The Case of Psych!

When the Santa Barbara Police Department has trouble solving their strangest mysteries, they call in Shawn Spencer and Burton (Gus) Guster. Following Shawn’s special psychic ability, he and Gus lead the team of detectives to clues, solving murders and closing cases on a regular basis. Despite the non-believers in the department, Shawn consistently proves himself. The only problem? Shawn isn’t Psychic at all. 

In the summer of 2006, 6.1 million people tuned into the pilot episode of Psych, a comedy mystery show about a man who uses his incredible observational skills to fool detectives into thinking he’s psychic. In a time when TV was swarmed with various versions of CSI and other crime dramas, Psych dared to be different. Although the show followed the basic formula of a detective show, it centered on the chemistry between its two leads, and the comedic situations they often found themselves in. 

For eight seasons, Psych focused on the relationships of the characters, from the strong life-long friendship of Shawn and Gus, to the bond between Shawn and his (often) disapproving father. The show was packed with clever references and parodies of other shows and films, with witty dialog and hilarious running gags, making it the absolute perfect show for a movie and TV podcast to cover. 

So Cassettes, for our finale, we’ve decided to cover this hilarious show and Psych you out in the end!

SUMMARY

  • Henry Spencer always dreamed that his son Shawn would one day be a police detective just like him. So, he trained his son to be hyper-observant of his surroundings. However, Shawn was different from his father in almost every way, and he did not follow in his footsteps.
  • Fast-forward to 2006, and Shawn is 30 years old. He still seems to lack direction in his life, until the day that the Santa Barbara Police Department mistakes him for a criminal, when he reveals details about a case. In order to prove his innocence, Shawn claims that he is psychic. He impresses the chief of the department enough that she decides to hire him to consult on cases. 
  • Shawn sets up a detective agency with his life-long friend Gus, a foil to Shawn’s silly antics. Gus is a nerdy, kind-natured friend who begrudgingly helps Shawn solve cases.

PSYCH ORIGINS

  • As a young boy, Steve Franks would invent television shows and then draw up a schedule where they would be pitted against each other. He would then try to predict the ratings that these “shows” would receive. Then finally, he would extend or cancel them. Eventually his passion for TV would lead him to create the TV show Psych!
  • When Franks developed Shawn Spencer, he based aspects of the character on himself. 
    • Franks’ father was an officer that worked for the LAPD for 20 years and was what he liked to call, a “trained observer.” 
    • Much like Shawn’s father in the show, he would quiz Franks about the details in his surroundings. 
    • This often happened when the two of them would go out to eat. Franks even wrote this into the very first episode when Henry and young Shawn Spencer are in a diner. In order to receive dessert, Shawn must close his eyes and recall how many hats are in the room.
      • The relationship between Steve Franks and his father was a clear influence for the relationship between Shawn and Henry. Franks’ father wanted Steve to be a police officer, but he instead became a screenwriter. Shawn’s father Henry illustrates the disappointment that Steve’s father showed toward this decision.
      • Steve Franks later said that his dad came to terms with his son’s career, and is even a fan of the show! 
        • Franks said of his father after the show premiered, “He loved the pilot and is now calling me every other day with story pitches.”
    • In 1999, Steve Franks successfully sold the script for the film “Big Daddy” to Columbia. The Adam Sandler comedy was a big hit, and Columbia wanted Franks to pitch more ideas. 
    • Among the ones that he gave was the idea for Psych. When they turned it down, he kept the idea and a few years later pitched it to producer Kelly Kulchak. She thought it was brilliant and helped him pitch it to ABC, CBS, and NBC. They all turned it down. Finally, their last pitch was to the USA Network who thought it would be perfect for their programming where they boast, “Characters Welcome.”
    • Steve Franks is also part of a band called The Friendly Indians that has released three albums; Tiny Badness, Greetings…From Lake Dolores, and Pure Genius. The other members are Tim Meltreger, Jason Barrett, and Gizzy Jackson. They are most known however for the Psych Theme Song! 
      • The song was called, “The Best Man Lies,” and was actually a song from one of their previous albums, shortened by two verses
        • One of the best parts about this theme song is that for special episodes there is a themed version of the song. For example Boyz II Men recorded a version that was used for the episodes High Top Fade-Out and Let’s Doo-Wop it Again. In Lights, Camera…Homicidio and No Country for Two Old Men the theme was sung in Spanish. 
      • Steve Franks was a huge fan of Moonlighting (1985) and Remington Steele (1982) and they heavily influenced the idea and tone of Psych
        • He was even able to score one of the actresses from Moonlighting, Cybill Shepherd, to play Shawn’s mother. They named her Madeleine as a tribute to her Moonlighting character Madeleine ‘Maddie’ Hayes.
          • When Franks was 16, his father had another job as security and ended up taking Steve to the set of Moonlighting. This was pivotal for Franks, because it showed him that it would be possible to have a career in movies and television

MAKING OF THE SHOW

Production

  • When Franks was on his honeymoon in Santa Barbara, he was already thinking of the idea for Psych. He liked that the beachy town didn’t have the feeling of a huge city, and he thought its beautiful setting would be perfect for Psych
    • Originally Franks thought that production would happen in Santa Barbara, but this proved to be a problem because not a lot of crewmembers work in that area, and many of them would have to stay in hotels for the entire length of filming
    • So, the show settled on filming on stages in Vancouver, where there were many more available crewmembers to work. The outside shots were done in the town of White Rock, which was close to Santa Barbara, but still very different
      • In order to make the sets look like Santa Barbara, they were filled with warm colors and extras wearing shorts and holding beach towels. The prop department also contacted The Santa Barbara Sun, an actual local newspaper, so characters could be reading a real newspaper in the show
        • Production would often use designs that had a distinct California style, especially for sets like the police department
        • There was an entire greenery department that would insert trees and flowers to make the set look as warm and tropical as possible
      • One of the challenges of filming in Canada is buying American props and food. For example, all the food products in Canada have different measurements and American audiences would likely notice. One food the characters are always looking for is Churros, something that is very difficult to find in Canada and the show had to order in advance
  • Writers
    • Although Steve Franks had originally wanted to write the show alone, a team was hired to help him. This team included: 
      • Carlos Jacott
        • He was a producer, writer, and executive storyboard editor for the show. He also made the occasional appearance as an actor as well.
      • Andy Berman
        • He was a writer and producer for the show. He helped to co-write 24 episodes and the second Psych movie. You may also know him as the voice of Dib in Invader Zim.
      • Anupam Nigam
        • He came on as producer, writer, and storyboard editor. He helped write 10 episodes. 
      • Saladin K. Patterson
        • He was a producer, writer, and director of the show. He helped write 17 episodes.
      • Tim Meltreger
        • You may remember we mentioned Tim earlier in the episode as he is a member of the band The Friendly Indians, he is their guitar player. He is also a major player as one of the lead story editors. He wrote 9 episodes.
      • Bill Callahan
        • He was a writer and co-producer of the show, writing 10 episodes. He has also written for Scrubs, 8 SImple Rules, and Spin City.
      • James Roday Rodriguez
        • He is of course one of the main stars but has also co-wrote many of the episodes and directed as well.

STARRING

  • James Roday Rodriguez as Shawn Spencer
    • When he was starting his acting career, the actor who portrayed Shawn changed his name from James Rodriguez to James Roday. He recently added his true last name in honor of his family, and to speak out against type-casting based on race
    • When he auditioned for the role, it was clear that he was the only actor that truly understood Steve Franks’ comedic vision for the show
    • In the Psych All-Night event he revealed that his favorite episode was “Dual Spires.”
    • He currently stars in “A Million Little Things” as Gary Mendez
  • Dulé Hill as Burton Guster (Gus)
    • Dulé appeared in The West Wing, Suits, Black Monday, and the movie Holes.
    • He said that working on Psych was very different than when he worked on The West Wing. In The West Wing they would shoot only about three days a week and would record their lines exactly as written. While working on Psych he would work about every day and the atmosphere was more relaxed, as he had the ability to improvise his lines
    • He and James recounted the first times that they met. The first time was a read in front of creator Franks. The second time was amusing because since James already had the role he wanted to extend a nice gesture to Dulé Hill and offer to read over lines at his house. James did not expect him to live outside the city and ended up driving 45 minutes in order to form their friendship and practice lines.
  • Maggie Lawson as Juliet O’Hara
    • Juliet is a Detective for the Santa Barbara Police Department.  She is also the main love interest to Shawn Spencer.
    • Maggie Lawson made appearances in Party of 5, Two and a Half Men, The Ranch, and Santa Clarita Diet.
  • Timothy Omundson as Carlton Lassiter (Lassie)
    • Detective Lassiter is Juliet’s partner and is constantly doubting Shawn’s abilities and trying to have him and Gus removed from cases. 
    • We all know him of course from the awesome Disney Channel Original Luck of the Irish, as Seamus McTiernen! He has also been on Judging Amy, Galavant, and Supernatural. 
  • Kirsten Nelson as Chief Karen Vick
    • Chief Vick is the head of the Santa Barbara Police Department and the main reason that Shawn is allowed to work on any cases.
    • She has had small roles in a lot of different shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Ally McBeal, Malcolm in the Middle, Ghost Whisperer, and Just Shoot Me!
  • Corbin Bernsen as Henry Spencer 
    • Henry Spencer, even though he wanted his son Shawn to follow in his footsteps, arrested him at 18. This gave Shawn the record that prohibits him from being a police officer. Shawn then becomes the two things that Henry hates, a Psychic and a Private Investigator. 
      • For the first five seasons of the show, the audience sees a flashback from Shawn’s life. This flashback usually involves Shawn’s father Henry or his best friend, Gus.
        • “It’s become my favorite part of writing the show,”  show creator Steve Franks said. “Now I realize I can tie it thematically, or tonally, or take a specific incident and re-create something in the past and see how it plays out in the future. Something I was using as a pitch is now a frame.” Besides, “it’s a chance to see Corbin Bernsen in a wig, which is always fun.”
    • Corbin Bernsen has been in a lot of different things but some of them are General Hospital, JAG, The Young and the Restless, and the movie Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
  • Sage Brocklebank as Buzz McNab
    • Buzz McNab is the lovable cop that often will help get Shawn into crime scenes that normally would be difficult. 
    • He is known for the 2018 Predator movie, In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, and Alien Trespass.
  • Kurt Fuller as Woody the Coroner
    • Woody shows up first in Season 4 as the goofy and quirky Coroner for the SBPD. He often agrees to the crazy antics that Shawn and Gus come up with.
    • He has been in a lot of well known things such as Wayne’s World, Anger Management, and Scary Movie.
  • Young Shawn Spencer 
    • Liam James
      • He played young Shawn from 2006-2010
      • As he got older they needed to replace him because they were not ready for a teenage Shawn Spencer.
      • Liam James went on to be in The Killing and the movies 2012 and The Way Way Back.
    • Skyler Gisondo
      • He replaced Liam James but was only one month younger. He did appear younger however which is what matters. He would play young Shawn until Season 6 when they abandoned the beginning flashbacks. 
      • He has done several small parts by now but most notably Santa Clarita Diet and the movie Booksmart. 

IMPACT & POP CULTURE

  • The show’s reception and influence
    • As we said before, 6.1 million viewers watched the first episode that aired in the summer of 2006. It was the best basic cable numbers for the network USA since 2004 when their show “The 4400” aired. It has since stayed in everyone’s hearts because even though the show ended in 2014, it has since had 2 made for television movies!
  • The characters Shawn and Gus are pop culture gurus, constantly making references to movies and shows. The show itself even makes these references, by having many parody episodes throughout its 8 season run! Here are a few of them: 
    • “Scary Sherry: Bianca’s Toast”- their first season finale was the first of many parodies. It was co-written by Steve Franks and James Roday
    • Dual Spires parody of Twin Peaks
      • Ray Wise guest stars
      • Julee Cruise who sings the Twin Peaks Theme also sang the Psych song for the beginning of this episode
    • High Noonish was a parody of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
    • Lassie Jerky was a parody of The Blair Witch Project
    • The Devil’s in the Details and the Upstairs Bedroom was a parody of The Exorcist
    • Last Night Gus parody of The Hangover
    • Tuesday the 17th parody of Friday the 13th
    • Let’s Get Hairy parody of An American Werewolf in London
      • David Naughton (who plays the lead in An American Werewolf in London) guest stars as Dr. Ken Tucker!
    • Heeeeere’s Lassie! parody of The Shining
      • Lassie is driven mad in his new condo and goes after Gus, just as Jack went after Wendy and Danny in The Shining.
    • The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Episode parody of Jaws
    • Mr. Yin Presents parody of the collection of Alfred Hitchcock movies
    • 100 Clues parody of Clue 
  • Notable guest stars
    • In the series every Breakfast Club member made an appearance except for Emilio Estevez who ended up being an alias that Shawn uses. Ally Sheedy is in the Yin-Yang episodes, Judd Nelson was in Death is in the Air, Molly Ringwald in Shawn Interrupted, and Anthony Michael Hall in No Trout About It.
    • Phylicia Rashad guested as Winnifred Guster (Gus’s mom.) This is especially funny because a running gag for the show, was that Gus played Bud on The Cosby Show
    • Curt Smith who is a part of Tears for Fears appears a few times within the show and even serenades the characters a few times.
    • Jimmi Simpson plays Mary Lightly who helps to crack the cases about Yang. His character is odd and yet entirely endearing whenever he shows up. You may know him now as William on Westworld or as Liam McPoyle in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. 
    • Tim Curry guest stars as Nigel St. Nigel in the episode “American Duos” which parodies the lovely American Idol format with Tim Curry being the equivalent to a Simon Cowell.
    • Cary Elwes (star of The Princess Bride!) brings the star power as the elusive Pierre Despereux, a famous art thief that Lassie despises. He appears in several episodes, and even though he is a thief, finds friendship with Shawn and Gus each time that he emerges. 

RUNNING GAGS

  • Pineapples
    • One of the most famous and prominent visual gags of the show, is that a pineapple appears in some form in every episode. Steve Franks said: “So, there was just a prop pineapple on top of the fridge and it was just tickling James to pick up the pineapple and say, “You want me to cut this up for the road?” He loved it so much that I, off of his enthusiasm, grew to love it as well because we’d done this scene 15 times in all of the different pieces of coverage and every time he got to that pineapple part, he sold it in such a way that it was the most acting he did the entire day. So, I felt the need to really put it in and it was so funny.”
    • Dulé Hill added to this by saying: “The simple thing of the pineapple, ‘You want me to cut this up for the road?’ started from the brilliance of Roday where he would just take what’s around him and go with it and having the freedom to do that, because that line wasn’t in the script. From there, we had this whole runner about pineapples. It was little things like that and getting happy when we thought that we solved the case. They stayed throughout the show and we were able to grow from there.”
    • The Prop department mostly takes care of this. It has taken on a life of its own. Sometimes Steve Franks has something to do with it, but most times after a while they did not even know where it was until they saw the episode.
    • There is a website dedicated to where all these pineapples are in each episode. Sometimes the pineapple was not even physical, the word Pineapple could just be said. 
    • It was also a contest to get fans involved. During commercial breaks, USA would remind the audience to keep an eye out for the hidden pineapple! 
  • Phrases
    • C’mon Son
      • This phrase that Gus and Shawn use often was actually coined by Ed Lover, an American Rapper.
    • “You know that’s right,” and “I’ve heard it both ways,” are both common phrases said by the characters, almost like catchphrases
  • Gus’s nicknames
    • One of Psych’s most popular gags came from James’s amazing ability to improvise. It began all the way back in Season 1 Episode 5 “Nine Lives” when James was introducing the characters Shawn and Gus. He introduced himself as Shawn Spencer and Gus as Gus ‘Sillypants’ Jackson. Dulé luckily did not break character, and the rest is history! Shawn Spencer introduces himself and then his partner with an insane pseudonym throughout the rest of the show
      • The reactions from Gus vary. There are times when he is surprised by the nickname, or disappointed, but a lot of the times he rolls with it and does something to confirm his nickname.
      • Some examples of these nicknames are… Peter Panic, Chocolate Columbo, Magic Head, Fearless Guster, Hollabackatcha, Jazz Hands, and Brutal Hustler.
      • Dulé has revealed however that his favorite was the first one Gus ‘Sillypants’ Jackson.

Psych started as a simple vision, and earned its place in pop culture history. After 8 seasons and two movies (and another on the way), it’s clear that this show is beloved by millions of fans. Its combination of relatable characters, funny gags, and clever (and sometimes self-aware) storytelling, made Psych stand-out among other crime shows of the time. Psych focused on its characters more than anything, portraying a strong friendship between its two leads that would make anyone want to go find their best friend and solve a crime. It was wholesome in that way. 

Psych also had major roles for women, with Juliet O’Hara as the young detective trying to prove herself next to the seasoned Detective Lasseter; and of course Karen, the no-nonsense Chief of the department. For a time, Dule Hill was the only black lead on USA’s network, which made the show important for more representation of black people in TV. 

Psych is a show you can watch again and again. Sure, there are moments where the show is dated, but overall the charm of it is timeless; and for a show about a man who is lying to almost everyone he knows, it’s oddly authentic. Psych is a classic, and I know that you know that I AM telling the truth. 


SOURCES:

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