The Good: Funny, Acting, Moments of character
The Bad: Predictable/repetitive plots
The Basics: When Shawn Spencer exonerates himself from suspicion of a crime by pretending to be psychic, he and his friend Gus form a detective agency to aid the Santa Barbara police in the first season of Psych.
There are very few "concept shows" that I enjoy enough to actually stick with. "Concept Shows" are ones with a very simple, direct premise that is forced to milk that premise. It's a show with a gimmick, basically. Shows like Bones, House, M.D. and Monk all fall into this category. Mismatched genius and loose F.B.I. agent, Snarky Doctor, a detective with an obsessive compulsive disorder, they have a strong premise, but it is hard to truly go anywhere with them without creating a series that repeats itself or becomes quickly plot-oriented. Psych is one such show and I had seen a few episodes and enjoyed them. My wife, on the other hand, is a big fan of Psych and while we were working recently, she asked if we could put on Psych. So, I picked up the first season of the show, largely because I was a big fan of Dule Hill's role on The West Wing (reviewed here!) and I figured it had to be more consistently good than Homicide: Life On The Street (reviewed here!). And the first season surely was better than the serious cop show, but Psych is a gimmick show and even in the first season it begins to feel repetitive.
In its first season, Psych establishes the simple premise of the series and then milks it to the point where I became able to call much of the show, even though I am not a fan of the mystery/detective genre. Seldom do I watch or rewatch (or reread) detective shows or stories because once one knows "whodunit," there is little to the work. If the journey is especially interesting or unique, it could be worth watching a second time to enjoy the process. But with Psych, the process is predictable enough to start calling not only the plot points for the cases, but the jokes made by the two principle characters.
Shawn Spencer is a very observant young man, son of a prominent police detective. He was taught tough lessons from his father, Harry, and remains exceptionally observant. He sees tells in people and calls in tips to the police department to help them solve crimes. One day while trying to help the police, Shawn is accused of being an accomplice on the crime he is helping the police, notably Detective Carlton Lassiter, solve, Shawn declares that he received the knowledge of the case psychically. Fooling the local police, Shawn continues to impersonate a psychic in order to get into crime scenes and make money. While his father dislikes the idea, he is not unimpressed by Shawn's actual abilities and he does not rat him out.
Needing help, Shawn employs his childhood friend, Gus. Gus works for a pharmaceutical company and has a knowledge base that Shawn lacks. As well, Gus is able to communicate with people in ways that makes Shawn seem much more plausible as a psychic. Between the two of them, they solve crimes like a kidnapping of a billionaire, the ruining of a forthcoming superhero film and murders that tend to be more from happenstance than actual vengeance.
The show is mostly episodic, which is not something that wows me. In fact, in the first season of Psych, the most serialized elements happen with peripheral characters, not Shawn and Gus. So, for example, Carlton Lassiter loses his original partner and he is struggling with being separated from his wife. Despite having an antagonistic relationship with Shawn, Carlton actually confesses elements of his marital relationship to Shawn. In "From The Earth To Starbucks," Shawn arranges to have a case appear to be solved by Carlton while he feeds his entire case to him. Lassiter spends most of the first season getting over his losing streak on the force and in his personal life.
Psych in its first season is working most on establishing relationships. Gus and Shawn have a relationship, which is frequently detailed through flashbacks at the outset of the episodes which play into the current episode's themes. So, for example, in "Forget Me Not," Shawn takes on a case from a former police captain because he once believed Shawn when he was not lying on a field trip about who harmed an ostrich. He cares about Shawn and Shawn feels a sense of debt about their past.
The best episode of the season is "Who Ya Gonna Call?" In that episode, Dule Hill and James Roday come perfectly into their own as performers. They have amazing chemistry and they play off one another best. So, despite the fact that I guessed correctly how their case involving a man stalked by his ex would go, the episode is funny and the acting is extraordinary. Roday is funny and Hill is pretty extraordinary as the straightman.
In the first season of Psych, the primary characters are:
Shawn Spencer - A brilliant, but somewhat selfish young man who impersonates a psychic to make money and pass the time. He is exceptionally smart and is estranged from his father, especially considering he was not aware his father even moved back to Santa Barbara. In the course of the first season, he relies a lot on Gus and more and more on his father for his father's police contacts. He relies upon Gus to smooth over several of his conflicts and to understand people better,
Gus - Smoother with the ladies than Shawn, he works for a pharmaceutical company while taking assisting Shawn. He uses more traditional investigative methods than Shawn and has some old issues with Shawn that come out as the season goes on,
Carlton Lassiter - Nicknamed "Lassie" by Shawn, he is a generally ineffective police detective. He does, however, have the fundamentals to be a decent detective and he tends to have information Shawn needs in order to solve his cases,
Juliet - Lassiter's new partner, she is younger and has a flirtatious relationship with both Carlton and Shawn,
Karen Vick - The interim head of the the Police Department. She sees use in Shawn's "powers" in order to solve cases and continues to authorize his presence in police investigations,
and Henry Spencer - Shawn's father, a retired cop. He is rougher around the edges than Gus or Shawn and he helps the detectives after the Psych Agency is opened up. He takes in a dog from Shawn and cleans his house, getting rid of many of Shawn's old stuff.
But at the end, the first season of Psych is an interesting formula, but a formulaic show nonetheless. The humor is mostly verbal and in the first season where it excels is in the acting. The characters are interesting enough to want to see what comes next, but the way the first season goes, the plot-based nature of the plot does not give me much hope that it would be either better or truly advance the characters much.
For other shows with quirky characters or detective stories, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Big Bang Theory - Season Three
For other television reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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