One of my favorite classic cartoon to watch when I was growing up was Scooby Doo. I think what really appealed to me was that despite the fact that Scooby and the gang wound up in so many different versions of their show, the format was always reliable, right down to the final three minutes where every red herring gets explained, then Scooby and Shaggy eat some horrifyingly large meal. The climactic explanation is a feature of many mystery shows, and even other genres, all the way back to a courtroom drama like Perry Mason that wraps up a trial victory right before the end credits. That familiarity is comforting, and overcomes the limitations of a repetitive structure with an overdose of charm.
Tonight’s episode of Psych is another that gives credence to those who compare the show to a live-action version of Scooby-Doo. There’s no police department case to solve, so Gus and Shawn are going broke. An apparent suicide at a condo building doesn’t have any signs of foul play, but Lassiter takes a liking to the living space and buys the place on a whim for himself and his soon-to-be released from prison girlfriend. When Lassiter starts seeing things — like some eerily familiar elderly twins at the end of his hallway, and chairs stacked on top of his kitchen table — he reluctantly enlists Gus and Shawn to figure out what’s going on. The title of the episode gives away exactly what tone Psych is trying to strike here, but I was pleasantly surprised with just how effective a mash-up of horror movie motifs and references turned out to be, though I think focusing on Lassiter helped out quite a bit.
There are a lot of nice little touches to various horror movies, but obviously the most pronounced influence comes from The Shining. The condo building hallways resemble the Overlook, Lassiter’s neighbors have a son who rides around on a very familiar big wheel. The wife of that family is Rosemary, and she’s pregnant with her second child, wink-wink. Shawn and Gus dispel a lot of Lassiter’s paranoia after meeting the fellow tenants of the building, including the still creepy twins living down the hall, and a particularly chipper downstairs neighbor named Amy. It all seems to add up to Lassiter hallucinating, which is a dead end, even if Shawn’s dad and Juliet dig up some creepy history on Lassiter’s condo building. Luckily, Woody the coroner provides some hilarity while investigating the original suicide, and discovers a chemical agent present in the body that would account for hallucinations. Though that doesn’t explain how it got into Lassiter’s apartment and started messing with his mind.
This wouldn’t be an episode of Psych without plenty of red herrings and wrong turns. The neighbors are briefly suspected and then exonerated, then Shawn and Gus begin to suspect building supervisor Lloyd, who has a few too many items from elsewhere in the building to seem innocent. But Lassiter continues to deteriorate into full Nicholson mode, chasing Gus around the building with a sword, re-enacting classic moments from The Shining, before Shawn intervenes and they discover Lloyd’s body. I was able to put up with the typical amount of quick twists and instances of misdirection because of Osmundson’s performance, which is another darkly hilarious gem. Watching Lassie slowly unravel into horror movie homage was delightful and just a tiny bit scary, and Gus’ stellar Shelley Duvall impression made the chase scene thrilling and comical at the same time.
Once enough stones have been unturned, the hinted at conclusion finally comes into focus in another final five minute scene where Gus and Shawn confront the culprit, present the evidence with flashback interludes, followed by a chase scene, some quips, then an arrest. If the 50 minutes before hadn’t been so entertaining, I would have felt bored, but I enjoyed a lot of the references as well as Lassiter begrudgingly seeking Shawn’s help in light of a serious threat to the happiness of his girlfriend once she gets out of prison.
As a bit of a tag, William Shatner shows up for the final scene, responding to a voicemail form Shawn before he and Juliet went on their weekend getaway. It turns out Shawn was going to ask for her father’s permission, but not that he’s nor really sure that step is going to happen in the near future, he tries to get permission far in advance. Shatner actually delivers a decent speech in response to this, outlining the point that Shawn really can’t get truly close to anyone but Gus, since there’s always the wall between him and anyone who doesn’t know the psychic talent is an act. Even if it is obvious that he’s faking it, none of the officers have called him on it effectively. I think perhaps facing up to his own lies will be the key to lasting happiness, but as long as Psych stays on the air for another season, that kind of character change isn’t bound to happen soon.
- Woody turns the coroner’s table into a shuffleboard court. He’s the best character on this show. Or at least just my favorite.
- Shawn brings Lassiter gazpacho in a to-go coffee cup.
- “…my partner, Fellatio Del Toro.” Another stunning nickname for Gus.