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Psych: The Genius of Detective Comedy Shows

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USA Network debuted the show Psych about a self-proclaimed psychic, Shawn Spencer, played by James “Roday” Rodriguez, and his best friend, pharmaceutical sales representative Burton “Gus” Guster, played by Dulé Hill, in 2006. Shawn, however, is more like Sherlock Holmes than a psychic in that he is keenly observant to his surroundings, thanks to his detective dad drilling him on how a detective sees the world. For eight seasons, the duo fumbled through murder investigations around Santa Barbara, Canada, and England. In 2017, three years after the series finale, Psych: The Movie was released, with Shawn and Gus solving a kidnapping in San Francisco. Two sequels to the film were released in 2020 and 2021 on the streaming platform Peacock.

The beauty of Psych is that it doesn’t feel like a detective show. Essentially, the detective comedy pokes fun at several critical elements of crime shows through characters like Detective Carlton Lassiter, played by Timothy Omundson, who is the only detective in Santa Barbara that is skeptical of Shawn’s “abilities”. Secondly, the show focuses on two best friends living out their childhood dream rather than going through the police academy and legitimately solving crimes. Another aspect of Psych

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that makes it comedy gold is that with all the references to the 80s cult classics, they were able to land cameo appearances from practically every member of the cast of The Breakfast Club and several appearances from Cary Elwes from Princess Bride, making the show a true homage to the glorified era. Finally, Psych fans were treated to three films, answering the question: What really happened after Santa Barbara?

According to TV Tropes, a buddy cop show follows partners as they investigate crimes with the primary aspect of the show being the interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships of the officers. Of course, Shawn and Gus are not law enforcement, despite an attempt in the police academy. Rather, they are consultants running an agency called Psych. Practically every case they solve begins with Shawn persuading the Chief to hire Psych. Upon being hired, Shawn and Gus sloppily attempt to solve the murder, falsely accusing people of murder on a sliver of evidence. Even still, Shawn and Gus do find the murderer by the skin of their teeth.

The consensus in many TV shows is that psychics are unreliable, but especially so in detective shows. In the pilot episode, Henry Spencer, Shawn’s father who’s a retired detective, played by Corbin Bernsen, even tells Shawn that the people cops hate the most are psychics. Ultimately, this is what makes Psych’s satire work so well: everyone at the precinct, including the Chief, are utterly amazed at Shawn’s “psychic” abilities — well, every police officer and detective but Head Detective Carlton Lassiter. From the beginning, he is skeptical of Shawn’s “predictions”, often objecting to the involvement of Psych, and yet more often than not, Shawn solves the murder before Detective Lassiter, making Psych a vital part of criminal investigations in Santa Barbara.

Related: The Best TV Cop Shows and Police Procedurals in America, Ranked

Many of Psych’s episodes open with a flashback to Shawn’s childhood. These flashbacks, unlike cold opens in sitcoms, are purposeful in the development of the episode. There’s one flashback of their grade school talent show where Gus wears the wrong costume, but the boys go on to perform anyway (Season 2, Episode 1). The rest of the episode pertains to preventing the attempted murder of Nigel St. Nigel, a judge on the singing competition show American Duos, played by the horrifyingly talented Tim Curry. While competing in a talent show was a fulfillment of a failed childhood performance, the real dream fulfillment came in the form of the detective consultation.

When Shawn initially tells Gus they’re opening an agency called Psych, Gus reluctantly agrees to help Shawn solve the murder, a recurring theme throughout the series. In this clip on Psych’s official YouTube page, Shawn has a dream about how his presence affects others’ lives, in particular Gus’s life. When he wakes up, he makes everything right with everyone and tells Gus how much he is appreciated. Gus then tells Shawn that he’d probably be married to a woman who uses him if Shawn weren’t in his life, confirming Shawn’s dream. Despite Gus’ initial reluctance to assist Shawn, the show centering on two best friends having fun while solving murder makes it all the more enjoyable. The utter brilliance of Psych is that the show is an examination of two best friends fulfilling their dreams while parading themselves around Santa Barbara as serious police consultants.

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