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Wednesday, 30 of September of 2020

Psych – “Santabarbaratown 2”

“How about a raccoon with a discarded malaria sample?”

Shawn hitches a ride with Lassie to go after the man who shot his father.

Who loves you, baby?

How far we’ve come. In anticipation for the return of Psych for Season 7, I watched the pilot in all it’s low-grade glory.

Oh, it looked terrible and James Roday: so very, very thin. But the comedy, the timing, everything that makes the show great was there and all the jokes that about this being a one day thing makes you chuckle with the rich history of cases in the show. Yeah, Gus. You’ll be back at your pharmaceutical sales job in no time.

I watched it with a friend of mine who’d never seen the show before (!!!) and got to see it with new eyes. It’s amazing how consistent the show has been over the years, even with its different theme-episodes, dalliances with serious material, and contending with keeping Shawn’s arrested development fresh for six seasons. The show is never exhausting (except maybe that pilot — at a true hour instead of forty-two minutes, it feels like a TV movie with ten endings) and the characters are endearing from the start. Even Lassie. Maybe especially Lassie.

I ellipsed time to watch “Santabarbaratown 2” and so much was familiar but there are some stark contrasts we’ve gotten used to over the years. And I’m not just talking about James Roday’s habit of covering his gut with a pillow whenever he sits down.

Granted, isn’t fair to compare “Santabarbaratown 2” to the pilot or many of the episodes of the series since it was a rare cliffhanger for the show. Henry as a casualty of the SBPD corruption plot, one where his life hung in the balance between seasons, makes everything much more dire than the show is used to. With that, the tone changed. But that doesn’t really explain the sudden use of video-game-like graphics for Shawn’s clue-noticing abilities.

Was that disconcerting for anyone else? The actual images of the clues lifting off the surface instead of them just being zoomed in on and highlighted? It seemed so strange to me, especially with an already different tone. Shawn’s tantrum in Carp’s house (understandable but slightly foreign) was studded with this new, high-tech version of discovery and it never sat right with me. Call me a curmudgeonly fan of the show, but it gave the show an almost uncanny sense of smoothness to it.

Most of the episode was like that, however, where the feel was not quite like how you remember and/or describe Psych. It’s the pitfall of doing a serious episode on a show that’s predominantly known for being quirky, hilarious, and driven by pop-culture references. It’s almost like seeing the negative track of a show, the song between songs of an album that have all your favorite hooks throughout but, between tracks, you see something different, the artistic or real impulses of characters that perform for you otherwise. Much as you might tune into Psych for Shawn and Gus antics, every once in a while, you have to have episodes and cliffhangers like this to maintain their development. You don’t want everyone to stay the same.

And, yet, it’s refreshing when they do. Though there are several times that I was reminded of the usual chemistry, twice did it seem like they were truly reminding us that, even amidst the gravity of the episode’s theme, revenge against the man that shot Henry (or justice if you prefer to see it that way), these are the same crazy kids we’ve always known.

First was the beard play: splitting the beard in half so that each of them could have a disguise. So often (as it was in the pilot), Gus is Shawn’s straight man, which is a source of so much gold. But I really love it when Shawn and Gus conspire without words. Also, Gus’s Satchel Gizmo is phenomenal.

What reminds you most that the chemistry between these two will never be forgotten, though, is the landmine sequence, when they both sit down on the couch and activate their own doom while sitting too far away from the fresh jerk chicken nachos to at least suck down the gooey deliciousness while the bomb squad arrives. Suckering the robot operator to reach for the plate first and then crawling to the plate once they’re safe — that’s the kind of thing you’re looking for when you watch Psych.

The procedural part of the show was fine, also, but I’m glad to have that wrapped up. Maybe it was because I’d forgotten most of the mystery in “Santabarbaratown” during the hiatus (maybe that’s the episode I should’ve watched instead of the pilot) but the mystery and plots were tiring. Gun runners to African militants and military dictatorships under the guise of a charity is heady material for the show (one that it doesn’t necessarily explore) but not really anything I was interested in while watching the episode. It’s strange that, with all the cases they solve and the myriad dangers Shawn and Gus dodge throughout the series, the actual procedural part is never what I think about.

When explaining to this friend who’d never seen the show before what Psych was about, I don’t think I even mentioned the procedural aspect of the show except that they have a case of the week. It’s the hijinks and the relationships between characters that seem so much more important to me. It’s a trait that’s unique to the more recent procedurals. Law and Order has some of that with SVU but no one would accuse the show of exploring interpersonal chemistry week to week. Psych is almost exclusively about that with the case that’s secondary.

So when the case invades the realm of the interpersonal relationships, when it’s Henry getting shot or Abby getting kidnapped or Shawn’s mother being wrapped in a bomb, the show changes shape a little bit. And while “Santabarbaratown” wasn’t bad, I’m glad it’s over so we can get back to the week-to-week stuff.

Some other things:

  • It’s really weird to see Woody in other places. Kurt Fuller was also Kristina’s oncologist during Parenthood‘s Planet Cancer arc this past season and a military advisor in President Grant’s war room on Scandal. I can’t help but to picture him worrying about Fitz’s recent medical trouble by showing up to the conference with a couple body bags (just in case).
  • Lassie’s reaction to the secret arsenal: awesome.
  • I’m not sure there was enough emphasis on how Juliet saved Shawn. I know she’s no stranger to discharging her weapon, but it looked like she got a couple of chest shots to an old man. Even with a bulletproof vest, that guy should be dead. She seemed pretty cool with it, though. I’m not hoping for her to be a sobbing mess or for us to meditate on her PTSD for a several episodes (we already did that storyline when Yang hung her from a clock tower) so I’m not even sure what I’m asking for here. But it seemed odd that that’s how it went down and we headed right into the coda.
  • What did they do to Juliet’s hair?
  • Poor Blueberry. Poorer Cranberry.

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