each other’s partner.
Chief Vick starts as an interim chief (don’t worry, the interim doesn’t stick) who takes a chance on Shawn’s psychic-ness in the pilot episode. She is the sort of leader everyone wants to have for their own. The chief is fair and pushes those under her to do their best. She calls out on mistakes and demands said mistakes are fixed. It’s not difficult to see that she cares about her detectives (and consultants). Not only is she a police chief, Vick is a wife and mom. It’s hinted that she is aware that Shawn is not psychic, but he gets results (along with a few headaches or two) and there’s nothing that says he not a psychic.
We get to see these many relationships on the show. Shawn and Gus’s epic friendship, Lassie and Jules’ partnership, Henry and Shawn’s familial relationship are the main one we see from week to week, but they are not the only ones. All these relationships do not remain one faceted, they evolve naturally with hilariously incidences and heartwarming moments. Through these relationships the characters become more than just tropes playing out on the screen; they become real to us and we want they to succeed and be happy. Few shows are able to give us such varied character whose stories so seamlessly work together.
While Shawn is considered the main character, it isn’t all about Shawn. We get to meet family members of the other characters, and we see moments in their lives that have nothing to do with Shawn. There was one episode (Tuesday the 17th, s3e15) where Lassie meets up with his wife (he’s been separated from her since the beginning of the show) for reasons (Spoilers, sweetie) and that story never connected with what Shawn and Gus were up to. It was pure character development for Lassie and we love him all the more for it.
A show this silly shouldn’t be able to have subtle character development. But if you watch the eighth season verses the first season the differences will surprise you. And it’s all over the place.
The episodes are never boring – I do not exaggerate on this. There have been a plethora of police procedural shows on air for the past decade: Law & Order, NCIS, and Criminal Minds are some of the more popular crime shows. I enjoy a good police procedural show, I am a huge fan of mysteries. But some of these shows, especially the ones that have been on for more than a decade (and their spins offs) have a tendency to tell the same type of story over and over and over and over and over to the point that I stop watching them and become surprise when they are still on two years after the fact. Psych is a detective show so it uses that tropes that one expects from a detective story, but it never chains itself to the types of crimes they solve. It’s not all murders, and not all murder are gruesome and sick.
As mentioned before, Psych is a show that never took itself seriously. So it should not come to any surprise that there were themed episodes. I am not just talking about the usual Christmas or Halloween episode (don’t worry, Psych has those too). Viewers were treated to episodes based on a trope, genre, or a particular film or TV show. Sometimes they were so well done that if you had not seen or know of the thing being spoofed or homage you would not know that it was not just another hilarious episode. To give a few examples: there was a Jaws episode, episodes making fun of different types of slashers flicks, the classic ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ styled Christmas episode, and mockumentaries had an episode or two. There was even a serial killer that haunted Santa Barbara giving us a trilogy of season finales (the character Mary Lightly is amazing!).
With any show that runs over a significant period of time, we are, of course, going to get running gags. There is a pineapple in every episode – I kid you not! It started in the pilot when Shawn is convincing Gus to help him with the first investigation Roday adlibs by reaching off screen and pulls out a pineapple asking if he should ‘cut it up for the road’. It even reached to point that during the original run of the show they had a contest to spot the pineapple in each episode for a season. Part of the fun of rewatching is spotting the pineapple. A lot of the adlibs ended up as running gags throughout the show. Three hole punch!!!
Shawn never introduces Gus by his actual name but by ridiculous nicknames: MC Clap Yo Handz, Gus T.T. Showbiz (the extra T is extra talent), Gus ‘Silly Pants’ Jackson, Ghee Buttersnaps a.k.a ‘The Heater’ and Hummingbird Saltalamacchia. Gus is so use to the bizarre the nicknames that when he is introduced by his name he is thrown off. Whenever Gus does not want to go along with Shawn’s crazy plan, Shawn playfully admonishes with ‘Gus, don’t be …’ followed by something that makes no sense; ‘a gooey chocolate chip cookie’, ‘a silly goose’, ‘a gloomy you’. A myopic chihuahua’, ‘the American adaptation of the British Gus’, and (my personal favorite) ‘the only black lead on a major cable network show’.
This just a mere taste of the running gags in the show; we have catchphrases (Wait for iiiit!), fistbumps, Hanover pretzels, Gus is not Bud from the Cosby Show and the ever hysterical Psych-outs. During the original run of the show, during the credits the Psych-Outs played. We were treated to cast members breaking out into song, tripping over their lines that are sometimes too ridiculous to say with a straight face, and impressions of people not related to the scene at hand. The cast and crew had fun on set and it shows through the Psych-Outs.
Another thing that is truly impressive about the show is the caliber of guest stars it attracted. Christopher Lloyd, Kevin Sorbo, Cary Elwes, Jimmi Simpson, Ray Wise, Curt Smith (One half of Tears for Fears), William Shanter, George Taki, Richard Kind, Tim Curry, Keith David, Jane Lynch, Saul Rubinek, and Michael Rooker just to name a few. Even four of the five stars of the Breakfast Club have appeared in Psych. Quite a few of the guest-stars have later become huge stars in their own right; Anthony Anderson (Black-ish), Kerry Washington (Scandal), Christine Baranski (The Good Wife), and Jane Lynch (Glee). I attribute this to the fact that the writing on the show is just that good to attract this caliber of talent.
Given the amount of humor that is packed into this show, it is easy to forget that there is a bit of drama in this dramedy; ‘Shawn Takes a Shot in the Dark’ (s4e5) is a great example. There are funny moments to be found, but its an intense story of everyone rallying together to locate Shawn after its been discovered that he’s injured and missing. Great acting all around. This leads me to another point of why I love this show.
This show has heart. A whole lot of heart.
The heart can be seen in the aforementioned relationships. In those small character moments that gives weight to who they are and how they interact with each other. It what makes us fall in love with characters all over again. I believe that the heart of the show is the root of why so many Psych-os want to share the show with all their families and friends. Even to strangers!
Not only does the show proper have heart, it can be found in with the cast and crew. Watch any interview with any of the actors and actresses after the show ended and when asked about Psych, a smile forms and good things are said. There is genuine affection seen between the cast and crew and it translate onto the screen.
The love of this show is real. When the last season was announced there was an immediate reaction. People wanted more season, more fist bumps, and more pineapple! (Side Story: I saw a lady wearing a tee with a pineapple on the front. I looked her straight in the eye and asked “Are you a fan of delicious flavor?” Her eyes went wide and she responded “Should I slice it up for the road?” Epic moment!)
While we did not get another season we did get a tv movie, Psych: The Movie. The only sad thing about the movie was that Timothy Omundson, who played Lassie, suffered a major stroke just before they were about to film. The writers of the show quickly rewrote the script and changed it around to accommodate the loss of a major, well beloved, character. I will say that what they gave us was amazing. They were even able to give Timothy Omundson a small cameo that accommodated his condition. But I could tell what they had originally intended because certain things that some characters did, did not match the characterization. But I can forgive them for that, and I believe many of the Psych-os do as well. I am happy to report that Timothy Omundson has made an amazing recover and is back to acting again.
Not only did we get a movie we got another one! Psych 2: Lassie Come Home was set to come out in 2019, but was delayed. Instead of premiering on television, it will premiere on NBCU’s streaming service, which they are calling ‘Peacock’ and is launching at some point in 2020. I believe that the entirety of the show will be on that service, but honestly do not know. I more excited for the fact we get another movie!! At the moment of writing this the app is not yet up, nor do we have exact date of release – but we do have a trailer!!!
Personally, I recommend 10-11 years old and up for this show, but I have seen parents show Psych to their younger children, so I bow to the discretion of the parents. There is some swearing in the show (more so in the later seasons), but nothing I found to be overtly offensive, some innuendoes and outnuendoes (easily can go over the heads of younger viewers), and, of course, views of corpses – this is a mystery centered show, of course.
I cannot recommend this show enough! I have even converted my parents to the show. My mom originally thought it was a dumb show, now she laughs along with the rest of us and even sings with the theme song!
So, C’mon son! Grab your pineapple, quatro quesos dos fritos, cinnamon pie, and jerk chicken apology nachos and watch Psych with your family and friends!