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Saturday, 31 of October of 2020

Psych – “Juliet Takes a Luvvah”

“I walked into my divorced parents having sex and then my dad sat me down and told me my body was a wonderland.”

Henry, Shawn, and Madeline watch an old movie together.

So wholesome. So weird.

There are few things this show can do anymore that haven’t already been done. They’ve laid out shows based on a myriad of pop culture references, brought in several different ways to expose Shawn including a federal psychic, and invited Gus to take several lovers who may possibly be evil (more on how Psych avoids jumping the shark later). But they still have some surprises up their sleeve.

One of the things they’ve never really focused on were the pitfalls of Shawn’s ability. They’ve demonstrated how demoralizing it is to him when he gets the yips but never the downside to having an extensive and photographic memory. He files things away in the great archives of his mind (probably the same vault from which he’s able to pull records of 80s movies about boys who could fly) and is able to pull them up with little to no effort.

That means of the numerous dead bodies and horrific things to happen to him, presumably, he’s able to pull these things up at will or have them be dredged up by some sort of trigger. We’ve never seen him suffer this at all, however, and that’s mostly because that would bring a lot more gravity to his being than his character would allow. If he constantly recalled horrific corpses all the time, would he still be the same witty and positive character he is now?

So if they were going to address this, one of the final frontiers of a series that’s explored just about every other facet of Shawn’s maturation process, it would have to be something comedic. But what’s traumatizing that’s also hilarious?

Oh, I know: middle-aged people doing it.

It could’ve been a flippant thing for Shawn and that would’ve been acceptable. Shawn could’ve just covered his eyes upon seeing his parents in bed together, made a crack about wrinkled skin, and have been done with it. But, instead, they used the same techniques they used for Shawn’s new clue-finding (particularly the slow motion) and made it traumatizing.

Shawn curled up in the fetal position and wishing for the aliens to operate on his brain is funny and theatrical, very much in the vein of Shawn’s personality even at his more advanced age than the ten-year old who might have the same reaction. But even with his arrested development in mind, what I immediately went to was how, as a person who uncontrollably picks out the details of a situation, Shawn must have seen everything. You or I might’ve seen the situation, picked up on a few unfortunate body parts, before turning and walking out. Shawn’s ability allows him to count nipple hairs.

If it weren’t for his memory, I would find the scene juvenile even for Shawn. His Peter Pan complex would certainly allow for a certain level of melodrama for finding his parents hooking up but I feel like it’s his gift that makes this scene work. But maybe I’m rationalizing on its behalf.

One of the best things about this show is how the show and a veteran staff avoid pitfalls. They needed Shawn to have a reason to move out of the house, one that he could only be pushed out of, so they use his ability to curse him and send him fleeing from the den of silver-age iniquity. Another example: Gus finds love in a lonely place only for Shawn to question the new girl.

That’s happened before. So many times, in fact, where Gus likes a girl and Shawn questions either her motives or level of criminal insanity, that it can’t even be considered jumping the shark. A lot of people use it as a blanket term for when a show becomes stale or impossible (maybe even violating its own storyworld rules) but my definition has always been more specific. To me, “jumping the shark” is more about the repetition of activity. It isn’t about how it was impossible or outlandish that Fonzie ski jumped over the sharks just like he motorcycle jumped over the garbage cans. It about how the show tried to recreate a moment that worked for it in a time when things are otherwise slumping. The Office has made a series where it consistently jumps a shark once or twice a season by trying to recreate the Jam magic. But Gus’s lovers turning out to be evil or a bad idea never feel like repetition.

Granted, Rachael isn’t a murderer, stalker, or Lassie’s sister. She seems like an entirely sweet and smart woman who’s quick enough to keep up with Shawn and Gus. That she has a kid means that his life is now mirroring Shawn’s advancement.

There’s a second wrinkle to Shawn’s character development in this episode and it, again, has something to do with how the people behind the show know it well enough to know what will work and what won’t. It might be easy to let Psych devolve into a bit of melodrama by letting Juliet surrender on a relationship where her boyfriend will never grow up. They could have Juliet and Shawn break up, let them duke it out with venomous words for a season arc, and let those crazy kids get back together. There might be some laughs there but that’s not how Psych operates as a show.

So they do the next best thing: they let Juliet date in a way that makes sense for her character. Undercover on a dating site to track down a possible serial killer, it accomplishes the goal of making Shawn jealous and letting Juliet shine independent of him or Lassiter. It’s that plus leaving the house of nightmares that prompts Shawn to finally make a decision about his life (to move in with Juliet) while Gus is left to struggle with a decision to enter into immediate (step-)fatherhood.

The episode did a great job of continuing its chemistry in a way that was more reminiscent of what Psych is about than last week while moving their characters forward, which is something I see as being part of the show now that wasn’t necessarily part of it in the past. While I’m don’t necessarily agree that this show needs to focus so much attention on developing its characters at this point (we know them pretty well and the draw of the show is mainly on Shawn never changing dynamically), as long as they keep doing it like this with honesty, I’m okay with it.

Some other things:

  • It looks like those weird video-game-like graphics are here to stay for the season (specifically the clue-finding slow motion and objects lifting out of their place as they’re highlighted). I don’t like change.
  • Everyone has such a uniform on this show (Shawn and his plaid; Gus in tie-less dress shirts; Henry in jeans, kicks, and a dirty cap), I like it when they break Juliet out of the pant-suit. I’m not sure if that’s just something she insists on for career-building purposes (avoid typecasting) or something they/the network decides to do every once in a while to sex up the show a bit but it’s refreshing to see her in give-ups or a nice dress every once in a while. They do the same with Lassie on occasion (remember the polo from “Shawn 2.0”) and Gus less and less (remember when he used to wear suits?). It’s more striking with Juliet and I’m guessing it’s that she wears colors that aren’t gray or navy.
  • Yes to Shawn and Lassie having a sexy moment. A scene that launched a thousand (proverbial) pens to update their slash fiction.
  • Great The Mentalist slam. Terrible use of Don’t Trust the B. It came off like a pop culture reference for the sake of making a reference. Besides, I’m glad to see that show fade away and hope those actors find better things to do with their lives.
  • Seriously, what is going on with Juliet’s hair?

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