March 27, 2014

THE SKED Series Finale Review: “Psych”


It was a somewhat underpopulated 8th and final season for PSYCH.  Maggie Lawson, the show’s female lead Juliet O’Hara, was off shooting Back In the Game most of the time, and Kirsten Nelson’s Chief Vick of the Santa Barbara Police had been relieved of her duties at the end of Season 7, so both made just token appearances this year, and there just wasn’t very much of Corbin Bernsen as the hero’s grumpy father Henry.  Even recurring villain Mr. Yang (Ally Sheedy) didn’t survive the musical episode that bridged Seasons 7 and 8.  That boiled things down, for the most part, to pseudo-psychic police consultant Shawn Spencer (James Roday), his lifelong friend and more than trusty sidekick Gusjay Gupta–sorry, Burton Guster (Dule Hill), and their faithful Lassie, now Chief Carlton Lassiter (Timothy Omundson) and more pal than foe, along with the unofficial series regular, town coroner and wacko Woody Strode (Kurt Fuller).  It all lent to the feeling that Psych had already been over for a couple of seasons, but no one had ever told the diehard core cast and crew, which kept spitting out episodes.

Psych premiered in 2006, and by its end, it felt like an artifact of an earlier era of cable TV original, a big hit that wasn’t in any way a zeitgeist show or interested in probing the possible darkness of its characters, with no ambition beyond being a clever procedural.  Even if it ran its thin premise into the ground before it was done, it was a tribute to series creator Steve Franks (and both of the show’s stars, particularly Roday, who not only served as a producer but was an extremely active writer and director on the series in his own right) that they managed to find more than 120 hours of material in Shawn’s Peter Pan antics and unquenchable font of 1980s pop culture references and running gags.

The final season tried to keep things lively with a variety of conceptual gimmicks:  a Guy Ritchie parody, a remake of an episode from Season 1, an hour that featured the cast in double roles (the others being in flashbacks to the 1960s), a Nightmare On Elm Street-inspired episode, another based on a premise that had been voted on by viewers.  Other seasons had already more or less resolved Shawn’s relationships with his father and with Lassiter, and because Lawson was rarely around, Psych couldn’t advance the Shawn and Juliet story very much, so Lassiter was prominently featured, with his promotion and a baby in addition to the wife he’d acquired previously.  (Mira Sorvino was brought in for the last few episodes as a new detective just to fill in some of the gap.)   The show, by its nature, was never going to venture too deeply or change too much, so it was mostly amiable but tired.

The finale, written and directed by Franks, spent its first 40 minutes telling a mystery that was routine even by Psych‘s undemanding standards, with Billy Zane (yet another B-movie shout-out) as a businessman who’d killed his partner, a tale meant to parallel Shawn’s inability to tell Gus that he’d decided to move to San Francisco to be with Juliet.  That farewell, and the rest of Shawn’s exit from Santa Barbara, took up the remainder of the episode.  There were a few good bits (the previously unseen Dobson was revealed to be played by Val Kilmer, a crowning touch to Psych‘s 1980s fixation), and one that was almost inspired:  a USA Network-centric nod to Monk that would have been perfect if Tony Shalhoub had only contributed a cameo.  In the end, fittingly for a show that mostly ran in place, Gus followed Shawn to San Francisco, and their adventures were going to continue, even as Shawn finally, genuinely (if a little less brilliantly than one might have hoped), proposed to Juliet.

There was nothing particularly exciting about Psych, but any show that lasts 8 years on the air deserves some credit.  At its best, the series zinged along on witty allusions, madcap wordplay and a true screwball comedy spirit, buoyant with the chemistry between Roday and Hill and with their game supporting players.  Its exit doesn’t leave shoes impossible to fill, but skillful light entertainment is harder to pull off than it looks, and USA’s own psychic sense has been rather dull lately.  The network may find itself missing Shawn and Gus soon enough.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."