“Santabarbaratown 2” S7 / E1
- B Community Grade
It’s been over 300 days since the sixth-season finale of Psych, leaving Shawn’s father Henry shot and lying on a beach in a cliffhanger. Though that move was certainly unexpected, the wait for the seventh season hasn’t been that dramatic, because Psych is so deep into its own groove that even a slight deviation from the norm quickly fixes itself to keep everything the same. Henry’s life is only in danger as a hypothetical to alter Shawn’s character and make him more reckless and agitated, not to enact any real change to the series.
In last season’s finale, Corbin Bernsen’s Henry made an unfortunate discovery: All of his friends on the force were corrupt and taking payoffs—including the last man he confides in, Jerry, who pulls a gun and shoots Henry. Fortunately, Shawn figured that last thread out, and shows up on the beach immediately after the shot to take his dad to the hospital, comforting him along the way with comically inaccurate encouragement about how the body responds to gunshot wounds. (“I’m pretty sure like 90 percent of gunshot wounds are psychological. Here’s the good news, the body is actually designed for this sort of thing!”)
In the spirit of revenge, Shawn sets out immediately with Gus to start tracking Jerry down. His gung-ho attitude includes breaking a lot of windows and searching crime scenes after the police have already been there. His search of Jerry’s house—after Juliet and Lassiter show up, exposing the first of Shawn’s many lies tonight—yields a colossal weapons cache, complete with Lassiter’s favorite type of landmine.
Since Psych needs another case to investigate, not just a singular manhunt, Jerry turns out to be an employee of Julian Drake, owner of an international food charity that acts a front for illegal arms dealing to war-torn African nations. As Shawn and Gus suss out the connections from Jerry to Julian through a shooting range, the retaliations pile up. First, another crooked cop in police custody gets shot by a sniper while being transferred, then Gus and Shawn sit on the couch in their office and arm the landmine from Jerry’s basement. Shawn connects a superior marksman from the shooting range to Julian Drake’s security detail, and one illegal search of a warehouse later, they’re infringing on an FBI investigation
But the machinations hardly matter, since this is supposed to be Funny Mentalist (though it predates that procedural by two years). Lassiter is an ever-reliable comedic force, and Dule Hill’s rampant hunger offers some laughs over a plate of jerk chicken nachos hovering perilously out of reach while Gus and Shawn lament their position on the couch holding down the landmine trigger. Toss in references to Red Dawn, Everybody Poops, and the Doritos Locos Taco (insert joke about recognizing actual product placement here), along with a bumbling disguise and Gus’ backstory for his delivery man alter ego Satchel Gizmo, and you’ve got the requisite witticisms for an hour-long installment of “procedural lite.” On the level of entertainment that can accompany a workout or an hour of relaxation, Psych still fits solidly into that category.
Shawn and Juliet’s relationship has bounced between surprisingly resonant and frustratingly manipulative, and this première leans heavily on the latter. When James Roday hinted that the truncated, yet-to-filmed eighth season would be the show’s last, he also stated that the show is “trying to peel back the layers of [Shawn and Juliet’s] relationship and treat it with the reverence that we hope it’s entitled to.” This première doesn’t honor that description. Shawn lies to Juliet repeatedly, and disregards her obvious, comforting advice that he sit this investigation out to be with his father. Sure, Shawn’s vigilante actions—with the help of a rather gleefully mischievous Lassiter—lead to capturing Julian, but it also necessitates Juliet running in to gun down Jerry and another guard to save Shawn. The emotional toll Shawn inflicts on Juliet throughout their relationship belies the commitment she shows him in times of need.
The strained, abbreviated moments between Shawn and Henry show just how little progress Psych has made in six seasons. Though it’s nice that Shawn skips the big speech when sitting by his father’s hospital bed at the start of the episode, he buries his feelings, pouring his emotion into tracking down the shooter, then circles back to slightly showing how much he cares. By the end it’s back to business as usual, Henry succinctly dumps Chelsea (again) and then does some rote bonding with his son. Two steps forward, one step back. If there’s one thing Psych has maintained throughout its nearly 100-episode run, it’s always keeping the wheels turning while remaining in the same place.
The Vancouver-as-Santa-Barbara factor is usually pretty obvious in every episode, but rarely is it so blatant as when the show cuts from establishing shots of bright California beaches to the pine tree-lined, bleak coastline where Jerry shot Henry.
I know this première was filmed last year with not idea of the gun violence to come, but Shawn’s joke about opening a gun range for kids struck an unfortunate chord. I don’t want to advocate for editing or delaying these things for unintended bad resonance, but that’s a risk when producing a season with an unknown airdate.
One bit of morbid humor that did work consistently: Woody walking around to every tense situation—Henry’s hospital room, the bomb squad call at the Psych office—with body bags, just in case.