When Maggie Lawson was cast as the lead on ABC’s short-lived sitcom Back In The Game, the future of Psych was cast into doubt. The eighth season only received an eight-episode order, and it looked like a consolation prize allowing the show to finish out its run with dignity and a planned final chapter. But then USA commissioned five additional scripts, ultimately greenlighting two of them—one determined by an online poll, I’m not kidding—and this past fall Back In The Game got the axe before its first season concluded. Which puts this season in a bit of an unfamiliar limbo situation. USA never announced that this would be the final season of Psych, and it still pulls in decent but sagging ratings for a cable dramedy.
It’s the longest-running non-WWE program in the history of the network, but the engine has slowed down to such a degree that breaking out of the lethargy seems impossible. So here Psych sits, able to pull in guest stars like Cary Elwes but stuck making Vancouver look like both Santa Barbara and London, swinging for the fences with a Wiffle bat. It’s an admirable sense of adventure, but now more than ever the show appears ready to be issued an end date so Steve Franks, James Roday, and the rest can plan to send the show out properly.
Unlike the musical episode, which exists unstuck from the chronology of the show, the eighth season premiere at least obliquely alludes to the end of the seventh season, when everyone was placed on suspension by Anthony Michael Hall’s character. But this episode centers on Shawn and Gus, and only a few minutes of Lassie on the other end of a long-distance call (taking time out from his demotion to mail delivery). Juliet is nowhere to be seen, presumably while Lawson was off filming her ABC series, and Corbin Bernsen and Kirsten Nelson don’t appear either, so this is Gus and Shawn on their own. According to Steve Franks, a trip to London was originally part of the musical episode’s plot, and was excised in order to pare down the scope. And the one priceless joke in the entire episode is based around the show shooting Vancouver as though it were Santa Barbara, or in this case London. (“We might as well have been in British Columbia.”)
So this is a London episode without being a “London” episode like Parks And Recreation’s most recent season premiere. But it does make the audacious attempt to mash up Harry Potter and the stylistic quirks of British director Guy Ritchie. Gus walks around in Hogwarts robes for most of the episode—and spouts out some very basic series trivia that’s supposed to make him sound like a total nerd—contrasted with slow motion fight scenes, freeze frames, and voiceover narration. It doesn’t quite work, since there’s no attempt to show the Harry Potter fan convention or to indulge Gus’ fanaticism beyond some lip service.
The best nod to either style is casting Vinnie Jones as the criminal mastermind who always works with anonymous crews and never uses the same crew twice when planning a heist. He’s the only bit of authenticity to either homage. And he even manages to soften Shawn’s dickishness, by choosing to laugh at him as an insane person. More people should treat Shawn that way, since it’s pretty much how he is when interacting with any person who legitimately cares about him, not just the maniac criminals or international mastermind thieves. The driving-test scene is one of the few moments where I’ve laughed out loud at Shawn brazenly throwing himself into a situation with total disregard for logic or safety, with total faith that he’ll land on his feet.
But as always with an episode featuring Despereaux, Cary Elwes is the best part of “Lock, Stock.” He mystifies and enraptures Shawn and Gus, fooling even as he helps them enjoy an adventure. His last appearance, in the Indiana Jones homage from 2012, is probably still my favorite since beginning to write these reviews (though the Clue episode from last year is a close second). He doesn’t get as much screen time here as he does in his other episodes, this time purporting to have been an Interpol agent the entire time, only working undercover for his criminal endeavors. Gus becomes suspicious of Despereaux’s motives for sending Shawn in to replace a getaway driver, and that begins to peel away the facade. I do like that the episode ends on a bit of mystery: Has Despereaux fooled them once again and absconded with another cache of treasure, or can Shawn just believe that a man he admires for being so suave actually turned out to be good all along?
If only it were so simple for Shawn to solve all of the show’s problems through winning charm. It has now been more than nine months and the show still hasn’t met the challenge laid down by last season’s finale, one that actually attempted to force some character progress. Continuing to delay that with “location” episodes and a musical special only highlights how out of sync the show has become even within its own attempts at minor progress. It can be stupendously entertaining and a constant source of slapstick physical comedy, but it’s frustrating in equal doses. The goal of procedurals like Psych is to find a groove and then stay in it until the network stops paying, not advance a story to some predetermined end point. But even though it’s had a successful run over almost nine years at this point, Psych looks like it’s sustained by perpetual motion, not by the excitement of producing entertaining television.
- Thanks to everyone who has been following along with regular Psych reviews the past few years. We’ve decided that dropping in on the premiere is most likely the only coverage for this season. But we’ll potentially stop back in to see how the season wraps up, especially if this does turn out to be the final season. I know it’s been a bumpy road most of the time, but I have honestly enjoyed the comedic stylings of Dule Hill every week, and I hope Maggie Lawson lands a regular role on another major network show soon, because she deserves it.
- I liked that they threw in one passing reference to the band Interpol among the jokes about the DVD piracy stuff, but was sad that they used the Our Love To Admire cover. Have the decency to use Turn On The Bright Lights, or at the very least Antics.