For a show premised on the comedy of consistent lying, Psych was remarkable for how consistently true it was to itself. It was a show that was unabashedly episodic and resolutely wedded to its shtick, even as so many of its contemporary television programs began trending towards serial story lines and season-to-season evolutions in themes and tonality. Psych rarely adventured beyond what it knew to be hilarious—a fake psychic detective named Shawn solving crimes with his best friend Gus—and I loved every bit of it, even as the necessity of adventure eventually ended it.
In sticking to its formula, the show shunned many pillars of story telling that are particularly vital to television these days. Character development was tepid across the board; romantic pairings were as inconsequential as they were inevitable; dramatic gravity rarely lasted more than three commercial breaks; dialogue was charming in part because it lacked focus; and moralizing lessons at the end of an episode never carried over to the beginning of the next (assuming the characters even acknowledged such lessons in the first place). Put more broadly, the show was “a gooey chocolate chip cookie” that Shawn once warned Gus not to be, lacking both structure and defining tension in its overarching narrative.
But however gooey it was, it was still so delicious. Because what Psych did know how to do—on a genius level, at that—was how to make its weekly mystery massively entertaining. As much as I love the current crop of detective shows such as Castle, The Blacklist, and Elementary, none have more than a half dozen episodes that are truly fantastic viewing experiences. With Psych, though, there was the hangover case, the daredevil case, the bounty hunter case, the horse racing case, the football case, the baseball case, the comic book case, the other comic book case, the shark episode, that time they souped up Gus’s car, the time they souped up Henry’s truck, Shabby T-H-E-S-E-A-L-I-O-N, Mexico, Vancouver, London, Vancouver again, a hippy colony, a police academy, an Old West tourist trap, something about a cinnamon festival, an oil rig, a Bollywood production, a telenovela set, a fashion show, a high-school reunion, a night at the museum, multiple haunted locales, two stints on reality TV, and one Tyrannosaurus rex.
There are others.
Psych may not have changed episode to episode, but that’s because it only concerned itself with following the fun, which usually turned out to be simple variations on ridiculousness. And because it followed the fun, it made it the perfect companion for evenings with friends for many years; sometimes it was the main agenda of a weeknight marathon, but other times it was simply background for parties and board game sessions. We memorized lines and quoted it incessantly. We introduced new friends to it, reminded old friends about it, and could never escape its presence when eating a pineapple.
But for a show that was remarkable for how consistently true it was to itself, Psych was still premised around a consistent, beguiling lie. Not Shawn’s lie about being a psychic, but rather his belief that things can simply stay the same, that the shtick would never end, that the gooey chocolate chip cookie is just fine as it is. Some friends have said that the show changed too much in later seasons, but I think it’s far more likely that we simply changed too much for it. We’ve made new friendships, deepened many more, started families, found new jobs, moved into new places, and initiated new projects. There are other things to watch, to play, to read, and to utterly obsess about. The fun is once again elsewhere, wanting us to follow.
I love Psych. I love Psych, and probably always will. But its time—and the time it was partnered with—have passed, and that change is something I love even more.