Whether or not you can watch Psych without finding it annoying largely comes down to whether you can stand James Roday’s constantly goofy overacting. After five seasons going with the whole shtick of pretending to be a psychic while tracking down criminals and cornering them into confessions with a success rate that rivals Perry Mason, Psych still rests firmly in what Todd VanDerWerff aptly called “procedural lite” – but is that really a bad thing?
Psych does themed episodes like Community. Its central character pairing is the equivalent of J.D. and Turk from Scrubs becoming private detectives. It ties everything together neatly at the end of every episode, and moves small serialized plots at a snail’s pace. It has a handful of guaranteed laughs per episode. Compared to Royal Pains or most of the other pun-tastic original programming on USA, Psych is inoffensive fun with only minor inconveniences. Roday ventures right out to the line where he's still funny but very arrogant, but constantly bolts past it into outright obnoxiousness. Still, there are plenty of reasons Psych is very entertaining and watchable.
This is all to say that the show has never been great, but it goes about its business dutifully. Tonight’s sixth season premiere was no different from the workhorse hour-long comedic police procedural standard. Both Bones and Castle have carved separate niches in this same vein. Malcolm McDowell is the high-profile guest, taking a break from Franklin & Bash, playing a British diplomat. Shawn breaks into McDowell’s house during a dinner party, hired by a neighborhood kid to swipe a Darth Vader action figure that the diplomat’s kid stole from him. While escaping from security, Shawn discovers a member of McDowell’s staff who was strangled to death under the bed.
I’m never a fan of times when a show makes smart characters look dumb. Juliet, Lassiter, and the Chief have all been established as good, hardworking, intelligent investigators, but when Shawn puts on his psychic act and mimes figuring things out with his “powers,” that’s what has to happen. Shawn waltzes into the police station and does his act, and the team is off on their usual amount of twists and turns, with some wisecracks along the way and some terrible accent-related humor.
The fake psychic abilities are built into the fabric of the show; it’s in the title, and it’s the name of Gus and Shawn’s agency. Psych has long passed the point where Shawn can be exposed for a fraud who gains information from illegal searches and keen observation, so when Lassiter gets him strapped up to a polygraph machine and asks him whether or not he’s a psychic, I was impressed that there was a little bit of drama in that moment. Not the kind of drama of the Yin/Yang season finales over the past three seasons, but to the point where the final flashback tag at the end where Henry teaches Shawn to beat a polygraph test, insisting that it might come in handy, was rewarding and sweet.
Psych has a tendency to sweep the gravity of the crime-of-the-week and the sadness of a situation under the rug in favor of a lighter tone and goofy, quip-heavy dialogue. But there are occasions where it can push to more serious places and still keep its footing. By parceling out the slow, inevitable trudge to the romantic pairing of Shawn and Juliet, it has managed to maintain an air of sweetness, and only indulged in will they/won’t they drama during last season. For the most part, any family drama or romantic subplot gets relegated to the sidelines, introduced briefly at the beginning of an episode and then highlighted again at the end, in small enough doses where they can be handled appropriately.
Which is why the last moment with Lassiter works for me. He puts the polygraph on himself and finally lets Shawn have it, with the needle proving his open and honest statements warning Shawn not to hurt Juliet. He’s never truly believed Shawn had psychic abilities, even pointing out how Shawn always seems to guess the right suspect after getting it wrong with the first three or four guys. Lassiter has always been suspicious, but it now seems that what’s more important to him is that Shawn just be an adult and own up to the fact that he isn’t psychic. Since Shawn’s character is so immature, he can’t face up to it, and he’s stuck in the cyclical moments where he pushes past being skilled at banter into a grating annoyance.
The words “diplomatic immunity” got bandied about quite a bit tonight, and it’s interesting just how apt that idea is to describe how Shawn functions within Psych. He can mostly do whatever he wants whenever he wants, break any law, or lie to his coworkers about his abilities, as long as he gets the job done and catches the right guy. It’s nice to know that somebody like Lassiter, who may not always get along with Shawn but at least respects his results, is there to be a check against the psychic when it comes to his flippant past relationships. I liked that touch quite a bit, and it shows me that Psych has an idea of where it’s going, pushing the limits of believability with Shawn’s powers and keeping its very likeable cast running comfortably with more in the tank.
- One proviso about Psych coverage here at the A.V. Club: This show was one of the most requested for us to cover, but for now this is a one-time drop-in. If the reviews are popular enough, we may add it week-to-week, so if you’re a fan, now’s the time to make it known.
- I know I didn’t talk much about the actual case, but that’s because it’s pretty standard procedural fare. There was a pretty obnoxious reference to the Amanda Knox case, but that thankfully turned out to be a red herring.
- I did like how for once the guy Shawn caught knew he wasn’t a psychic, but the only way for him to prove it was to admit he was guilty of two murders, which he definitely wasn’t about to do. That was a nice touch.
- The 2010 Chevy Cruze and Sprite Zero got some glaringly obvious product placement, but the car was only there as a vehicle driven by a suspected murderer. Did Sprite pay more then?
- “I don’t want to be caught in a car with an 11-year-old kid.”
- “You just said that you were legless.”