Psych: Darth Vader and Diplomats

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When I learned in 2009 that Monk, one of my all-time favorite shows, was coming to a close, I suppose I started looking for something to fill the void (kind of like when Fluffy starts peeing outside the litter box and you desperately adopt a “backup kitten”). Taking up USA’s Psych was a natural next move.

Like Monk, Pysch is a tight procedural; the tone is comic, and the main character, Shawn Spencer (James Roday), is a quirky private eye with freakish powers of observation. But unlike Andrian Monk, whose tragic flaws were actually tragic, Shawn’s “quirk” is that he is annoying—not to the audience, of course (that’s Lassie’s job), but to the characters around him. For us at home, Shawn’s malapropisms, his disregard for authority, back-handed disses, flair for the dramatic, bad driving skills, and inability to silence his cell phone at crucial moments are all part of why we love him.

Pysch returned for its sixth season last night, largely where Season 5 left off. Shawn and Jules (Maggie Lawson) are still seeing each other, Gus (Dulé Hill) is still single and ready to mingle, and Lassiter (Timothy Omundson) is still show's the worst character: Even though Shawn has a perfect track record, Lassie continues to doubt his crime-solving instincts. I mean, psychic or not, Sean always gets the guy, so maybe—just once—believe him?

The season opener, “Shawn Rescues Darth Vader,” delivered on the comedic promise I’ve come to expect from Psych. Shawn and Gus assumed their roles as unlikely detectives—Shawn rented out his phony psychic powers to a disgruntled kid who happened to be the son of a diplomat, and Gus, ever the reluctant accomplice, tagged along. When Shawn broke into the home of Ambassador Fanshaw (played by Malcolm McDowell—freakin’ awesome!) to retrieve an action figure for his tween client, he discovered a dead woman under a bed and naturally, hilarity and mystery ensued.

The scenes between Shawn and Ambassador Fanshaw were some of the funniest moments in the episode (although Shawn trying to commandeer a Prius was also amazing), especially when Shawn grilled Fanshaw with questions about diplomatic immunity:

Shawn: Can I rob a bank?
Fanshaw: No.
Shawn: Can I print my own money?
Fanshaw: No.
Shawn: Can you introduce me to Harry Potter?
Fanshaw: Fictional character.
Shawn: Can I urinate on a public bus?
Fanshaw: Would you want to?
Shawn: Maybe. Depends on the bus company.

But perhaps the best gag came when Shawn left his Sprite Zero in Fanshaw’s bedroom. It was the kind of detail that drives a viewer nuts. When Shawn was hiding under the bed, I was thinking about that Sprite can the whole time, sitting on the bedside table, waiting for someone to notice it. Then, in what seemed like sloppy writing, the can was a non-issue—until Shawn picked it up later in the episode, in front of Fanshaw, and took a giant gulp.

The go-to coroner in Pysch’s Santa Barbara is Woody, played by the great character actor Kurt Fuller (who's probably most recognizable for his role in Wayne’s World). His scene with the dead body was downright Drebin-esque, as Woody speculated, then conceded that she probably didn’t hire someone to kill herself after all.

So, yes, a lot of the jokes killed. Shawn stole every scene, but let’s not forget what a terrific comedic character Gus is, too. And, as usual, the episode was full of fun references—to everything from James Bond to Phineas & Ferb’s grandad to House Hunters International. Seriously, how much did you love the nod to Mattel’s Classic Football 2 (“Suck it, hyphens!”)? But the killing itself? Not the show's strongest case.

There’s something irritating (I mean, not Lassie-irritating, but still) about a plot in which the detective fingers multiple suspects before settling on the final (right) one. It cheapens the mystery. Listen—Monk would never name the wrong guy. Part of the fun in watching a whodunit is trying to figure out who-dun-did-it, and in “Shawn Rescues Darth Vader," there was no logical way for viewers to figure out who the murderer was, aside from merely guessing (and let’s be honest, those clues came a little too easily to Shawn). I watched the episode twice, and there just wasn’t much there.

As always on crime shows with multiple writers, some of the mysteries will be better than others, but, as far as Pysch is concerned, the laughs need to be there every time. Last night’s opener augured well for a funny season. I just wish Ambassador Fanshaw were here to stay. McDowell’s performance was a welcome addition to the cast, even if his a-hole kid deserved to be booted back across the pond. And, yes, Felix is not a true replacement for Fluffy, but you still love him, right?

What did you think of the premiere? Will you be watching this season?

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