A funny thing has been happening lately. I’ll be hunkering down to watch a few episodes of some dark new show about some guy who does bad things in the past and/or future and I’ll get an episode and a half into it and suddenly I’m just watching episodes of Psych again. I’m not always sure how it happened, either. But at some point I must have closed whatever window I had open and switched over to Amazon Prime, which has all eight seasons of the USA show available for streaming. It’s not great for, like, my job performance, but I’ve been enjoying the heck out of it. I don’t know. I’m okay with it.
My colleague Alan Sepinwall wrote about this earlier in the week, how rewatching old shows can cut into your time to keep up on new ones but is good for the soul. This is especially true of what I call “comfort food TV.” The label covers a lot, from smart comedies like Parks and Recreation or 30 Rock to dramas like ER or The West Wing to fun procedurals like Burn Notice or, again, Psych. There’s just so much heavy stuff out there in the world right now and so much heavy stuff on television that sometimes you need a break. That’s what this is about. Give yourself a break. Watch Psych.
1. Psych went something like this: Shawn Spencer (James Roday) was an unfocused slacker who had been trained by his police detective father to notice clues and observe his surroundings, almost at a superhuman/X-Men level. Instead of becoming a detective, though, he just used his skills to call in crimes between long stretches of goofing off, which makes the police suspicious as to how he knows all of this, which leads to Shawn pretending his information came from psychic powers, as one does. He opens a psychic detective agency with his more anxious and mature childhood best friend Burton “Gus” Guster (Dulé Hill) and they start serving as police consultants, usually teaming up with no-nonsense detective Carlton Lassiter (Timothy Omundson) and Juliet “Jules” O’Hara (Maggie Lawson), the latter of whom becomes Shawn’s love interest. It’s a whole thing.
2. If that all sounds kind of silly, there’s an explanation for that: It was very silly. But, like, in a good way. The show was light and fun (most of the time) and loaded with pop culture references. It came from the era of USA’s Blue Skies programming, when characters were welcome and problems were solved in the same 42-minute episode they were introduced. Looking for a break from dark and dreary dramas about conflicted antiheroes? Psych. Looking for a rewatch to pop on at the end of a stressful day? Also Psych. The show was a very good version of what it was trying to be and probably better than it needed to be, which is all I really need and want out of a show sometimes.
3. If this all also sounds a lot like the plot of the CBS drama The Mentalist, there’s a good reason for that, too: It is a lot like the CBS drama The Mentalist. The thing is, though, Psych came first. The show pointed this out a number of times, sometimes in winking references that came so close to breaking the fourth wall that they were already holding a sledgehammer.
4. The key to the show was the relationship between Shawn and Gus. Roday and Hill have great chemistry together, bouncing off each other as they talk to suspects, and playing it kind of like a younger, less deeply-troubled version of Riggs and Murtaugh from Lethal Weapon. They always appeared to be having a total blast and that infectious, bouncy energy spread around through the whole show.