A ’90s alt-rock song, a ukulele, a horse, and Prince all loosely factor into the plot of Psych: The Movie, a reunion movie that premiered last Thursday on USA. It’s a bit silly, but silly can be mighty fine sometimes, especially in 2017. During its eight-season run on USA between 2006 and 2014, Psych combined ebullient charm, a warm approach to pop culture nostalgia, and a frequent embrace of the silly as Shawn (James Roday) and Gus (Dule Hill) eked their way through solving an alarming number of Santa Barbara murders using Shawn’s fake psychic detective shtick as an in. Psych wasn’t really a ratings juggernaut or a Peak TV critical darling. Alan Sepinwall probably isn’t writing a book about this one, but that’s okay. Not every show gets to live that life.
Psych found its niche thanks to a dedicated (and social media-savvy) fanbase. It probably made its return last Thursday because of those fans. If the creative team is able to continue making Psych movies every so often (as they’ve said they would like to), then it will also be because of those passionate fans. That’s all the more impressive because the show isn’t even available on streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Hulu right now, and hasn’t been for awhile. “I don’t know how they’re watching us, but somehow they are,” Roday said, referencing DVDs and ION reruns as a possibility when Uproxx spoke with him and other members of the Psych cast and crew in the fall at New York Comic Con.
With so much TV in front of us, it can be easy to lose sight of old favorites like Psych. That’s especially true if they’re not easily available when fans are in the mood for something light before bed or when want to share a laugh with their families during a rainy Sunday binge. Out of sight, out of “favorites,” out of mind. Hopefully, that will change, because we need what Psych can provide right now, be it via reruns or future movies.
The rise of streaming — both as a means of delivering content and stoking affection through a rewatch — has radically changed the way we watch TV since Psych debuted in 2006. Coinciding with this is a growing expectation that comedies (and other shows) need to say something.
There’s a long history of issues-oriented sitcoms going back to All In The Family and stretching through Maude, Murphy Brown and, more recently, The Carmichael Show and Black-ish. Late-night hosts often stand as our clear-voiced conscience, while quirky workplace comedies earn praise for dealing with political issues with a light touch, and other shows deal with zeitgeist-y topics like bigotry and gun violence. This isn’t the ramp up to a “stick to the jokes” diatribe. None of this is bad. Quite the contrary. Comics can be incisive cultural and political critics. Sitcoms have the ability to, if nothing else, make people laugh and process the world around them at the same time. But it’s still nice (and not at all derelict in our duties as conscientious citizens) to crave options sometimes. It’s also welcome to feel like we have the ability to resist the urge to soothe ourselves by laughing at someone who mocks our tormentors (which still gives them real estate in our heads), choosing instead to step all the way away and unplug.
There are, of course, plenty of comedies like The Good Place that sidestep the heavier impulses that others embrace (and it’s not like shows that get into real issues exclusively reside in that space). The same is true of other sorts of series. But the Psych movie, airing in the midst of another chaotic week of cultural warfare, angst, and abundant outrage, reminded me of the show’s specialness and helped me disconnect from reality in a way I haven’t been able to recently. It’s not just that aforementioned flare for nostalgia, silliness, and charm that makes Psych able to do that. It’s grounded by heartfelt creative impulses.
“People can relate to having a best friend or a brother… someone you’re close too. Someone you go through crazy wacky experiences with,” Dule Hill said to us recently, echoing his co-star, Corbin Bernsen when we interviewed him at New York Comic Con: “This is a very defined set of characters that everybody kind of says, ‘Oh that was like my dad. My brother was just like him. I know a guy just like Gus.’ I think people recognize the characters.” All people, regardless of their politics.
“It’s an all-inclusive show,” says Psych creator Steve Franks. “It’s not a red-state show or a blue-state show. It’s a show for everyone. I think there’s something great and unifying about that. At the end of the day, it should make you feel good.” There’s a great point here. TV, and especially TV comedy, can and sometimes should make you feel good. More issue-y shows are fine and valuable (even vital), but life can’t just be a shuffle between watching the news, reading the news, and watching funny people find ways to repackage and present the news. There has to be a little time for horses and ukuleles.