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Psyched Out

Tonight, a centennial milestone for a very special TV show.

By 3.27.13

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When the USA Network announced in 2006 it was launching a new TV series about a fake psychic detective agency, I thought it was a harbinger of the end of Western civilization.

Still, I kept an open mind and tuned in. While it is true that Western civilization has long been in decline and hurtling towards a rapid demise, I am happy to report that the show about the fake psychic detective agency has played no part in this sad, ongoing spectacle.

If you have never watched Psych, I would describe it as watching a blend of Sherlock Holmes, The Marx Brothers, Peter Pan, The Pink Panther, Columbo, I Spy while attending a’80s reunion concert featuring Tears for Fears, Duran Duran, and Kajagoogoo. Throw in some pineapple in each episode and you have pure comedy gold. It is simply the best show currently airing on American television -- period.

Tonight, Psych airs its 100th episode. It will be an homage to the board game Clue and features Christopher Lloyd, Martin Mull, and Lesley Ann Warren who starred in the 1985 film adaptation as well as original SNL cast member Garrett Morris and Curt Smith of Tears for Fears. Like the film, the 100th episode will have several endings. Fans will choose the ending live by voting online during the airing.

Psych revolves around fake psychic Shawn Spencer (James Roday) and his best friend Burton “Gus” Guster (Dulé Hill) who act as consultants and help solve homicides for the Santa Barbara Police Department (despite the fact the show is shot in Vancouver). Although Shawn isn’t actually a psychic, he does possess a photographic memory, which enables him to remember the tiniest details, as well as an inability to take anything he says or does seriously, which drives everyone around him crazy. Gus especially dislikes it when Shawn introduces him to potential clients, witnesses, and suspects as Chocolate Columbo, Magic Head, Methuselah Honeysuckle (and my personal favorite) Hummingbird Saltalamacchia.

It doesn’t help matters that Gus has a weak stomach, a violent fear of being eaten by Big Foot, bears, and mummies, is often mistaken for Bud of The Cosby Show, is a sympathetic crier and, has often found himself being fixed up on dates with women who try to kill him. When Gus doesn’t want go along with Shawn’s antics, Shawn replies with non sequiturs such as, “Gus, don’t be the third Thompson Twin with the dreads,” “Gus, don’t be an incorrigible Eskimo pie with a caramel ribbon,” or “Gus, don’t be exactly half of an eleven pound Black Forest ham.”

But Shawn is also a thorn in the side of the Santa Barbara Police Department. Head Detective Carlton T. “Lassie” Lassiter (Timothy Omundson) thinks Shawn is a fake and has little time for his tomfoolery. However, Lassiter is often overruled by Chief Karen Vick (Kirsten Nelson). Although Chief Vick is no more amused by Shawn’s shtick than Lassiter, she reluctantly recognizes that he gets results and usually ends up hiring him against her better judgment. Shawn’s greatest ally at the SBPD is Junior Detective Juliet “Jules” O’Hara (played by Roday’s real life girlfriend Maggie Lawson) and frequently seeks his assistance when she gets stonewalled by Lassiter. As in real life, Shawn and Jules become a couple and are now living together.

Perhaps Shawn’s most complicated relationship is with his father Henry Spencer (Corbin Bernsen), a former SBPD Detective. Henry had aspirations for Shawn to follow in his footsteps on the police department and taught Shawn much of his observational skills in childhood (as demonstrated at the beginning of most Psych episodes). But Henry’s tough love is too much for Shawn’s whimsical nature. This disappoints Henry to no end and he does not hesitate to tell Shawn how impractical his ventures are. Nevertheless, Shawn often seeks out Henry’s advice and Henry grudgingly gives it. Later in the series, Henry is hired as a consultant for the SBPD by Chief Vick to keep an eye on Shawn. However, Henry decides to retire at the end of Season 6 only to be shot by a corrupt former colleague. In Season 7, Shawn takes a rare serious turn and goes all Mel Gibson on those who harmed his father (and by Mel Gibson I mean Lethal Weapon, not a drunken, anti-Semitic rant). Fortunately, Henry survived his wounds and will be around to second guess Shawn for years to come.

Now if I haven’t provided you with an adequate summary of the show then you can always watch 100 episodes in 100 seconds.

Over the years, Psych has made fun of spelling bees, American Idol, telenovelas, horror movies and the cult TV classic Twin Peaks featuring several members of the show’s original cast (which was appropriately titled “Dual Spires”) and they are far from done. An all-musical episode in two parts is planned for later this season. Most television shows that have reached their seventh season have long since jumped the shark and are ready to be put out to pasture. Amazingly, Psych has yet to reach its pinnacle and I hope it never does. As it stands, Psych has been renewed for an eighth (and possibly last) season. Alas, all good things must come to an end.

Psych is hardly the only show on TV that I enjoy. But with most TV shows I am content to watch once and be done with it. With Psych I can watch the same episodes over and over again and never tire of them. Indeed, this is how I spend most of my Saturday nights (at least during the baseball off-season). Despite the repeated viewings, I always manage to see something new and I always manage a laugh. Simply put, I’m Psych-o for Psych. As Gus would tell Shawn, “You know that’s right.”

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About the Author
Aaron Goldstein writes from Boston, Massachusetts.