“Psych” Is a fun, lightweight series about a sarcastic, though occasionally brilliant underachiever / slacker, pretending to be a psychic detective. Shawn Spencer and his lifelong best friend Burton Guster (Gus) impose themselves into investigations being conducted by the Santa Barbara Police, and more specifically those conducted by the dashing, by-the-book SBPD Detective Carlton Lassiter (Lassie) and his partner and Spencer’s unrequited love interest, Detective Juliet O’Hara. (Jules). Adding to the tension is Spencer’s father Henry, a retired, highly respected and decorated, SBPD officer.
Flashbacks of Shawn and Gus as young boys are often interlaced with the plot that typically show Henry as being a tough, yet dutiful and concerned single parent, pushing young Shawn to use his eyes and his mind to see things that are not obvious to everyone else. These honed skills of observation are the source of the mistaken impression by all but Henry and Gus that Shawn is able to actually sense things psychically.
Shawn slouches through life completely devoid of ambition and seriousness, an anathema to Lassiter and Henry’s dutiful senses of social and personal responsibility and work ethic.
The plots are seldom complex. The emphasis of the show is the humor, the characters, the interpersonal tensions, not the crime itself. Typically the only thing standing in the way of the police department solving the rather two-dimensional crimes themselves is some tiny piece of evidence that can only be discerned by Shawn’s trained eye for detail, ala Sherlock Holmes.
James Roday’s comedic fingerprints cover each show from beginning to end. Most episodes are simply vehicles for his always-moving funny train. Gus’s (Dule Hill) only apparent contribution to the Psychic Detective Agency and to the show itself seems to be his ability to be Shawn’s friend, hapless foil and straight man.
Detective Lassiter (Timothy Omundson) is a stiff, humorless caricature of a straight-laced cop. The character disappointingly appears to be someone merely doing a bad impression of a straight-laced cop rather than an actual cop. Jules (Maggie Lawson) is unfortunately often portrayed as an almost-clueless and helpless damsel in distress rather than the junior, yet competent officer her back story describes.
Henry (Corbin Bernsen) Does a very good, very believable job as Shawn’s father, except in flashbacks where attempts to make him look twenty years younger merely highlight how much older he is than the dashing young “LA Law”-yer we remember him as being twenty years ago.
All these criticisms are not to say that the show is not enjoyable. Roday’s humor is fresh and contagious, his occasional flashes of brilliance almost believable, but this is certainly nothing like a serious, procedural, police drama. It’s a lightweight, fun show. It does not take itself seriously at all, which is its saving grace. Like the similar series “Monk”, it is a light comedy character study that just happens to take place around crimes and cops.
If “Law and Order” is a Steak and potatoes entrée, “Psych” is a light, airy appetizer. It certainly won’t fill you up, but neither will it weigh you down.