Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Psych: "Dual Spires"

Illustration for article titled Psych: "Dual Spires"

Psych star James Roday recently told Entertainment Weekly that a Twin Peaks homage has been on his mind since his show began five years ago. Which speaks to how patently unnecessary “Dual Spires” is conceptually but also how potentially endearing it could be, too. “Dual Spires” is, after all, a big labor of love for Roday, who co-wrote the episode with series writer/co-executive producer Bill Callahan (Spin City, Scrubs). The episode is a great, big, wet kiss to Mark Frost and David Lynch’s milestone post-modern mindfuck from fans whose show is so perfectly middle-of-the-road that it barely stands out on USA, a network that specializes in middle-of-the-road content. Still, weird as this may initially sound, the fact that Gus and Shawn are taking a detour through Lynch-land is not especially surprising, considering that Psych sells itself as a nerdy buddy cop show. They have, after all, already paid homage to Alfred Hitchcock (Roday also co-wrote and directed that episode). Why? Because they’re nerrrrds.

“Dual Spires” sees Gus and Shawn wandering into the picturesque small town of (you guessed it) Dual Spires after reading about a local festival. Dual Spires is so small that it’s labeled in parentheses on the map. Upon arriving in town, Shawn immediately puts his finger on what’s wrong with the small woodland community: “Everyone looks so happy … and yet so perplexed.”

Like Twin Peaks, Dual Spires is defined by its dissonant Rockwell-esque appearance and freakishly abnormal goings-on. This is immediately apparent to Shawn after he learns that Dual Spires is still mostly technologically ill-equipped: “We don’t have the internet here in Dual Spires. … It’s simpler that way,” says Robert Barker (Dana Ashbrook), co-owner of the local diner. Dual Spires is uncharted territory for the cynical young guys: They imagine aloud that Gus must be the first black person in town and seconds later, a kid on a bike asks, “Hey, mister; are you Frederick Douglass?” This is how you know the show is written by and for geeks: Frederick Douglass is the first black celebrity name that they could think of.

Here’s where “Dual Spires” starts to devolve into a heap of knowing references stacked indelicately on top of each other. Shortly after Gus and Shawn arrive, the body of local girl Paula Merrall—an anagram for Laura Palmer, natch—is found washed up on the shore in a plastic sheet, sending Michelle Barker (Robin Lively) into a screaming fit that never seems to end. Gus and Shawn investigate Paula’s death and along the way come across a local cult, a blind photographer, some damn good pie, and a lot of secret relationships that the townsfolk all seem to know about but never talk about. The big joke about “Dual Spires” is thus lovingly sending up a show that actively parodied itself. Twin Peaks presented itself as the great American freak-out, all raw edges and toothy soap opera charm. Gently poking fun of it for that combination of freakish sarcasm and sincerity is more than a little redundant.

Then again, balking that there is nothing beyond a skin-deep abiding logic to a Psych tribute to Twin Peaks is equally fruitless. It doesn’t really matter that the episode is essentially an excuse to get the Log Lady, Leland and Laura Palmer, and even Audrey Horne together for the serial narrative equivalent of a comic convention reunion. What matters is that Callahan and Roday are so besides themselves that they’re unable to write a functional tribute. After a point, Shawn and Gus don’t even seem to matter, since “Dual Spires” is mostly just a collection of winking allusions that takes every opportunity to declare its nature as a meta-textual nod to an already meta-textual show. Gus and Shawn are pretty much afterthoughts, a fact that’s abundantly clear by the episode’s final sequence in Barker’s diner, which is effectively a tacked-on explosion of silly in-jokes, including a backwards-dancing one-eyed man in a red suit and a jock barking like a dog out the window at a real dog. That kind of one-note gag is mostly cute until it’s just a tediously shrill checklist of stuff. Clues hidden under people’s nails! Doughnuts! Hysterical crying whenever the dead girl is brought up! Man, sometimes, nerds suck.

Then again, Psych’s house style of comedy has always been too precious and self-conscious to ever really make it more than just passable. A major problem with the show’s buddy cop (er, buddy dick?) premise is that there’s a fundamental lack of chemistry between Roday and Dulé Hill. Hill does a very good job at playing the straight man to Roday’s insensitive white oaf, but while Roday is supposed to be unaware of Hill’s presence to a certain extent, he realizes that concept a little too well. He’s like the comedic answer to David Caruso: You sometimes wonder if he even sees that there are other people on set with him.


Still, the fact that sparks rarely fly between the two plays to the advantage of some of the show’s better jokes, like when Gus is on the phone with Juliet and, after Gus gasps at the news that Paula’s been dead for seven years, Shawn absent-mindedly asks, “What, did she say, ‘Hi,’ back?” Hill makes a great punching bag, as when Roday teases him for being black by giving him jokey aliases and pet names like “Large Blackman” and “Jet Blackness” (“Great porn name for you,” Roday says without even looking at Hill). The best example of this perfectly harmless form of generic, post-48 Hours inter-racial tension comes when the guys are chasing a suspect on a twin bike and Shawn jokes: “It’s like Driving Miss Daisy—except you get to be Miss Daisy!”

By the end of “Dual Spires,” the one thing I couldn’t help but fixate on was the fact that Roday was too nervous to approach Lynch. He originally considered asking Lynch to cameo in the episode as Spires’ mayor, which, as it is in the episode, is nothing more than a walk-on role. The fact that they never even reached out to Lynch at all, not even tentatively, says a lot about the show’s presumptive appeal: They really are huge Twin Peaks fanboys and, hence, really are just that that self-conscious about their hero worship. Too bad self-consciousness doesn’t automatically translate into self-awareness. I wouldn’t totally dismiss Psych for this sloppy tribute, but it’s definitely not going to change any skeptics’ minds about the show’s meager charms.


Stray observations:

  • That Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark ad reminds me: I should be throwing money away about nowish …
  • “The town gets together to watch reruns of Everwood”—cute! Making fun of the fact that nobody watched Everwood is really … cute.
  • Ok, I’ll give: when they positioned Corbin Bernsen to look like Bob, at the foot of the bed, that was pretty funny.