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Saturday, 31 of October of 2020

Psych – “Dead Bear Walking”

“I am preventing a nightmare.”

Lauren Lassiter films her brother while getting sniffed by the Super Sniffer.

Super Sniffer at work.

There are several ways television likes to elicit the inner-workings of a character without having to demonstrate it in a natural way. One is to get them hammered. Another is to bring in a documentarian.

Scrubs did it early on in their series (“My Bed Banter and Beyond”) with unseen psych students. Dawson’s Creek used its eponymous filmmaker to draw out character development. There’s even an entire genre of sit-com based on the practice (see The Office, Parks & Recreation, Modern Family). So when I saw Lassiter’s distractingly attractive little sister armed with a camera and that the show was going to oscillate between conventional footage and what she shoots, I groaned a little bit.

Happily, though, we didn’t get the deep internal struggles of these characters that they just needed a medium through which to vent. Instead we got what these characters would actually act like on character. That I can appreciate. If anything, what this episode demonstrated wasn’t a crutch to develop our characters but a study into how Psych as a procedural clashes with other, more conventional, procedurals and even touches on the nature of the procedural in general. Yeah, I know. Deep for Psych.

And we got to see April Bowlby without having to watch Two and a Half Men. I say that’s a win all around.

Being a show that’s been around the block a few times, Psych pretty much has its formula down pat. Teaser generally includes the murder/crime of the week, often times complicated by some Gen-Y/Millenial cultural reference for Shawn and Gus to riff on, the detectives present the case, Team Psych goes rogue to gather evidence before SBPD can, red herring, wrong move, epiphane, Shawn leads them to the bad guy. What the show tends to elide is what all procedurals elide: the actual protocol involved in getting warrents, gathering evidence, general procedure, the waiting. What’s interesting about Psych is that these ellipses affect the speed at which the crime can be solved by SBPD. Because Shawn and Gus operate outside of law enforcement, they feel empowered to gather evidence any way they see fit. Usually that’s anyway that can embarrass Gus.

While other procedurals show the high points of an investigation (read: anyplace there can be a conflict and there isn’t a lot of paper-pushing), Shawn and Gus are the only high points of the investigation. What Lassie and O’Hara do is: (a) background at best if not just assumed, (b) only service for whatever Shawn and Gus find by not following protocol, (c) made less important since Shawn and Gus are often more passionate about the crimes they solve while the detectives try to hack through red tape, and (d) seemingly arbitrary at times since Shawn and Gus perpetually beat them to the answer and kind of make them look like the Keystone Kops: Homicide Unit.

This is something we already know about Psych but it’s made even more apparent as Lauren Lassiter, grad student making her final film for school, feels obligated to switch subjects in the middle of her film (from Lassie to Team Psych) because, as she states it, they are more emotional about the case while Lassiter is more professional. Lassie is honestly excited about the protocol and showing his little sister a day in his life. But his excitement about paperwork and his box of evidence is comedic not necessarily because of the delivery of his lines but because it’s obvious to anyone watching that the real story is with Shawn and Gus. And it’s not even just because Shawn and Gus are the more interesting characters on the show. It’s because that’s how we know an investigative procedural is told. Lauren realizes she’s been basing her documentary on the thing Hollywood has, rightfully, worked its way into not having to talk about.

Beyond the meditation on the procedural, Psych uses the documentarian angle differently on its characters. Rather than having the filmmaker ask personal questions thereby eliciting responses that we might not get my natural means, we get to see how all the characters act on camera. Of course, the most natural are the Spencer boys: Henry (who changes for no one) and Shawn (who probably feels like he’s being secretly filmed all the time anyway). Lassiter and Gus react more to the documentarian than the camera as they both try to impress her (for different reasons). The most inpsired of them all, though, is Juliet’s reaction to the camera. While I’d never describe Juliet O’Hara as being graceful, she sprialed downward into a pit of awkwardness, clumsiness, and an eloquence that you might have only thought you’d hear on that guy at the bar who started drinking at 3PM. Her inability to function properly with a camera rolling, even with no pressure to perform, was hilarious. The icing on the cake was her line after a forced attempt to be funny: “I felt like my character needed a joke.” Good for the episode but basically commentary for her character in general. She’s definitely someone that they need to allow to be funny every once in a while.

Other things:

  • Woody constantly trying to disguise himself in fear of what the Phillipine government might do = brilliance.
  • How about that Ford Fusion ad in the middle of the show? Even did a little spot for Microsoft’s in-car service. Classy.
  • They took the time out to give a thumbs down review of Zack and Miri Make a Porno. Between Psych, GQ, and Virgin Airlines, it’s a rough week to be Kevin Smith. I enjoy that Ed Lover still comes up, though. Come on, son.
  • Did you know polar bears are the fiercest killers in the animal kingdom?
  • Michael Gross guest stars and no one makes a “Sha La La La” joke? Disappointed.
  • Watching Shawn and Gus hang out with a red herring (McCloud, played by Brian Klugman), reminded me of Mary and made me sad Jimmi Simpson (probably) won’t be making an appearance in next week’s season finale.
  • I’ve said it several times before and I’ll say it again: I love that Juliet and Shawn are dating and it’s still not the center of the universe.

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