As far as stylistic inspirations go, Clue fits Psych much better than the last highly publicized reunion episode, the Twin Peaks-inspired “Dual Spires” that marked the 75-episode milestone. Fast-paced witty banter, high-concept comedy, and a goofy rather than spooky atmosphere—these are characteristics of Clue and Psych, but not Twin Peaks. “Dual Spires” contains multitudinous references to David Lynch and Mark Frost’s series, slavish to the point of not really being an episode of Psych. There are more than 700 references to that show in the final scene alone. “Dual Spires” was a love letter to a spellbinding season of television (and then some other episodes after that), but it was so beholden to the tribute that instead of weaving the homage touches around an episode of Psych, it felt like a fanatical continuation of Twin Peaks that happened to also include some crossover characters from that USA show.
In contrast, “100 Clues” is a much less ambitious episode—one that still manages to throw together a small reunion and film multiple endings—backed by a boatload of publicity and a social media campaign tie-in with Dunkin’ Donuts. As with Clue, “100 Clues” has three possible endings, voted on during the east and west coast airings. Those two selected endings will go up online for viewers to see the one they didn’t vote for, while the third unaired ending goes to the DVD extras, which is a shame, but a smart little ploy. Sure, this episode doesn’t allude to as seminal a piece of media as Twin Peaks, but it strikes the right balance of appreciation for the film that inspired it. It’s a bit hard to focus on this episode purely as an episode of Psych, or even as the 100th episode of the series, since the marketing campaign gets such a heavy push that it purposefully interferes with the narrative
I’m not exactly a Clue devotee. I’ve only seen the film three times, and re-watched it for the first time in almost a decade this week in anticipation of tonight’s episode. But I do find it a delightfully weird murder mystery, taking what could have been the moribund disaster of adapting a board game and making it a witty romp. Psych goes all-out toward that tone, but with a case that’s never the main focus of the episode. Billy Lipps, a rock star that Shawn, Gus, and Henry all adored, went to prison for allegedly murdering a groupie named Melinda. Five years later, Shawn and Gus attend a party at a mysterious mansion, where they meet Christopher Lloyd, Martin Mull, and Lesley Ann Warren from the original film, playing Billy’s biographer, road manager, and a groupie, respectively. Billy turns up, the lights go out, and Mull appears dead. Lassiter and Jules show up to investigate a missing person who turns out to be Billy’s bandmate, stabbed to death with an ice pick in the freezer (another homage to the film), and the episode is off and running into split-ups and red herrings.
The touches are lighter throughout the episode. A singing telegram messenger here, a confusing exchange over a yes or no question and a falling chandelier there—oddly funny moments that fit right into the zany world of Psych while nodding to anyone who gets the references. Instead of the classic murder weapons, this episode features a saxophone, a striped lance, and a paintball gun among others. The investigation implicates different suspects at various points, but it all comes together when Shawn says he can reveal the actual murderer—complete with running about the house just like Tim Curry leading the guests around.
I had the benefit of seeing both endings—though the screener cut off right before the final few minutes—so I can comment on how they affected the episode. I can’t imagine how weird it must have been to see Clue in theaters when it was originally released, seeing only one of the endings. One of the best parts of that film for me is seeing the endings in conversation with one another, how they play out sequentially in a determined order. “100 Clues” doesn’t have that benefit. On the east coast, it’s Clizby, the jealous butler who inspired most of Billy’s work, but never got due credit. For the west coast, it’s Christopher Lloyd’s writer, jealous that Melinda would chose the rock stars over the pompous Harvard douchebag.
In both cases, Billy’s admission minutes earlier that he killed Melinda is rendered false, and by nature of only being a minute or so in length (the constraints on filming multiple endings makes that a necessity) neither of the endings are very funny or satisfying, at least not in the same way as the endings of the film. Here, the multiple endings let Shawn pull little details from throughout the episode to build a plausible case, which combined with a shocked admission from the guilty party, quickly ends the episode with enough time to spare for Shawn to utter a version of Michael McKean’s line from the final ending of the film.
“100 Clues” isn’t an extravaganza, or a treatise on the series at this particular milestone. It’s an entertaining tribute to a film that shares a lot of tonal similarities to Psych, and like many episodes before, it relies on the strength of its eccentricities and character interaction to outweigh a thin mystery plot. This is where Psych has always been, a middle-of-the-road piece of light entertainment that affirms the status of other cultural touchstones.
- Gus steps in scat while walking up to Billy’s house, a nice reference to Tim Curry stepping in dog shit early on in Clue, which is never explicitly stated, but several characters react to the smell.
- A final title card dedicates the episode to Madeleine Kahn, which is a nice touch. All the references to flames were a nice little tribute to her improvised speech that might be the funniest moment in Clue.
- Tim Curry and Michael McKean are the big missing pieces, but it’s not really a surprise that they didn’t show up for cameos.
- The “Secret Chocolate Room” dance was a perfect moment to illustrate just how little these guys have changed since the first episode, and how that doesn’t really matter as long as you enjoy the ride.
- I cover both Southland and Psych on Wednesday nights. They both were in production on this current season at least nine months ago. And yet somehow both shows made a passing reference to the same Chuck Norris movie, Missing In Action, in the same night. What are the odds of that?
- “Why do you have to buy into all those black stereotypes?” “Said the black butler.”