Thursday, November 3, 2011

Growing On Me With Character Growth, Psych Season Three Is The Best Yet!

The Good: Actual character development, Decent writing, Generally-good plots, Great DVD bonus features!
The Bad: Short season, Repetitive plots
The Basics: The sixteen episode third season of Psych is funny and has some actual character development that makes it a much stronger buy than the two prior seasons.

The last few weeks, my wife and I have been doing a lot of computer work. That has led us to have Psych on quite a bit. We get the seasons out from the library and I do editing while she plays her video slots and that has been working for us. I had seen a few random episodes of Psych before I saw Season 1 (reviewed here!) and Season 2 (reviewed here!) and while I was enjoying it, it was not the stellar show my wife made it out to be. That changed with the third season of Psych.

In the third season of Psych, the characters are given the opportunity to genuinely grow and develop and that makes it a worthwhile season to buy. While some of that character growth seems oddly contrived, the effort goes an astonishingly long way. But for the moments of character that the show illustrates in Season Three, it is still a gimmick show. For those unfamiliar with the gimmick, Psych focuses on Shawn Spencer, a very smart private detective who helps the Santa Barbara police department in solving crimes by pretending to be psychic. With his best friend, Gus, he earns money and the respect of his father.

Opening with the return of Shawn's mother, Season Three of Psych follows Shawn and Gus on cases that frequently put them in danger. While Shawn wrestles with the return of his mother, Gus finds himself fighting to keep his pharmaceutical job. As Gus fights to keep his job, Shawn helps Gus foil a ghost case when Gus's boss is haunted. The cases take the pair to their own high school union, a daredevil show, and on the hunt for pirate treasure. When one of Henry's cases is reopened, Shawn must solve the case and when Chief Vick's sister brings in a case involving a murder on an oil rig.

Family is also involved when Gus's parents return and Shawn and Gus's sister reignite a romance they have around Christmas. The guys take to the open sea to solve the murder of a sea lion and Gus is trapped in the bank in a hostage situation. Shawn and Gus return to a summer camp they once loved to solve a murder mystery a la Friday The Thirteenth and a serial killer from the past comes back to terrorize Santa Barbara with only Shawn to stop him!

The third season of Psych has a greater sense of serialization than the prior two seasons. So, for example, the second episode features the high school reunion and the season finale revisits Shawn's love interest from that episode. As well, it calls back to the treasure hunting episode.

The problem with the serialization in the third season of Psych is that it robs the two big emotional moments of the season of their impact. Without ruining either, the revelation that Henry was left by his wife, not the other way around, is no surprise for those who have been watching the show. Henry has always seemed like he is trying to hold the family together and when he said in the second season "Your mom is not coming back" to Shawn, the fact that Shawn didn't say anything in response, indicates that she left him. So, when she admits that to Shawn in Season Three, it is not actually a surprise.

The second big character moment actually comes for Lassiter and it's similarly predictable.

Even so, the effort is appreciated and it generally pays off. The character development, like the movement on Shawn and Juliet toward one another, gives the actors something real to challenge themselves with. The final two episodes of the season, for example, are much darker and legitimately frightening than anything else the show had produced before that. James Roday plays the serious elements extraordinarily well. He has done zany well up until this point, but as the season winds down, he comes into his own with a serious disposition that sells the viewer on his character's brilliance. In the final scenes of the season, he gives a performance that is actually heartbreaking. Shawn's only superpower seems to be an exceptional sense of sight, which allows him to observe details most people cannot perceive as quickly and Roday continues to play that with a straight face.

In the third season, the cast remains stable with Dule Hill proving once again to be the best actor on the cast. I write that because the blooper reels on the DVDs are mostly bloopers involving Dule Hill messing up his lines. But, in the finished product, Hill is as focused and well-presented as he was when he was on The West Wing (reviewed here!).

Instead of going through the usual character arcs for the season, it bears repeating that despite the progress in the third season of Psych, it is still, largely, a formulaic, repetitive episodic television series. This is by no means all bad, but the mystery aspect becomes an occasionally tedious vehicle for humor or character interactions. While the viewer might desperately hope for some of the key character moments, they do not come quick enough because the show is more preoccupied with solving the case of the week.

And in its third season, Psych becomes problematic in that the caliber of the guest stars begins to telegraph the cases. To be more clear, in the third season of Psych there are more reasonable suspects who pop up played by recognizable character actors. This becomes distracting when watching in some cases because the red herrings become more annoying because the big guest star is always the one who is guilty. This season continues the trend of great guest stars for the show, like Jane Lynch, Keith David and Phylicia Rashad.

Ultimately, Psych Season Three has the show truly reaching its stride and on DVD, it includes so many bonus scenes, bloopers and commentary tracks to make it worth buying.

For other third seasons of note, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season Three
Boston Legal - The Complete Third Season
Gilmore Girls - 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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