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Psych: Premiere Episode (review)

Sherlock the Slacker

He’s a slacker Sherlock Holmes, is Shawn Spencer, who’s not a psychic but plays one on TV. Well, sort of. He’s actually just a dude perpetually between jobs and perfectly happy with that who lands by chance a ridiculously lucrative gig helping the police investigate tough cases with his amazingly keen powers of observation. Nothing gets by him, not the almost invisible touch between coworkers that tells him they’re having an affair, not the nervous twitch of a witness to a burglary that tells him the witness himself dunnit. Thing is, the cops don’t believe that he’s merely an observer of genius proportions — they’re sure he must be an accomplice in the burglary to have such apparent inside info. So to save his own butt, he tells them he’s a psychic. And he’s so convincing — using that Holmesian talent again — that they believe him. Or at least they can’t prove he’s lying.
The new USA Network series Psych is clearly designed to complement its hit Monk with its lighthearted crime comedy and offbeat protagonist. And as amusing as its premiere episode was — it aired last Friday night, but if you missed it you can catch the whole thing on the show’s official site — it’s easy to be afraid that it will go the way of Monk and run out of steam almost instantly. (Monk petered out after its first year, and is now entering its fourth year on life support.) Shawn (played by James Roday: The Dukes of Hazzard) and his straight-arrow pal, Gus (Dulé Hill: Holes), whom he shanghais into detective-agency partnership for Remington Steel-ish reasons, to lend him a bit of an air of respectability, aren’t exactly the most likable characters ever to grace the TV screen. Adrian Monk has — or at least once had — the pathos of tragedy hanging over him, fueling his own almost self-destructive neuroses; he had depth. Shawn, on the other hand? He’s kind of a jerk whose charm is, so far, pretty much limited to his shallowness; he’s got a bit of a beef with his dad, Henry (Corbin Bernsen: Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang), a former cop who, we see in flashbacks, relentlessly trained his young son’s powers of observation to the point of abuse (jerkiness runs in the Spencer men, apparently). And Gus is just your garden-variety goody-two-shoes who’s terrified of getting caught in the game but is nowhere near to wielding even the mild aggressiveness required to tell his pal Shawn to take a hike.

But TV runs on characters — what Psych has at the moment is schtick. How much play can the writers get out of Shawn’s clever interpretations of the ordinary stuff that the rest of us look right past? Even MacGyver didn’t run on the MacGyverisms for more than a few early episodes: Mac had a point of view; he was passionate about stuff and wasn’t afraid to show it. Shawn’s gonna have to be a little less ironically detached if he’s going to keep playing a psychic on TV — the mental MacGyverisms won’t carry us along for more than a couple of weeks.

‘Psych’ airs at 10pm Eastern on USA Network

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MPAA: not rated

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