I’m not a huge fan of Psych, but I can see why so many people are. Every time I watch the show, it’s like being shaken by a 500-pound man with sugary breath who keeps slapping you about the face and screaming, “DAMMIT, BE ENTERTAINED!” Every aspect of the show is carefully calibrated to be as maximally entertaining as possible, from the writing, which is always goofy and full of banter, to the acting, which is never not quirky, to the technical elements, which are pretty much the definition of procedural lite. Every time I watch the show, which isn’t often, I largely enjoy myself and then promptly forget about it. But I laugh three or four times an episode, and I generally like the cast, and isn’t that all it takes to have fun on a Friday night anyway?
Actually, I think Psych would be one of my favorite shows if it didn’t turn every twist of the screw just a little bit too far. The show is almost too manic, as if the creators watched Moonlighting and Remington Steele and all of the other great goofy detective shows and said, “You know what? It can be done crazier!” and then proceeded to just push everything a few steps farther. James Roday’s performance as main character Shawn Spencer is technically proficient, to be sure, but falls on the wrong side of irritating too often, as though we’re not trusted to get that the people around him find him an irritant. (Worse, I think we, the audience, are supposed to find this kinda charming, which just doesn’t come across.)
Similarly, the joke writing on the show, while often very funny (there’s a lengthy running joke about, again, Remington Steele in the premiere which is actually pretty great), but it just keeps pushing and pushing until you never really think anyone’s in any danger of anything. I don’t think a show like this needs dangerously high stakes to succeed (it is, after all, meant to be a summer treat), but if everything in the show is a sarcastic trifle, then eventually nothing is, and the whole enterprise becomes tiring. Similarly, the character relationships are written fairly well on this show, but they, too, push the limits. Dule Hill’s Gus defines long-suffering when put up in opposition to Shawn, while Shawn has a will-they/won’t-they relationship with Maggie Lawson’s Detective O’Hara simply because the show apparently decided it needed something like that. Everyone in the show, for better or worse, is defined in their relationship to Shawn, and while Roday is up to the challenge, the show too often succumbs to the challenge of making him so irritating that he ceases to just irritate everyone on screen and starts irritating people outside of the show’s world. Namely, us.
Actually, though, I don’t think that any of this would be so irritating as to be off-putting without the show’s frantic production design. The editing of the “hits” Shawn gets when he’s investigating a case (similarly to The Mentalist, something the show points out in another joke tonight about how that show is pretty much ripping this one off, Shawn solves cases by being really observant, though he makes a point of pretending to be a psychic, as opposed to Simon Baker’s joyless automaton on that other show) is often all over the place, as though the show feels like it has to remind us of every little clue dropped throughout its run time. In addition, the score for this show may be the most abrasive on television. ABC’s dramedies run twinkly music designed to remind us not to take anything we’re watching too seriously throughout their runtimes, but it’s hard to say that any of them is as bombastic as the score employed on Psych, which often feels like being trapped inside of a Gravitron with a gypsy orchestra.
That said, though, I do generally enjoy Psych, so I was hoping that the fourth season premiere would offer at least a few laughs and some fun moments for Hill and Roday, whose chemistry is really well done, even if Hill’s character is a little underwritten. And, actually, the prospect of a vacation episode (something a lot of shows seem to open their fourth seasons with, if memory serves) on this show seemed fun because the vacation the two were taking was so wonderfully prosaic. They were going to Canada! In the middle of the summer! To ski! This, of course, led to the necessary, over-edited skiing montage and into the section where Shawn and Gus careened down the mountain and out of the boundaries, but, man, seeing a mountain covered in snow in August was the kind of unseasonal treat that is sometimes fun to get.
From there, though, Shawn was pressed into service to track down an international art thief who turned out to not actually be an art thief, and the episode kind of went through the paces. I get that it’s monstrously hard to write any kind of new crime stories on TV nowadays, with every other show being about crime-solving teams. I get that the only way to combat this is to offer up a fun difference in tone of some sort. And I get that Psych aims for that by pushing the comedy angle hard, in lieu of making the cases especially dark and twisty. But too often, the case on Psych feels like an afterthought, and this was one of those episodes, as though the show thought about tossing in an art thief and then was just fine with tossing the guys through the usual art heist movie clichés. Though, I must say, the idea to send Gus through the field of lasers protecting the artwork and then have Shawn reveal they were disengaged was pretty fun.
The primary purpose of the episode, then, was to put Shawn, Gus and their cop colleagues (including O’Hara) in contact with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. In what actually played out as a pretty fun twist, only one of the cops was gullible enough to buy Shawn’s psychic abilities, with the other Canadians seeming far more skeptical of them after a few minutes than their American counterparts have proved to be. I love a good Canada joke as much as any red-blooded American, but the subversion of the trope that Canadians are always gullible and yokel-y was used well here.
All in all, the fourth season premiere of Psych didn’t convince me to jump on board the show’s vocal bandwagon, but it didn’t make me despise the show (as a few critics do) either. I don’t think the show is so bad it’s unwatchable or anything, but I also don’t quite get why people are so passionate about it in the first place. I suppose a lot of that is entirely due to Roday. If you can get behind what he’s doing here, you probably love this show. If you occasionally find it off-putting, though, God help you, because this is just never going to be the show for you.
- I actually think Maggie Lawson is a fun actress. She had a reputation as a show killer for quite a while, so it’s nice to see her settling in to something like this.
- Since the show is actually filmed in western Canada, the joke that the guys were going on vacation there seemed particularly apt.
- Good location work with that suspension bridge. Though I don’t know if I would call it the most romantic spot in the world. That said, seducing a girl with balloon animals seems like a good idea to me.
- I was planning to write up this and Monk as one post about USA's comedic procedural Friday, but my DVR ate Monk. That said, look for coverage of that show's series finale here in December.