Psychic vision time, baby!
Shawn Spencer is a crime solving machine. With perfect memory recall and an incredible ability to identify and interpret the smallest details missed by most people. Unfortunately, like many geniuses, he frustrates easily, feels no need to stay focused on things that bore him and has an unfortunate ability to heckle anyone who gets on his nerves. This means that he has been fired from virtually every job he tries.
Because he “borrowed” (stole) a car at age 18 to impress a girl, Shawn is ineligible to become a police officer. To amuse himself and keep his abilities sharp he begins calling in tips to the Santa Barbara police department. When these tips result in multiple cases being solved, the cops want to know who is Shawn Spencer and how is he able to solve cases they can’t crack. Some suspect his involvement in crime himself and his long record of anti-social behavior doesn’t exactly help his cause.
Never content to be ordinary and just tell the truth, Shawn uses his powers of observation and memory convince the police that he is a psychic and his insights are the result of these abilities. He soon finds himself the official psychic of the Santa Barbara PD.
Best friend Gus is the exact opposite of Shawn, college educated, dedicated, hardworking and a conscientious worker. He works full time as a pharmaceutical rep but frequently finds his time and company car hijacked by Shawn’s crazy adventures. Poor Gus also serves as a frequent straight man to Shawn’s comic mania. A long running joke in the show (one of many) is the range of ridiculous nicknames Shawn has for his friend.
Soon the two of them form Psych, a private detective agency that serves as a business front for Shawn’s abilities.
Timothy Omundson plays Carlton Lassiter, a by the rules police detective who finds Shawn to be an obvious fraud, but he is ignored by everybody else in the department. Lassie, as Shawn refers to him, usually serves as foil, secondary antagonist and unwitting straight man to the wily “psychic” detective.
Frequent guest stars include Corbin Bernsen and Cybil Shepherd as Shawn’s parents and a great performance by Ally Sheedy as obsessed serial killer Mr. Yang.
Flashbacks show that Shawn has been trained from a young age to be some kind of pattern recognition and analysis machine by his hard case cop father. Some of this seems to border on child abuse and goes a long way to explaining Shawn’s more interesting idiosyncrasies.
An aspect of this show that I like is the emphasis on memory and good observational skills as opposed to the magic of forensics in solving the mysteries. Forensics play a part, but most of the heavy lifting is done by Shawn’s observational skills. For the most part the show doesn’t cheat on that aspect. We see the same things Shawn does and most of the time the solution is head slapping obvious and right in front of you the whole time.
While ostensibly a mystery show, Psych never wanders too far from its comedy side. The show rarely lets things get too serious and usually breaks up what would normally be a scary or overly dramatic moment with some kind of inappropriate antic by Shawn or a clever sight gag.
Episodes typically conclude with the traditional confrontation between the detectives and villains where Shawn reveals all of the clues that point to the guilty party. Of course this aspect of mystery shows isn’t safe either. Shawn usually does this in a spectacularly overwrought parody of psychics and sometimes has to backtrack spectacularly or change suspects in mid-unveiling when he realizes he’s about to get it wrong. This mental tap dancing is usually good for a laugh from the audience and an eye roll from a disgusted Lassiter while most of the characters look on in amazement.
The show also gleefully skewers common tropes from detective shows and usually walks a fine line between comedy and outright parody of the genre and other TV shows. This kind of high wire act is difficult to pull off, but thanks to good writing and cast, Psych pulls it off more often than not.
Verdict 4 Gavels out of 5 Amusing and lighthearted mystery-comedy hybrid. Charming cast and clever plots keep this one fresh in a crowded field of good mystery shows.