Psych: You Can’t Handle This Episode

An official adieu to the nigh-unwatchable Heroes and a big welcome to Psych, which I will now be viewing in its stead.

Quick background, for the uninitiated: Psych, which airs Wednesday nights on the USA Network, concerns the exploits of Shawn Spencer (James Roday), an exasperatingly clever and hyper-observant slacker who, with the sometimes-begrudging aid of his pharmaceutical-salesman best friend Gus (Dule Hill), solves cases for the Santa Barbara Police Department by pretending to have mysterious psychic abilities. Hijinks invariably ensue.

Recapping Psych, as I’ve discovered before, is a tricky business, as the plots are typically gossamer-thin and fairly nonsensical. No one watches Psych for the plots. People watch it for the snappy dialogue and the relentless gags, for the bouncy, buoyant, breezy pacing, for the easy chemistry between the leads, for the awesome guest stars, for the quips and the nonstop pop culture references. Thus, I’m going to just provide a sense of the episode’s high points in lieu of a detailed summary.

The episode kicks off with the discovery of a half-naked man found hanging in a hotel room. Gus and Shawn arrive at the crime scene to help Detectives Carlton Lassiter (Timothy Omundson) and Juliet O’Hara (Maggie Lawson) with the investigation. Shawn immediately deduces it was murder, not suicide. He finds a set of Army dog tags jammed down the victim’s throat.

As the case now involves the military, Juliet enlists the help of her distinguished Army officer brother Ewan (pro wrestler John Cena), first glimpsed running through a dockyard while two random armed guys chase after him. A pretty great chase scene ensues. I get quickly bored by car chases, but foot pursuits can be a whale of a good time, especially when, as in this instance, people vault over boats and scale fences and execute all kinds of impressive physical maneuvers; I don’t know much about Cena, but he’s mighty spry for a such a big, strapping fellow. Adding an extra degree of difficulty/whimsy to the chase: Ewan carries on a phone conversation with Juliet about the facts of the case the entire time. Ewan scurries down to the shoreline (the production team tries their damnedest to make Vancouver, where Psych is filmed, look like coastal California, but honestly, guys, you’re fighting a losing battle) and makes a show-offy escape on a convenient jet ski.

Well played, everyone. That was an appropriately snazzy character introduction.

After he’s done talking to Juliet, Ewan fields a call from a mystery man who refers to him as “Alpha Four” and alludes to top-secret missions. Ewan’s mystery employer, by the way, appears sporadically throughout the episode, but we only get fleeting, shadowy, obscured glimpses of him. Like John Forsythe in Charlie’s Angels! Presumably his identity will be revealed in a dramatic fashion in a later episode. Or it’ll remain a delightfully unexplored plot thread. Either is fine.

Ewan shows up at the police station to help his little sister out on her case and manages to charm the pants off of everyone, apart from a sulky/jealous/skeptical Shawn. The dead man was a Private Starks, the police have discovered, and he was killed by a neck fracture unrelated to the hanging. Thus, the murder investigation begins in earnest. Ewan manages to smuggle the whole gang -- Shawn, Gus, Lassiter, Juliet -- onto the local Army base, where they meet with tough-as-nails Major General Felts, who is played, awesomely, by Robert Patrick. The Psych publicity machine has been steadily hyping the appearance of this John Cena fellow for the past few weeks, and while Cena is cute and charismatic and does a thoroughly respectable job here, I’m much more impressed by the presence of the T-1000.

Anyway, the usual half-baked plot unfolds. After Ewan, under orders from his mystery superior, secretly shreds part of Private Starks’s confidential file, Shawn becomes suspicious that he’s involved in the murder. Shawn and Gus sneak onto the military base about eighty different times over the course of the episode, where they manage to squeeze in some, like, investigating in between playing with anti-tank weaponry and annoying General Felts. Shawn eventually unmasks the murderer: a Lieutenant Wallach, who killed Starks for stumbling into an illegal weapons-selling scheme. During a shootout with Wallach and his accomplices, Ewan saves both Shawn and Gus, but Wallach escapes. Shawn puts it together that his original hunch was right: Ewan is, in fact, somehow involved with this. He and Gus sneak back onto the base (…again), and, with Juliet’s help, arrest Ewan who, acting on the orders of his mystery employer, is just about to kill Wallach.

When Juliet and Lassiter check on Ewan’s transfer from the police station to jail, they find that he’s disappeared and that all record of his arrest has been erased.

In a side development, Shawn’s girlfriend Abigail reveals to Shawn that she’s leaving immediately to help build a school in Uganda, thus effectively ending their relationship. This is probably for the best: I liked Rachael Leigh Cook just fine as Abigail, but Shawn and Abigail’s over-serious, slightly tedious romance was sort of harshing the buzz of this fun, flighty, freewheeling series. They part at the airport, after making a strange point of noting that Abigail will be back to visit on February 24th. February 24th falls on a Wednesday this year. Psych airs on Wednesdays. Probably not a coincidence.

A thoroughly okay sort of episode, if not a standout. The lack of the always-great Corbin Bernsen (who plays Shawn’s grumpy ex-cop father, Henry), apart from the de rigueur childhood flashback kicking off the episode, is a bit disappointing. Still, after the long winter hiatus, it’s nice to have the boys back.

Pineapple spotting: Nope. For Psych novices, there’s a pineapple hidden somewhere in each episode. Find it and enter to win a fabulous weekly prize at the Psych USA website. I didn’t spot it this time. In fact, unless someone walks through the front of the scene brandishing a pineapple out in the open or makes an overt pineapple-based reference, I can pretty much guarantee I’m not going to spot the damn thing. Part of it is my tiny twelve-inch television screen. Part of it is my lack of keen Shawnlike observational skills,

Gus’s fake name: “Ghee Buttersnaps”

Awesome jab at The Mentalist: The CBS series The Mentalist, of course, has pretty much ripped off the premise of Psych wholesale, and Psych takes every opportunity to make sure no one forgets this. In this episode, Shawn tries to sell General Felts on the idea of him joining the Army as their official psychic. Says Shawn, “I’m giving you the first shot at the material before I pitch it to CBS as a television show idea.”

Lassiter-based awesomeness: Juliet is glum about her brother’s arrest. Lassiter provides some half-assed sympathy: “Personally, I have family members who I’d love to see go to prison.”

Awesome Eighties references:
--After Major General Felts storms out of the room, furious with Shawn and Gus for sneaking onto the base, Gus worries that he’s going to come after them with a bar of soap wrapped in a towel, a la Full Metal Jacket. Shawn reassures him, “There’s no way we’re getting D’Onofrioed.”

--Shawn: “Felts turned out to be the good guy in all this. If I hadn’t seen The Great Santini so many times, I probably would have seen that sooner.” (Okay, technically The Great Santini came out in 1979. Close enough.)

--After a belligerent drill sergeant forces Gus to do pushups, Gus shouts, “I got nowhere else to go!” a la Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman. Later, Gus explains to Shawn and Ewan that he always felt Lou Gossett Jr.’s character in that movie was like his pretend father. Ewan replies, “I felt the same way after Enemy Mine.


Dan said…
I have never seen an episode of Psych. This may have to change, because this sounds cool indeed.

And the show usually has Corbin Bernsen you say? Why, that's about 40 bonus nostalgia points right there.
Ingrid Richter said…
I'll back Morgan up on this one, Dan - the show is delightful.

Loved your bullet-points at the end of the article, Morgan!
Morgan Richter said…
I follow Corbin Bernsen's Twitter, because Corbin Bernsen is awesome. He has under 900 followers, which is perfectly respectable but seemed low to me (I mean, my friend's dog has 2500 followers). And then I remembered that, sadly, it's no longer 1986.

For some, Twitter is about following the Britney Spears and the Ashton Kutchers. Not me. I want to know what Corbin Bernsen and Lou Diamond Phillips and Levar Burton are up to on any given day. That's the real power of Twitter.

Anyway, Dan, I think Psych would be right up your alley, and the nostalgia factor is through the roof. If this phrase doesn't get you to watch, nothing will: "upcoming guest star Judd Nelson".
Dan said…
Yes, the lure of Judd is powerful indeed.

So, if I jumped in is there any significant backstory I need to know? Or is it all easily pick-up-able?
Morgan Richter said…
Your mind need not be cluttered with any backstory, Dan. Like I said in the review, "plot" is not really high on the list of priorities for the show. As long as you know that Shawn is a total fraud as a psychic -- he's just damn smart -- you're good to go.
Morgan Richter said…
(By the way, I love that today's most popular search term used to find this site is "ghee buttersnaps." It narrowly edged out "where's the pineapple".)
Lou said…
Ghee Buttersnaps. Ah I love this show so...
Morgan Richter said…
Welcome back, Lou!

Ghee Buttersnaps. Yes. Shawn did not give Gus a preposterous fake name in last week's episode. This was a terrible oversight, which I hope will be rectified in tomorrow's ep.

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