Psych: Pilot (series premiere)
(S01E01 and E02) Henry Spencer to his son Shawn: How many hats?
The premise for Psych is clever and unique. Shawn Spencer (James Corday) was trained by his policeman father Henry (Corbin Bernsen) in the art of keen observation. Not only did Sean match his father's skills in this technique, but he may have even exceeded his Dad's abilities.
Now, you are probably screaming into the computer screen 'Why is this so unique? Heck, Monk uses his observational skills all of the time to solve crimes.' Ah, you see, although Henry wanted his son to use his powers for good and follow in his law enforcement footsteps, Shawn just wanted to use his abilities for fun and, possibly, profit. Hence, the reason for the 57 jobs he had since graduation, and the reason he would call the police with tips on unsolved crimes; tips he discoverd by watching the nightly news and just, well, observing.
It was working out just fine for dear old Shawn until he decided to claim one of his most recent rewards from the police. It seems that an overzealous detective and his female partner were a bit curious how Shawn got all of the information he did in order to nab the culprit. In fact, they were pretty sure he was an accomplice to the crime in question (a store robbery) and felt that an arrest wouldn't be out of the question to sweat Shawn a bit.
What's a boy with his skills to do to get out of this dilemma?
Thinking fast on his feet, Shawn suddenly becomes a psychic, complete with fake headaches, seizures, and momentary losses of consciousness. To prove this he begins to spout facts about the police officers that are about to arrest him. Facts that he learned just by observing their actions in the station's lobby and in the interrogation room. Making a believer of some, and infuriating others (the detectives in particular), Shawn is able to avoid arrest. However, the (interim) chief of police sees the scope of his 'psychic' abilities and volunteers him to assist in a kidnapping case. Since there's money and a challenge involved Shawn accepts.
Here the concept of Psych is established: Shawn uses the psychic cover in order to use his observational abilities to help solve crimes. The only ones who know he's lying are his Dad (now retired) and his childhood friend Gus (played by Dule Hill of The West Wing). And, in the end, the concept works well; even better than Monk in many respects.
James Corday should be given credit for this. Although he's been in a number of unforgettable TV shows and movies, he really shines in his role as Shawn Spencer. Part Tom Cruise and part Ben Stiller, Corday shows dramatic, romantic and wacky sides, mostly wacky in the first episode. And, unlike Tony Shalloub's character on Monk you don't cringe in embarrassment at some of Shawn's actions and faults.
Also strong is Corbin Bernsen as Shawn's gruff father, a role that is totally opposite the suave attorney Arnie Becker he played on L.A. Law back in the late 80's and early 90's. I feel that two of the best scenes are with Henry and Shawn together. In both, Henry asks his son to prove his observational skills are up to snuff by asking him how many people were wearing hats in the place they were eating. Both times, once in flashback and once in the present, Shawn nails it on the head. And, even though it barely registers on Henry's face, you know that he is proud of his son.
In addition to the strong performances of Corday and Bernsen I think what really makes the show is that we, the viewing public that has been brought up on a steady diet of procedurals such as Law & Order and CSI, really get involved in solving the mystery along with Sean and Gus. This is done by highlighting all of the items that Sean observes. When he puts them all together you get a sense of satisfaction that you helped solve the crime along with Shawn. This is unlike the procedural shows where you sometimes have a sense of 'What the hell . . .' while they're trying to solve a mystery.
There are a few minor issues I have with Psych. First, Dule Hill is underutilized in the pilot episode. All his character seems to do is say 'no' a number of times to Shawn's crazy schemes. I hope that as the show progresses Hill's Gus will be fleshed out a bit more. Plus, as he is a pharmaceutical representative on the show, I hope that every single mystery doesn't include some sort of medicine that Gus knows about. That would make it just a bit too tacky for me.
The other issue I have is with the location. Psych is filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia yet the show is based in Santa Barbara, California. I'm sorry, but Vancouver does not look like Santa Barbara, even though they are both on the Pacific coastline. It doesn't matter that they put fake palm trees in some of the scenes to make it look like Southern California; it still looks like Northwestern Canada to me.
That's it for this week. Hopefully, my positive feelings for Psych won't diminish after the series gets into full gear.