“Psych: The Musical” exists only because creator Steve Franks, star James Roday, and presumably other members of the cast (especially a tap dancing Dulé Hill) wanted to do something special. This episode has been in the can since last October, and Franks has been talking about doing an episode like this basically since the pilot in 2006, and pitched various aspects of it to the actors beginning with season two. It’s clearly a labor of love to get a chance to work in the genre and create what is functionally a feature-length story with the Psych characters.
I can’t really blame any of them for taking the opportunity when USA gave it to them. But this is dangerously close to 7th Heaven levels of unnecessary. It occurs outside of the narrative arc of the seventh season, which ended with Anthony Michael Hall essentially bringing the hammer down on all the inefficiencies and discrepancies in the Santa Barbara Police Department. All of that conflict goes away for this story, suspended between two seasons but unstuck from any plot progression. The episode excuses Corbin Bernsen from singing duty, either because there was no way to fit Henry into a large enough part of the plot (doubtful, since a certain high-profile guest would’ve interested Henry), or because he’s wise enough to stay out of a major role on this one.
Because it’s purely episodic but needs something substantial, it makes sense that there’s room for another appearance by Ally Sheedy’s Mr. Yang. Some of my favorite episodes of the series have been the noir and Hitchcockian season finales involving the Yin/Yang cases, but here the character feels shoehorned in—and later tossed off. The story is set around a former artist named Z (Anthony Rapp, lending some Broadway musical cred but in a grossly underwritten role), who went crazy while producing a musical about Jack The Ripper, and has escaped from a mental asylum in order to track down his former collaborators, who are mounting a new version of the show. Yang happens to be Z’s one primary confidante in the asylum, and thus gets carted around until she inevitably escapes, providing enough crimes to solve to merit the extra time.
Though it’s a double-length episode, presumably with a lot more time devoted to the production, all the numbers outside the opener are shoddy and underwhelming. The songs don’t pop or inspire that much laughter. The only moment of music from the entire episode that has been stuck in my head is the 10-second clip that played on a loop like an incessantly cheery greeting card when I opened the screener. It turns out that came from the opening number, which is the most involved and choreographed in the episode. It’s an introduction to the singing, I guess, but this episode never really establishes why any of this is going on. Sometimes it’s because Yang wants Shawn to sing, other times it’s because Shawn and Gus are trying to sidle into a role in the new Jack The Ripper musical, but most of the time it’s entirely out of nowhere. Lassie complains about anyone singing, but then joins in during several numbers as if unaware of his previous objections. That loose characterization helps make this musical feel formless, purposeless, and ineffective.
The gold standard for musical television episodes in my mind is an obvious choice, Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s “One More, With Feeling,” which not only has some great musical moments, but advances several of the season’s character arcs successfully. Psych’s attempt is much more self-contained, without dealing with any part of the Shawn/Juliet debacle—though the opening number references that she doesn’t know his secret, another problematic element. The musical numbers hit frequently in the first hour, giving everyone a chance to sing, but in the latter half of the special it feels like characters sing only when the show realizes nobody has been singing for a while.
The cathartic, emotional moment is actually saved for Sheedy’s Yang, who ends up both loving Rapp’s tortured musician Z and devoting herself so much to Shawn that she gives her life to keep the case going. In a flight of fantasy as she goes—and the episode ends with Shawn carrying an urn containing her ashes, so she’s gone for sure this time—she sees Mary Lightly (Jimmi Simpson), another nice guest star touch that simply calls back to other, better episodes of Psych.
What little memorable content is here mostly belongs to Hill, who is typically delightful as Gus, tap dancing around and providing a bunch of laughs. And Woody is great, as he tries to hit on Yang during an autopsy. Roday isn’t more obnoxious than usual, which seems important given how big he could’ve gone in a musical setting. Lassie gets a few choice lines (“It’s head detective, chief doctor.”), Juliet mostly sits on the sidelines—though the one song shared by those two and the Captain is probably my favorite song in the episode, despite being rather brief. But I think the biggest takeaway is just how tepid and listless the songs are. Though Franks clearly loves musicals, only a few of the actors can actually carry what is required without sounding terrified and out of their depth. Rapp is by far the best guest star an episode like this could hope for, but it buries him behind so many other flimsy excuses for musical numbers that there isn’t something as obvious as him and Roday sharing a barnburner song, or a number that includes the entire cast.
I think it comes down to a problem of focus. This is a general musical special. It’s Psych-themed, but so generically tuned to every other show that has ever done a musical special that this doesn’t stand out or offer anything significant in the story of these characters. It’s simply one case that has music and lasts longer. I prefer the gleeful genre homage of something like “100 Clues,” which has some delightful source material to draw upon, instead of the diminishing returns of a super-sized musical special. If Franks had identified a specific musical as an inspiration, then this could have been much stronger. As constituted, “The Musical” isn’t that much fun as an episode of Pysch outside the curiosity of the attempt and the appearances of Rapp, Sheedy, and Simpson. Mercifully, it ends up much better than the awful and unfunny framing device of Roday narrating a medieval-style fairytale book, but not by a lot. Franks got his dream of a musical episode, but a special episode that kills off the second-best criminal in series history (after Cary Elwes) and doesn’t change anything significant for the central characters feels like only half of an adventure, even after two hours and plenty of references to musical titles.
- Barry Bostwick is the surprise guest star of the moment right now, showing up here as well as Scandal and Masters Of Sex. I still remember him best as a patient on Scrubs who didn’t want his wife to hear sexual language.
- Season eight begins in less than a month. USA expanded the episode order, but it will likely be the final go-round for Shawn, Guster, and the rest of the SBPD. Here’s hoping they finally give Juliet the emotional resolution she deserves.
- Dule Hill’s “Jamaican Inspector Man” deserves a bigger part in a disguise somewhere in a later episode.