Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by the week’s new releases or premieres. This week: In honor of the American Idol series finale, we’re revisiting our favorite television episodes featuring a talent competition.
Psych, “American Duos” (season two, episode one; originally aired 7/13/07)
After American Idol became a global phenomenon, every other corner of pop culture tried to have a piece of the pie—both in very expected and even the unexpected areas of said pop culture. That also meant translating the world of reality talent competition to the world of television procedurals. But only one show’s ode to American Idol felt necessary, like the opposite of a shoehorned-in reference: USA’s ultimate blue-skies procedural, Psych.
Psych’s second season premiere, “American Duos,” was penned by series creator Steve Franks and series lead James Roday and directed by John Landis—complete with a “Thriller” homage at the end of the episode. It functions both as the reintroduction to the fake psychic detective world of Shawn Spencer (Roday) and Burton “Gus” Guster (Dule Hill) and the definitive style of the series moving forward. “American Duos” is the first episode of the series to truly strike a perfect balance of Psych’s brand of humor and specific pop-culture references. It also ushers in one of Psych’s best seasons and paves the way for future concept episodes like “Shawn And The Real Girl” (its Bachelorette episode), “Dual Spires” (its Twin Peaks homage), and “Psych: The Musical.”
On top of all the humor, “American Duos” is a hyper-aware commentary on American Idol, shows of its ilk, and every other series that wanted to do an American Idol episode, as Shawn explains right in the teaser: “This is just another knock-off of the other knock-off of the original knock-off of that other show.” What follows are the ever increasing misadventures of “Shawn Spenstar” and “Gus T.T. Showbiz” (“the extra T is for extra talent”), as they turn a nefarious murder plot into the backdrop for a showstopping Tears-For-Fears-meets-Michael-Jackson number, decades in the making.
With the guest cast, the series knocks it out of the park with Gina Gershon’s Paula Abdul proxy Emilina Saffron (realizing that you need to go full trainwreck if you’re going to do it all), Cristián De La Fuente’s poor ignored Zapato, and, of course, Tim Curry’s role as mean judge Nigel St. Nigel (a Simon Cowell take that’s much more than a tight T-shirt and a British accent). Curry’s performance wholly adds to the high quotability of the episode, as no one else—besides maybe the late Alan Rickman—could utter the line “I feel like an angel baby swaddled in a cocoon of cloud candy” with such gravitas and irreverence.
Availability: “American Duos” is available for individual purchase on iTunes and Amazon, and is currently streaming on Netflix.