Just the FAQs: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About 'Psych'
by Kim Potts, posted Jul 7th 2010 1:20PM
When 'Psych' kicks off its fifth season on July 14 (10PM ET), the show officially becomes USA Network's longest-running current original series, and to celebrate, the cable network known for its character-driven shows is "super-sizing" the 'Psych' characters into a 66-minute season premiere episode.
And that's certainly OK by show creator Steve Franks, who conceived 'Psych' after penning the script for the second best (after 'The Wedding Singer,' of course) Adam Sandler movie ever, 'Big Daddy.' Franks and the entire 'Psych' crew, from stars James Roday, Dule Hill, Corbin Bernsen, Timothy Omundson and Maggie Lawson to the show's pop culture-obsessed writers and production staff, are immensely proud of the series, which has developed an extremely loyal fanbase that awaits every little movie, TV and junk food reference the show can serve up each week.
I had the chance to chat with Roday and Franks about the new season, and I have to say that I've never talked to two people who are more excited about their work -- which, thanks to the fun, themed episodes the show has become known for -- amounts to a mini movie every week.
"Oh my god, that's exactly what I say," said Franks. "I say we're making a little summer popcorn movie each week. And that's why it's so fun to change genres, to change worlds. This season we're doing a Jackie Chan/'Karate Kid' episode with the premiere, and then the following week we're doing a UFO episode, and then after that we're doing a 'Fast and the Furious'-ish (episode), like a stolen car, street-racing ring. So it's a chance for me to sort of fulfill all my childhood fantasies of movies that I wanted to make, within the TV show construct."
Read on for the 'Psych' fellas' takes on the show's impressive history of guest stars (including the ones coming up in season 5), the scoop on whether or not 'Psych's' will-they-or-won't-they couple will, well, couple this season, the backstory on the super-catchy 'Psych' theme song (including which '80s music star will perform a cover of it this season), the possibility of a 'Psych' movie, the frequent references to 'The Mentalist' (that other fake psychic show) that pop up on 'Psych' and, once and for all, the real story behind all those pineapples.
'Psych' is sort of a procedural, sort of a mystery series, sort of a comedy, sort of a drama, sort of a ... what is it, really?
It's all those things, with great characters, an incredible line-up of guest stars, rapid-fire dialogue and pop culture references, one of TV's best bromances and a fun, talented supporting cast. The storyline: Fake psychic Shawn Spencer (James Roday), partnering with his childhood BFF Burton "Gus" Guster (Dule Hill), open the 'Psych' detective agency and assist the police in solving cases, thanks to Shawn's psychic abilities. Which he actually doesn't possess. Shawn's dad, Henry (Corbin Bernsen), is a retired cop, and while Shawn was growing up, Henry trained him to hone his observation and deduction skills, which, along with his photographic memory, allows him and Gus to fool the cops into thinking clues and solutions just come to Shawn ... psych!
The usually lighthearted series springs from show creator Steve Franks' frustration with the glut of straight procedural shows on TV, and the lack of the kind of fun, 'Rockford Files' and 'Magnum P.I.'-ish series he grew up watching. "For me, the biggest void on TV, right now, is the light one-hour. You know, it's like, if you want to watch a mystery show, you're kind of ... outside of 'Castle' and a couple others, you're kind of locked into sort of this really dark, really depressing, let's-look-at-blood-under-microscopes (dramas), and it's all very disturbing and depressing," said Franks, whose dad was an LAPD cop who often took his son along when he worked security on TV shows like 'Moonlighting.' "So I was looking for that show, a show (like 'Magnum P.I.'). I was actually creating the show I wanted to watch."
A fake psychic, working with the police department ... isn't that a lot like 'The Mentalist'?
Sigh. Yes, it is, but as any 'Psych' fan will be quick to point out, 'Psych' came first. And, even though the 'Psych' cast and crew are very professional in their response to questions about the similarities between the show and CBS' hit Simon Baker series (which debuted in Sept. 2008, a full two years after 'Psych's' July 2006 premiere), they've also made a habit of poking a clever bit of fun at 'The Mentalist' in 'Psych' episodes.
And in this season 4 promo clip, in which Shawn and Gus slyly note the similarities between the two shows:
PSYCH on USA Network - The Mentalist Spoof - Click here for funny video clips
'Psych' fans, at USA's official website, keep track of the 'Mentalist' references, though it's important to note that 'Psych' also ribs and references tons of other TV shows, movies, actors (right, Chad Michael Murray?), food, TV critics (the psychiatrist in season four's 'Let's Get Hairy' episode was named Dr. Ken Tucker, which -- coincidentally? Franks won't confirm -- is the name of the Entertainment Weekly critic who's expressed anti-'Psych' sentiments in the past) and other pop culture figures, in every episode.
"We figure, what else can we do, but be good-natured about it, and make some jokes at their expense?' Franks said of 'The Mentalist.' "So for us, it's just another fun pool of references. "
Is it just me, or does 'Psych' have a lot of guest stars?
'Psych' does have a lot of guest stars! Often, the guest gigs are the result of writers penning a part with a specific performer in mind, and often it's the result of Franks or Roday -- the show's two biggest pop culture junkies -- or another writer getting the chance to work with their favorite actors.
But with a list of guest cast that includes Cybill Shepherd, Keith David, Gary Cole, Ernie Hudson, Jane Lynch, Phylicia Rashad, George Takei, Steven Weber, David Naughton, Mercedes Ruehl, John Amos, James Brolin, Kenan Thompson, Tim Curry, Philip Baker Hall, Judd Nelson, Lou Diamond Phillips, Kevin Sorbo, Kerry Washington, John Cena, Alan Ruck, Ally Sheedy, Jimmi Simpson, Justine Bateman, Jeff Fahey, Christopher McDonald, Jonathan Silverman, Mykelti Williamson, Kurt Fuller, Ray Wise, Arnold Vosloo, Jaleel White, Christine Baranski, Cary Elwes, Joshua Malina, Sendhil Ramamurthy and Jeri Ryan, who all have to travel to Vancouver (where the show is shot) for the show, it also probably has something to do with Franks' "No A**holes Policy" for the set.
"Well, with our cast ... they're such good people, and they're so fun. And really, I mean, they're all people I would hang out with, even if they weren't part of the show," Franks noted. "And then, on the set, we've sort of lucked out, even with the little bit of turnover we have of crew, that we haven't had anybody who's come in and disrupted the mix. The guest stars, we just try to impart that they're going to have a great time, and it's a really warm, safe atmosphere. Nobody is challenged by anybody else's input. James and I have been writing together, on the show, since the first season. And a lot of people go, 'Wow, you're bringing the lead actor into the writer's room?' And I go, 'Well, of course, he's funny, why wouldn't I?'"
By the way, the guest stars keep on coming in season 5. Franks and Roday have confirmed the following: 'Lost' alum Nestor Carbonell as Declan Rand, a criminal profiler who will become Shawn's professional and personal rival for a multi-episode arc; Freddie Prinze Jr. as Dennis, a geeky friend of Shawn and Gus who's now mega-wealthy but still has an interest in supernatural matters (read: aliens); the always fabulous Jean Smart and John Michael Higgins; and, in a storyline that will find them foreshadowing what Gus and Shawn might be like 30 years down the road, 'Rocky' star Carl Weathers and 'Knots Landing's' William Devane.
"They're actually up here now, and ... what a couple of pros those guys are," Roday said of Weathers and Devane. "They've had the exact same schedule as Dule and I for the last seven days, and they are just machines. They don't complain, they come ready to play, they both have takes on their characters, and Carl Weathers in still in better shape than anyone on our set."
The 'Psych' theme is the best theme song on TV. Who sings it, and why can't I buy it on iTunes?
"I know, you know, that I'm not telling the truth/I know, you know, they just don't have any proof ..." TV theme songs are rare in TV land these days, which makes the 'Psych' theme song all that much more fun and infectious, and, like the show itself, a throwback to retro fun TV tunes like the classic theme songs of 'Laverne & Shirley,' "Happy Days' and 'The Jeffersons.' And it should come as no surprise that the man behind the throwback series is also the man, or one of the men, behind the theme song. 'I Know You Know' is sung by The Friendly Indians, a southern California band whose lead singer is ... 'Psych' creator Steve Franks. The band, which also includes 'Psych' writer Tim Meltreger, recorded an abbreviated version of the song for the show, but a full-length version does exist, and once The Friendly Indians find time to record it, it will pop up on iTunes.
In the meantime, 'Psych' fans are in for a treat this season with another special edition cover of the theme song. We've already heard a Spanish version, a Christmas version, a Bollywood version and the awesome Boyz II Men a cappella cover from season four, and this season we're getting a cover from Curt Smith, one half of James Roday's favorite band, Tears for Fears.
"Maggie [Lawson] and Tim [Omundson] and I unknowingly, meaning we didn't know ahead of time, all had tickets to see Tears for Fears in Los Angeles," said Roday, who famously paid homage to his favorite band in the season two 'Psych' episode 'American Duos.' "And it turns out, Tim's wife is very friendly with another woman, who is Curt Smith's manager. So we showed up, and they had much, much better seats than we did, and they managed to get us the same seats that they had, with backstage passes and the whole bit, which is about as exciting as it gets for me.
And sure enough, we went backstage afterwards, and we didn't meat Roland (Orzabal), but we did meet Curt, who is just a lovely man, a lovely, fit man, who has the same haircut that he had in 1983, and we just sort of went for broke. We bombarded him. We were like, 'Look man, we love you, we've sort of paid tribute to you on our show, how would you like to come up and play around and maybe cover our theme song?' And you, we'd all had a few, so we were feeling bold ... and he, luckily, was already aware of the show, knew about our little 'Shout' thing that we did back in season two, and he was happy to oblige. He's actually in the next episode, so I have a feeling that a lot of people on set are going to be very, very tickled that day."
Smith will play himself in the season five episode, and has already recorded his 'Psych' theme song cover. "And it is incredible," said Roday, who describes it thusly: "I will simply use the word 'retro,' and let you hang on to that."
As for other musicians on Franks' wish list of future guest stars and theme song coverers: David Bowie, Chris Isaak and Harry Connick Jr. "So our wish list is to bring in musicians who can act, and (we) get to geek out on them for a few days."
The show has a lot of food references and a lot of specific product mentions. Who's the foodie on the 'Psych' set?
Everyone, but again, much of the credit goes to Franks, who said his secret ambition is to host his own Food Network series where he'd travel around the country, visiting various chain restaurants (I'd so watch that show!). One of his big "gets" for 'Psych': A deal with Red Robin, the burger chain whose mention on the show led to the cast and crew being able to film in one of the chain's restaurants.
"I mentioned them one time, and they came to us and they said, 'Hey, do you want to shoot at Red Robin?' And I'm like, 'Oh, yes, I would!" Franks said. "So we did a whole scene at the Red Robin, because I had always been a huge fan of the Whiskey River BBQ Chicken Sandwich, which is probably one of the great chicken sandwiches in the whole country. And so doing Red Robin was really easy and natural.
"And the show is so food driven. It's like these guys, one of their biggest bonds is snacking and talking about food. We give more free shout-outs to products than anybody in the history of television," Franks joked. "We made like four different product deals in the history of the show. And it's only been places that I love so much that I actually would have put it in, anyway."
Among the snack shout outs in season 5: Snickers bars and Snyder's of Hanover pretzels.
Will Shawn and Juliet ever get together?
The show's will-the-or-won't-they couple -- played by Roday and his real-life girlfriend Maggie Lawson -- are rumored to finally, maybe, get together in season 5. And how does the star of the show feel about 'Psych's' chances to pull off the big romance that plenty of other series have crashed and burned on?
"It's definitely tricky. One thing I think we take great pride in on our show is that we've sort of consistently gone against the grain," Roday said. "We try to avoid clichés on our show as much as we can, while we still have sort of a procedural concept. So my hope is, whatever we do, it'll remain fluid enough that we won't be backed into a corner ... if it feels right, great, if it doesn't feel right, we'll have two or three different exit strategies so that we don't fall prey to that sort of curse that's hit so many other shows when they try to hook up their romantic people."
What's the deal with the pineapples? Does someone on the show really love pineapples?
You'd think so, right? Not only is the prickly fruit the show's unofficial mascot, but a quick trip to the 'Psych' section at the NBC Universal online store turns up more than half a dozen pineapple-related products, including a 'Psych' pineapple stress toy, 'Psych' pineapple keychain, 'Psych' pineapple pillow, 'Psych' pineapple notebook, 'Psych' pineapple t-shirt, 'Psych' pineapple luggage tag and 'Psych' pineapple snow globe. The show's official website also includes pineapple recipes, pineapple 'Psych-Libs,' a pineapple Concentration game and a chance to personalize your own "Pineapple Pal" and share it on Facebook, and Roday says he and the other cast members frequently receive pineapple-related gifts.
So again, who amongst the 'Psych' crew is the big pineapple fan? Turns out, no one. The fruit's association with the show started out as a random bit of set design.
"It was really arbitrary," explained Roday. "There's that quick little scene in the pilot where I come into Gus's apartment while he's sleeping, wake him up and tell him we gotta go, and he goes back to his bedroom to get dressed, and there happened to be a pineapple on top of the fridge, compliments of set dressing. I grabbed it and improv-ed something. I think it was in and out of the cut four or five times, and Steve finally flipped it back in, in the last cut of the pilot, and because of that, when we came back to start doing the show, there were just always pineapples around. And now, it's iconic ... it's the symbol for our show, and the irony is, it almost didn't make the cut. And, if it hadn't been a pineapple, it could have been a coconut or a dragon fruit or a cantaloupe, and everyone would be asking me to sign stuffed cantaloupes. That would be different. Far less prickly. And more fun to sit on."
Who comes up with all the wacky 'Psych' merchandise?
Roday said he and the other cast members never know what's available until someone asks them to sign it, while Franks noted he has a meeting once a year where 'Psych' tie-in goodies are discussed. On his wish list: a 'Psych' videogame and pinball machine, though he's also excited about the foam pineapple finger USA is giving away when 'Psych' hosts a Q+A panel at San Diego Comic-Con later this month.
On Roday's wish list: 'Psych' trading cards. "Like Garbage Pail Kids. Except, with us in different outfits, and little catchphrases," he said. "And pineapple-flavored gum. And maybe they can have packs from the other shows on USA, so the kids can start trading, like, a Gus for Gabrielle Anwar. Actually, it might have to be an Anwar and a Bruce Campbell for one Gus."
Even the Smurfs are being turned into a movie (not that there's anything wrong with that) ... will we ever see a 'Psych' movie?
No worries, 'Psych'-os, Franks is already on it. "We've talked, the last two years, about doing a 'Psych' feature at the end of the season," he said. "And that's the thing that I think we would all get on board for, just to get to, you know, in a couple of weeks, shoot a feature-length movie. It's all about making financial sense for everybody. But that would be the dream for us. And we have the idea, and we're ready, and we'd be really excited to do that."
What's funnier: Shawn's nicknames for Gus, or Shawn's "Gus, don't be ..." lines?
"Wow, that's a tough one, because I've had a lot of fun riffing on both of those," Roday said. "I think, for me, at this stage, I'm going to say the 'Gus, don't bes,' because you can cast such a wider net with that. Especially since we've moved on to things that are in the abstract, like thoughts that people are having, as opposed to names, which always have to be proper nouns. So, names are fun ... the 'Gus, don't bes' just have more potential to stretch."
And, a favorite "Gus, don't be"? "I've always been kind of partial to, 'Gus, don't be an old sponge with hair hanging off of it.' Or, 'Gus, don't be this crevice in my arm,' got me," Roday laughed. "And I won't ruin them, but there are a couple coming this season that I'm quite fond of."