Psych has become a Cult TV show

The story begins with Shawn becoming a suspect in a case he has given a lead. He uses his highly developed observational skills and pretends to be a psychic.

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A Cult TV Show

Psych has become a cult TV show years after it screened on prime-time TV. The release of brand-new movies – Psych 2: Lassie Come Home and Psych 3: This Is Gus, gave fans new material to watch. Fans call themselves “PsychOs”. The series ran for eight seasons from 2006 to 2014. I missed watching it during its original run, but rediscovered it in the lockdown period.

There are many theories about why Psych has grown into a cult series long after it ended its run. Some believe it’s the unique mixture of humour and crime that gave this show its edge. Others believe it’s just because it’s hilarious and the sort of humour you can watch repeatedly. Maybe it’s because the characters are really likeable and don’t take themselves too seriously.

The Storyline Begins

The storyline begins with Shawn mistakenly being a suspect to Santa Barbara Police Department in a case he has given a lead to. When questioned by them, he uses his highly developed observational skills and pretends to be a psychic. This tactic works, however, the Police Chief warns him that if he is lying, she will charge him. He therefore needs to continue the deception in order not to be exposed as a fraud. When he successfully helps solve another case, it leads to him being employed as a consultant in further cases.

Psych - Shawn and Gus stand in a frozen pose as they react to something out of the shot.
Photo: USA Network

The Ties that Bind us

Psych could easily be mistaken for a silly, light-hearted comedy if it wasn’t for the more complex underlying relationships that bind these characters. They all grow to rely on each other, and Shawn has this uncanny way of enriching the lives he touches.

We get glimpses that even Carlton Lassiter may not be the adversary he makes himself out to be. These scenes provide touching moments in the show and remind us to pay attention to the subtleties of life. Shawn’s love interest throughout most of the show is Juliet O’Hara, played by Maggie Lawson.

Psych - Shawn in a blue shirt with a serious contemplative expression.
Photo: USA Network

Shawn’s Childhood Flashbacks

Each of the early series episodes begins with a flashback to Shawn’s early days as a child. With the backdrop of a picturesque beachfront house with a white picket fence, we find Shawn growing up dominated by his disapproving father. Shawn escapes into a world of movies and superheroes wearing capes. We get glimpses of Shawn struggling to build his confidence and realise his potential. He cannot develop his own identity while his father tries to make him a version of himself. The flashbacks leave us wondering whether Shawn’s dad messed him up or if he was saving Shawn from himself.

Psych - Shawn and his father standing with hands in pockets, with his father saying something and Shawn rolling his eyes.
Photo: USA Network

Shawn Rebels and Struggles

Shawn eventually rebels from the role his father has envisaged for him and disappears for years. While his best friend heads off to College, Shawn refuses to grow up and seems to fail in his own life. Years later, Gus and Shawn reunite as best friends. Gus is now also bogged down in an unimpressive career. They open the Psych detective agency, which also allows them to continue their childhood antics.

The Psych Office up close showing the green Psych sign in the window.
Photo: Marcus Hynes @eastcoastexpat

Psych Detective Agency

The Psych Detective Agency marks a turning point in Shawn’s life. He finally excels at something. Shawn utilises skills he has been developing since he was a kid. His highly developed observational skills and ability to put unrelated pieces of information together like a jigsaw puzzle. After years of failing and not sticking at things, Shawn has finally found his groove. Even though it is very unconventional, he is spectacularly good at it. He impresses those around him with his ‘skills’.

The agency allows Shawn to continue many of his childhood passions and carry on with Gus. Gus juggles his time at the agency while working an ordinary job as a pharmaceutical rep.

Psych - Carlton Lassiter looking pensive, wearing a shirt and tie and his shoulder holster in a room.
Photo: USA Network

Carlton Lassiter

The more conventional characters at the police station provide the counterbalance to Shawn’s irreverent antics. The key one of these is Carlton Lassiter, played by Timothy Omundson, a by-the-book senior detective. Lassiter is essential to Shawn’s comic performances. The relationship between them provides much of the show’s energy and growth.

Lassiter and Shawn both compete for attention and glory throughout the show. Lassiter oscillates from having contempt for Shawn to concealed admiration for his case-solving skills. I enjoyed watching Lassiter’s character. There is an authentic quality to him.

He knows Shaun is not psychic but can’t prove it, like the lines of the show’s theme song.
While their adversarial roles continue throughout the series, some of my favourite moments are when we briefly see that they are actually closer. In Cloudy with A Chance of Murder, Lassiter pays for Shawn’s impounded motorbike. In From the Earth to Starbucks, a drunk Lassiter admits to Shawn that Shawn’s skills astound him.

Psych - Shawn and Gus outside looking very cool in sunglasses and seventies shirts with police in the background.
Photo: USA Network

Burton “Gus” Guster

One of the unique qualities of Psych is the friendship between Shawn and Gus. It is the underlying foundation of the show. Shawn and Gus are very different in obvious and less obvious ways. Yet, they are very similar. The flashbacks reveal that this friendship goes way back to the early school years.

There is something unique about a friend you grew up with, went to school with, and lived in your neighbourhood. This friend shares the experiences that shaped and defined you as you were growing up. They like the same music as you. They watched the same TV shows you loved and went to see the same movies. It gives them a comprehensive understanding of you and why you are like you are.

As we grow up and change and develop, there is something precious about these relationships and memories. Psych captures this beautifully. We can present an authentic version of ourselves to someone, and that person challenges us whenever we are not.

Best of Shawn and Gus, Psych Season 1 – YouTube

Recurring Themes and Jokes

There are several recurring themes and jokes in the series.

  • There is a constant nostalgic reference to eighties movies and TV Shows sourced from Shawn’s childhood.
  • Tears for Fears featured in several episodes, and Curt Smith cameos in a couple of episodes.
  • Gus imitates Michael Jackson several times.
  • There is a pineapple in or mentioned in many episodes.
  • Food and being hungry are never far from Gus’s mind and can sometimes be the only time Shawn and Gus agree.
  • Shawn will often mispronounce words and claim, “I’ve heard it both ways”.
  • Shawn introduces himself and then his partner with a constantly changing crazy alias, such as Gus “Silly Pants” Jackson.
  • Given that both Shawn and Gus are cowards, they run screaming when there is any hint of a threat.
  • Ralph Macchio from Cobra Kai and the Karate Kid cameos in a couple of episodes.
Psych - a publicity shot of all the Psych cast all looking serious around a table in a green interrogation room.
Photo: USA Network

After the Series

Both lead actors have moved on to other projects. James Roday (Shawn) now stars in A Million Little Things, and Dulé Hill (Gus) recently starred in Suits. Lassiter, played by Timothy Omundson, suffered a stroke a few years ago. He is playing a stroke victim in This Is Us.

There have been three TV movies released since the series ended. They located the movies in San Francisco and the Psych office is in Chinatown and modelled on the shop in Gremlins.

  • The first was Psych: The Movie, released in December 2017.
  • The second was Psych 2: Lassie Come Home, released in July 2020.
  • The third is Psych 3: This Is Gus released in November 2021.

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