The title is self-explanatory, so no big intro today. Except to say that this isn’t supposed to be a list of hidden gems. I will cover all of the obvious things people love about Psych, as well as several personal, more subtle favorites. Let’s dive right in!
1. The unrivaled chemistry Shawn and Gus have.
To me, no two characters in TV history have the comedic and symbiotic relationship of Shawn and Gus. Not even Seinfeld and Costanza, who were quite dependent upon Kramer and Elaine to make Seinfeld what it was. Make no mistake, Shawn and Gus are the heart of the show and they have funniest, most heartwarming, most endearing synergy of any TV duo ever. In my opinion.
2. Shawn’s strained and subsequent redemptive relationship with his dad.
Psych explains in a realistic way why Shawn cannot stand his father at first. Henry clearly pushed him hard to follow in his footsteps. And Shawn misunderstands his dad’s role in his parents’ divorce. Yet slowly, but surely, and with a million laughs along the way, Shawn begins to understand. His dad isn’t perfect, but he made Shawn what he was. He actually created Psych, the agency. To even think about the question, “How many hats are in the room?” brings me chills and even a tear to my eye. Shawn did it his own way, because that’s who Shawn is. But he fulfilled his destiny as Henry Spencer’s kid. Both as a detective and a son.
3. The rivalry between Lassiter and Psych
No doubt Shawn was his main rival, but Lassie made it clear he didn’t care for Gus either, by association. Their bickering about “real police work” and Lassiter’s vanilla life and Joyce Hyser haircut is a huge part of Psych’s appeal. And as a Pysch fan, you live for moments like when Shawn and Gus find out that Hank calls Lassiter “Binky”.
4. The incessant ’80s references
No one like me missed the Psych duo saying “Ding, ding” to Carl Weathers. Or why Ralph Macchio was hired for numerous episodes. Along with other shows like Chuck and Scrubs, we are seeing 80s kids become producers in Hollywood. And the results are rad. I will confess even as an ’80s fanatic I could not keep up with Shawn’s arcane knowledge of the decade. So some references even I don’t get. (And this was hilariously parodied by Gus mocking him at one point….“I’m Shawn, I can make obscure 80s references nobody understands.”)
5. The hilarious running catchphrases
My favorites include Shawn starting any sentence with, “Gus, don’t be…” as well as Shawn’s “Wait for it…!” And especially Gus’s “You know that’s right”. (Few exchanges slayed me quite like Shawn and Gus deciding that Matthew McConaughey “doesn’t need a shirt” and Gus bringing it home with, “You know that’s right.”) Oh, and we shan’t forget Gus’s “Did you hear about Pluto? That’s messed up” pick-up line.
6. The versatility of the plots
Like horror? Watch “Tuesday the 17th”. Prefer romantic drama? There’s “Right Turn or Left For Dead”. Want mystery? They gave us “Lassie Did a Bad, Bad Thing”. Want to fall out of your chair laughing? Check out “High Top Fade Out”. Did you love Twin Peaks? I think you’ll love “Dual Spires”.
And this doesn’t even get to the time they redid the same episode, seasons apart. Or the adventure of treasure hunting. Or an authentic, heart-stopping shootout in the woods. Not to mention the “Clue” episode. Or the outrageousness of a T-Rex, a Mummy and Bigfoot being murder suspects. In different episodes of course.
7. The transcendent theme song
“I Know, You Know” was written by the show’s creator Steve Franks, specifically for Psych. The lyrics should make that obvious. And the upbeat music fits perfectly over highlights of the show. No matter how bad a day I am having, I can put a smile on my face in 45 seconds just from Youtubing the intro from any season.
Bonus points to the variety of ways they use the theme, including Spanish and Hindi versions, a Christmas version and Boys II Men singing it for two episodes.
8. The Yang Trilogy
I maintain that “Mr. Yin Presents…”—the second part (and hence the Empire Strikes Back and Godfather II entry)—is the best episode of any TV show I’ve ever seen. Every twist and turn and joke in these three episodes are immaculately executed. Exceptional TV in every way. Just the fact the immature and silly Shawn has to get serious to face his most evil foe of all makes these episodes special.
9. Gus’s full on embrace of geek and nerd cultures
Gus’s knowledge of past champions and competition words from the Scripps Spelling Bee makes me laugh. But nothing will ever top him in full Harry Potter attire while in England. It was truly Burton Guster’s Goblet of Fire.
10. The way Gus can flee a scene
Two of these moments made me literally ROTFL. The first time during the Scary Sherry episode when he is so terrified at one point he peels the tires in his car leaving. And then during “True Gits,” when he’s so overcome with awkwardness at knowing he and Shawn will defend a man Juliet put behind bars, that he peels the tires in his car leaving. Classic Gus.
11. The legendary recurring role of the inimitable Mary Lightly
I’ve covered my infatuation with Jimmi Simpson’s one-in-a-lifetime secondary character before, in this article. The most effusive compliments do not do the performance justice.
12. The Pantheon of Insults from Nigel Sant Nigel in American Duos
I’ve covered this already as well, in this article. Needless to say, Tim Curry hits it clear out of the park in his one-off role.
13. The presence of Juliet as a strong female lead
She starts off as junior detective and Shawn is clearly the centerpiece of the show, yet she takes a backseat to no one as the show goes on. She is not funny but serves a crucial role in most episodes merely for how important she is to Shawn and the Santa Barbara PD.
14. Two Words: Pierre Despereaux
Much like the Pontiac Bandit and Jake Peralta on Brooklyn 99, Shawn and Despereaux truly wind up more buddies than rivals. Carey Elwes is on my short list for favorite actor of all time and this role is a reason why. It’s not as famous as The Princess Bride, but the chops that gave us Westley’s charm and bravado is present in this role. As is his exquisite accent.
15. How inoffensive it is
It has adult situations for sure, and some language. But it lacks sex, shows little skin and avoids the worst profanities. I’d feel very comfortable showing it to a teenager.
16. The brief turn of Anthony Michael Hall as Harris Trout
If you watched The Breakfast Club and then immediately watched the Season 7 finale of Psych, you’d likely never guess that Brian and Trout are the same person. One thing they absolutely have in common is comedic personality and timing. Trout would be perfectly hatable if he wasn’t so LOL funny.
17. The continuous love-hate relationship with “The Mentalist”
The Mentalist, at least in some key ways, ripped of of Psych. Most of the time, Psych retaliated by poking fun at it. Yet it seems at least a couple of times they paid it a backhanded compliment, by implying that Henry (a great detective in his day) loved the show and revealing Mentalist spoilers as a part of Shawn’s web search history. As someone who adores both shows, I drink these self-aware moments in.
18. The Lovable Idiocy of Woody the Coroner
Kurt Fuller owns a formidable range of performances in his filmography, but his 33-episode turn on Psych is easily my favorite. He is proficient at his job, but he is so hilariously stupid at the same time. The way he riffs with Shawn adds plenty of spice to an already flavorful show.
19. The way Gus is more intelligent, but Shawn can still manipulate him.
How in the world Shawn got to not only drive Gus’s car, but once even got Gus to sit in the backseat of his own car, to allow a cat to sit in the front, is beyond me.
20. Lassie’s entire character arc
If you watch the first few episodes, and maybe even the whole first season, you’d think Carlton Lassiter is just a stiff loser. Not even a very imaginative antagonist to Shawn. Yet as the seasons go on, Lassie truly becomes a complex and lovable hero. His personality becomes more comedic and his failed marriage to Mallory from Family Ties and subsequent new relationship with movie Buffy the Vampire Slayer really tug at the heart strings. He’s such a fantastic character, he gets the subtitle of the second movie. Yet even though we love Lassie by the end of the series, we will agree with Gus that after seeing his internet search history that, “That man needs Jesus”.
21. The Pineapples
Such a random and ridiculous theme to connect every episode. Yet quite fun to look for.
22. Gus’s constant correction of Shawn’s lack of social intelligence
My favorite of these moments is in the Twin Peaks parody when the traumatized lady hears the phone ring and, so frazzled by the loss of her niece, she picks up an apple to “answer” it. And Shawn says, “If she’d picked up the banana that bit would’ve killed.” And Gus says, “It’s not a bit, Shawn”. I nearly always find Gus’s corrections of Shawn’s jokes funnier than Shawn’s jokes. Of course, I find Gus to be the best character on the show.
23. The development of Shawn and Juliet’s relationship
Admittedly this is not my favorite aspect of Psych, but Shawn as a boyfriend adds plenty of drama and humor.
24. The stunning cliffhanger endings
Some shows build up to cliffhanging endings, but Psych on a few occasions pulled the rug out from under you. As in “Deez Nups,” “Santabarbaratown” and “No Trout About It”. All gave us risky plot decisions, instead of playing it safe, just when the episode climax seemed safely resolved.
25. The awareness of, but not obsession with, Shawn and Gus being of different races
Shawn and Gus periodically acknowledge that one is white and the other is black, especially when Gus is around other black people. But it is always handled as positive, or with humor, or both (the funniest racial humor is when Lassie keeps calling Gus’s musical group different all-black musical group names from history, like The Temptations). It is not a major focus of any episode. I find their handling of it healthy, contrasting to these volatile days.
26. Gus’s Family
Both David Keith and Wiston Zeddemore are excellent as Gus’s dad. And no one could have been a better choice for his mother than Claire Huxtable. Even Gus’s sister is a welcomed addition to a couple of episodes.
27. Psych’s obsession with certain celebrities.
I’m thinking of Val Kilmer and Billy Zane particularly, but also of Gus getting called Bud from The Cosby Show. All three men appeared in the finale!
28. The tearjerking finale
The climax was way out of control, as typical for Psych. But before that it gave us Shawn’s letter to Gus and Lassiter breaking his DVD before getting to Shawn’s confession. I shed tears every viewing.
29. How it’s kept it going in its own unique, fresh way
They didn’t keep producing whole seasons and overstaying their welcome. Yet by giving us these movies via live-streaming, they’ve tapped into modern TV in a way that gives their Psycho fans longed-for new material.
Psych 2: Lassie Come Home debuts today on the Peacock Streaming Service. I am thrilled to see it!