I could not figure out what to write about today. I re-watched Paul Newman’s Harper, and thought about a post on that – especially since I recently re-read the autobiography of screenwriter William Goldman. And I saw Unholy Partners, a good hardboiled newspaper flick with Edward G. Robinson and Edward Arnold. I re-watched three versions of The Hound of the Baskervilles (Ian Richardson, Peter Cushing, and Jeremy Brett), and Bruce Campbell’s My Name is Bruce. I read Mark Latham’s Sherlock Holmes – Van Helsing novel, Betrayal in Blood. I started Robert E. Howard’s Cormac Mac Art stories, which I’d not read yet. I even started typing about Fortnite, the phenomenon with over 350 MILLION registered accounts – I play as a way to connect with my soon-to-be teenage son. But none of those subjects ‘clicked’ for this week.
I was sitting, looking at the well over a thousand books in my home office drawing a blank. I had a case of writer’s malaise. For Halloween, I watched a couple episodes of Psych, and I’ve decided to write about that. This isn’t one of my in-depth series’ looks, like I wrote for Leverage, and Hell on Wheels. But we’ll still talk about one of my favorite detective shows.
The premise of Psych is that Shawn Spencer (played by James Roday) has Sherlock Holmes-like powers of observation. Growing up, his dad (a terrific co-starring performance by Corbin Bernsen) was a hard-nosed cop who taught his son by locking him in the trunk of the car, challenging him in a restaurant to close his eyes and tell him how many diners are wearing hats, and the like. In the pilot, circumstances force Sean to pretend those observational skills are actually psychic revelations. He has to continue the charade to avoid jail. It sounds ridiculous, but they make it work well enough in the pilot.
He lures his hard-working pharmaceutical salesman best friend, Burton Guster (Dule Hill of West Wing) into forming a detective agency – which he names ‘Psych.’ Only Sean’s father (Henry) and Gus know the truth. Most episodes involve Sean and Gus being hired by the Santa Barbara Police Department as consultants, though sometimes they have their own clients, and there’s not always an official case.
Timothy Omundson (Galavant) is Chief of Detectives Carlton Lassiter. He is a completely by-the-book, ‘don’t coddle the criminals’, no use for Sean’s psychic shenanigans policeman. His partner, Juliet O’Hara (Maggie Lawson) is more prone to working around the system; though she’s an honest, dedicated officer. She has an on-again/off-again relationship with Sean that is a key to the show.
Kirsten Nelson (the young Mrs. Landingham in West Wing) is the police chief, and Kurt Fuller plays the absolutely bizarre police coroner. There are guest appearances over the years from a slew of names like Rachel Leigh Cook, Josh Malina, Kristy Swanson, Cybil Shephard (Sean’s mom), Ally Sheedy, and Cary Elwes. The boys love Tears for Fears and Curt Smith even shows up three times, and the boys do a killer version of “Shout” for the American Idol spoof episode (with the always great Tim Curry).
This is a clever, well-written show. Sean is a self-absorbed twit in the first season, and I almost quit the show after it ended. He wasn’t all that likable. But they rounded his edges in season two and I’m glad I stuck with it. The show ran eight seasons, and they wrapped up the story arc in a satisfying way. There’s no ‘unfinished’ feeling when you’re done watching Psych.
Sean constantly introduces Gus with a goofy nickname; Gus often runs away full-speed from scary things; they frequently use Gus’ work car, a Toyota Yaris, nicknamed ‘The Blueberry;’ Sean taunts Lassiter when he is ahead of him on a case; When Sean is really stuck, he goes to his dad for help, who gives him practical advice; Gus uses his job knowledge to aid in the case (the opposite of Dr. Watson’s often wrong medical deductions for Holmes); there are lots of elements throughout the series that make it work.
There’s a subplot involving the chief, who is actually interim, giving the mayor a deadline to make the position permanent. The mayor ignores the deadline, and she turns in her notice. Juliet is distraught, and offers to call the mayor herself. Shawn suggests he give it a little more time. And Lassiter leans forward and comments that means the job is open. It captures the characters of all four of them. That subplot plays through to the end and even ties into a case Sean was working on the side.
The museum’s assistant curator insists that Shawn be brought in to investigate. This ties back to the season’s second episode, in which the boys dug up the b ones of ‘Zippy the Dinosaur.’ There’s a plaque at the museum, crediting only Shawn, and attributing the photo to ‘Bruton Gaster.’ That dinosaur episode is one of my favorites.
Shawn arrives on the scene and wraps his shenanigans around some observations that make it appear the mummy got out from the coffin on his own. Shawn often gets Gus to investigation scenes through false pretenses, or simply not telling him. Gus is not happy when he finds that they are going to spend the night at the museum, alone.
“C’mon man, haven’t you ever wanted to spend the night in the museum? You know, do it up, with all the stuffed creatures and the bones.”
Gus is determinedly striding towards the (locked) exit as he replies, “No Sean, I haven’t. I can’t spend the night in the museum. I don’t have my toothbrush. I don’t have any of my multivitamins. And oh yeah, I don’t want my soul suffering eternal damnation for disrupting the soul of an Egyptian canal digger.”
So, they’re locked in the museum, possibly with the lead suspect, who may be a killer, and no working cell phone. And of course, maybe a living mummy. And then they find a dead body in a classic refrigerator. This is the kind of thing that happens to Gus, because of Shawn, throughout the series. Well, not EXACTLY this, but you know what I mean.
Gus knocks down an older security guard who is opening the back door in the morning and does his classic ‘Gus sprint’ away from the museum.
A ‘high’ speed chase starts with Gus having to back The Blueberry up five times to turn around at the loading dock. When they catch up to the van they’re chasing after it crashes into a tree, a mummy is in the driver’s seat. This time, Sean has sprinted away from the scene.
Lassiter is investigating the death of a rich man, and Shawn sees a link to the mummy case. He brings all the parties to the museum and does a big ‘reveal’ there, rising from the coffin to start the show. Lassiter’s suspect was disguised as the mummy – Shawn solves both cases. They arrest the son of the dead rich man and they all take him away. Nobody stays to hear Shawn talk about his brilliant deductions. He’s left standing alone, in the coffin as the lights are turned out.
The mayor calls, begging Interim Chief Vick to take the job permanently. It turns out the mayor’s buddy, who he was replacing her with, was front page news for being busted in an adultery investigation, complete with photo. And that’s a photo by ‘Bruton Gaster.’ That was the case Sean was working in the early hours when the museum call came to the police. Vick is the only one who notices, and she smiles at Shawn in thanks.
Throughout the episode, Henry wants to have a one-on-one talk with Shawn, but Shawn never has the time, or interest. They never do talk, but that subplot pays off in the final scene, which sets up a new story line for season three.
This episodes has all the elements that make Psych such a good show. The final episode aired in March of 2014, leaving the door wide-open for more. In 2017, the gang was back for Psych: the Movie. Unfortunately, Omundson had a stroke and the script had to be rewritten. He did make an appearance, in a video segment, though his health was clearly not good.
One of the few good things to happen during this blight of a year of 2020 was Psych 2: Lassie Come Home, which aired on the Peacock channel. It featured a full slate of a much recovered Omundson. And if you want to see some more of him, check out Galavant. Season one was fantastic, and he nearly stole the show. Season two was fine, but the show’s gimmick was stretched thin. They even made fun of that on air. It’s still worth watching.
Psych rivals Monk, The Rockford Files, Columbo, Murdoch Mysteries, Castle, and Nero Wolfe (Maury Chaykin) for my second-favorite police/detective show. Justified is my all-time favorite show in any genre. It’s a very fun show, with a solid cast, a premise that is explored cleverly, and with some interesting subplots interspersed. The culture references are well-done, be they small, or entire episodes. The Twin Peaks homage is simply superb. And the Hitchcock tribute episode is terrific.
It also has an enduring opening theme song. And there are some variations on it, suitable to the episode’s subject matter, here and there. They even got Julee Cruise to record a version of it for the aforementioned Twin Peaks episode, Dual Spires.
I HIGHLY recommend checking out this show. There were also some spin-off novels by screenwriter William Rabkin that are true to the show.
His ‘The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes’ column ran every Monday morning at Black Gate from March, 2014 through March, 2017 (still making an occasional return appearance!).
He organized ‘Hither Came Conan,’ as well as Black Gate’s award-nominated ‘Discovering Robert E. Howard’ series.
He is a member of the Praed Street Irregulars, founded www.SolarPons.com (the only website dedicated to the ‘Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street’) and blogs about Holmes and other mystery matters at Almost Holmes. That’s also the name of his podcast.
He has contributed stories to The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories – Parts III, IV, V, VI and XXI.