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

Psych: “Santabarbaratown”

Image for article titled Psych: “Santabarbaratown”

I have to hand it to Psych for at least one thing this week: I did not see that coming. Leaving Henry’s life hanging in the balance in a completely tacked-on fashion at the end of a season that spent most of its overarching plot scruples treading water with Shawn and Jules or giving Lassiter a criminal girlfriend was low on my mental list of how Psych would finish out the sixth season. There must have been extra dust on that one when they went to the file cabinet of well-worn twists. The scene right before that, where Shawn and Juliet casually arrive at the point where they will probably move in together, was my top pick. That rug-pull moment of emotional manipulation made me sit up and pay attention a lot more intently, but it didn’t significantly alter what was otherwise a fairly underwhelming finale.

When I saw the episode title a few months ago, I assumed it was a reference to Elizabethtown, what with this being a season finale, and the midseason finale taking some time to advance Shawn and Jules’ relationship. That turned out to be a completely erroneous thought, as I overlooked the much better Roman Polanski-themed possibility. There were some very obvious touches of Chinatown at various points, with the episode selling the whole noir/hard-boiled crime/corruption angle with on-the-nose music and revealing that Henry’s partners were on the take for a decades-old drug-running scheme.

“Santabarbaratown” is the first Psych episode in a while to begin with a flashback to Shawn’s childhood, featuring what at this point must be the fifth different actor to portray Young Shawn. Henry and his old partner Lou are investigating the disappearance of a young woman, Veronica Town, presumed dead. Henry always suspected her boyfriend, but could never find enough evidence. In the present, that suspect’s father turns up dead at a construction site, the same site where Veronica’s body is also discovered. Henry gets reinstated as a detective, and the case is off and running.

The case peels away corruption within the Santa Barbara Police Department during Henry’s time as a detective, but considering Corbin Bernsen has barely been a presence this season, it’s strange for the finale to use him and his still-strained relationship with Shawn as the emotional center. First, Shawn only sees that his father never noticed so much evidence, like the fact that Veronica had recently given birth, or that the bar she worked at was a front for a crack cocaine ring. But as the case reveals that Henry’s friends in the department were all covering up the operation and a murder, Shawn appreciates his father in a different light, to the point where the prospect of them grabbing a beer together once Henry retires sets up the impact of the final scene.

As far as Shawn and Jules go, I have to say I expected more to change. They danced around each other for so long that now that they’re together, I figured their relationship would move faster. It almost did at the midpoint, with Shawn getting a ring, considering proposing. However, the back half of the season hastily backed away from that development, to the point where their conversation on the bench struggled to reach what was already a foregone conclusion. Unlike previous seasons, where keeping these characters apart made their interactions so frustrating, this one felt breezy, coasting through inklings of deeper commitment. Psych needs more material to sprinkle throughout its seventh season, but they’ve also got Lassiter’s relationship to work with, so who knows when those two eventual weddings will show up. If I have one giant complaint left with this show, it’s that I am so rarely surprised by what direction a case goes in. The final scene did catch me off guard, but it’s such a generic trope that I look to things like Gus’ physical comedy or Woody’s rambling to buoy what would otherwise be a very tired procedural.

I started watching Psych when I was a sophomore in college, when a girl in one of my screenwriting classes wrote a spec episode of the show. I had seen promos when it debuted and was only vaguely interested, but somehow I ended up starting to watch it along with everything else I was catching up on. Party Down was on Netflix every week after it aired on Starz; Scrubs was winding down its run; I burned through How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory that spring; For some reason, I was tired of half-hour comedies and decided to try out an hour-long series that would perhaps help me give better notes in class.


I’ve mentioned a few times that the Yin-Yang Killer episodes are among my favorites in the series because I find the cases compelling and the entire cast well-utilized, and on the strength of those season finales and scattered other episodes, I learned to tolerate the elements that I find so frustrating about Shawn’s character, the ineptitude of the Santa Barbara police department, and the gross improbability that Santa Barbara, California is some kind of nexus for bizarre pop-culture themed crimes. Psych, like many other shows on USA and other cable networks, is a show that doesn’t require viewers to bring very much to the table in order to find something to like. If the jokes stick, you have fun; if they don’t, the worst that could happen is you find James Roday annoying. There isn’t a lot at stake, but when things fall into place—like they did in the Indiana Jones episode this season—it can be memorable.

This isn’t a show about thunderous plot development driving the story forward, it’s about a cast of generally zany people hanging out and solving crimes. “Procedural lite” isn’t consistent, but it’s not going away anytime soon. Among the options on USA and elsewhere in that category, Psych remains a perfectly acceptable one.


Stray observations:

  • My top three episodes of the season: The Despereaux episode at No. 1 by far, then the horror-movie-homage episode “Heeeeere’s Lassie,” and finally the midseason finale, “Neil Simon’s Lover’s Retreat.”
  • My grade for the finale can also double as a season grade. It was thoroughly average to me, dipping up or down slightly from week to week.
  • Gus’ candy obsession is pretty great. Spilling Skittles on himself, destroying the hotel minibar selection of candy bars, Gus’ candy obsession was pretty great. Spilling Skittles on himself, destroying the hotel minibar selection of candy bars, and finishing the bag of M&Ms Jules was saving for brownies all worked for big laughs. Dulé Hill had a great season, especially in “Last Night Gus” and the Bachelor-inspired reality dating episode a few weeks ago.
  • One of my closest friends is a dancer who’s obsessed with Center Stage, so it was fun to see Amanda Schull show up as a guest star, even if she was only on screen for a few minutes and got the role of “obvious suspect.”
  • Dulé Hill tweeted about a week ago that filming for the seventh season starts at the end of this month.
  • That’s all for this season of Psych. Thanks to everyone who stuck around in the comments, and hope to see you all again here next fall!