As you know, I’m recovering from my broken ankle nightmare, which if you haven’t read about can catch up on here. I spent weeks coping with distractions and one of which, if you haven’t guessed already, was Psych. This rant blog post has been years in the making, and initially they were just thoughts that crossed my mind throughout my on/off obsession over this show but recently I rekindled my love for Shawn’s antics and fell deep deep into the fandom hole once more. Except this time my mind overloaded with opinions and I decided, for the sake of my poor sanity, I get it all on paper (or online, as you do in 2016).
Full disclosure, I fucking love this show, and any criticisms I make below should not be taken at face value. If anything this whole post demonstrates that I love the show too much.
I have a love/hate relationship with this topic concerning Psych. So I’m splitting my opinion into the good and the bad.
The good: Burton Guster is my spirit animal. Most of the time when Shawn talks all you have to do is watch Gus’s face in the background. I guarantee you will crack up every time, I sure do!
Dulé Hill’s acting is top-notch and incredibly entertaining. His character is accurately described by James Roday as “a nerd who doesn’t know he is”. Yes, Burton Guster is a huge nerd and I love that about him. He is a subverted stereotype of the representation of Black characters. He’s dorky, loves “the Bee” (a nickname he made up for the Spelling Bee to make it seem cooler…sorry Gus, it’s really not, take it from someone who participated in BBC’s Hard Spell) and literally cries at…well everything. This is simply because “[He’s] a sympathetic crier, Shawn!” Don’t worry, Gus, I can relate. He’s unapologetic about his person and never lets his moments of self-consciousness define him. And that’s saying something, he has really embarrassing moments.
Another great part of his character is his rightly moments of indignant snaps whenever someone labels him as Shawn’s “sidekick”. He’s not your typical Black character who solely exists to serve his white friends like some sacrificial lamb (-cough-Bonnie Bennett-cough-). In fact, whenever Shawn does land them both in bad situations, Gus becomes the epitome of every man for himself and runs the other direction. Fast. Also have you ever seen Gus run? It’s hysterical.
Gus is half the show. His character progresses, we get episodes of his background and experiences as well as his family who, by the way, are all well-written.
And for that, I will forever thank Steve Franks for sharing this cherished character on my screen.
The Bad: This is a problem that TV/films have in general and for some unfathomable reason can’t seem to understand nor address the issue. Sticking one black guy in your sea of white casting does not make you racially varied. You think you’re playing a game of “look how ethnically diverse we are”, when you’re really playing “spot the token”. A game I wish would end already.
Notice how I didn’t include Shawn Spencer. While James Roday (or should I say Rodriguez, I’ll get to that in a bit) is indeed half-Mexican, the character he plays is not. It’s something I will forever be bitter about because the possibilities of having this actor with a Mexican heritage play the protagonist had been wasted.
“Let’s hire this Latino actor to play a white man!” Did it not occur to the network how this sounded?
Apparently so to some networks, because according to James Roday’s interview on Latina.com, one of the reasons he had to change his name was because, I quote, “it was the late 90s and the NAACP was really cracking down on the networks for lack of diversity. They had it in their heads that they were going to catch all kinds of fire for casting a white guy with a Latino name and trying to say, ‘look at us, we’re being diverse.’ This is actually something that they were concerned about.” [source]
I tried looking for answers online from the Psych team but didn’t come across anything, which led me to the obvious conclusion, the same ridiculous excuse of a reason not to hire PoC as leads: their white audience “wouldn’t relate” to someone who is half-Mexican. Because obviously we can all relate to someone who has a photographic memory and an IQ of fucking Sherlock Holmes.
I will never forget reading comments below an article that discussed James’s background and how excited some people were about reading an actor who was like them to play the hero. I said it before and I’ll say it again, REPRESENTATION MATTERS.
Sometimes I think about how the show would’ve been like if Shawn had been Mexican, (from his mother’s side, I can’t imagine the show without Corbin Bernsen!). So many Mexican!Shawn headcanons squandered.
Let’s take a look at Abigail. God give me patience for every Shules fan I came across that hated Abigail purely because she “got in the way of [their] ship”. But we’re not here to talk about the immaturity of shipping.
I actually adored Abby, she blended with Shawn’s personality really well and you can clearly see the cute and flirty chemistry they had from the reunion episode. So I wouldn’t have minded if they were endgame, because at least they would’ve made sense.
The next female character I was upset about never seeing again was Lucinda from the pilot. To this day I still don’t know why the audience weren’t taken with her. Her character was interesting and I was looking forward to getting to know her. I really enjoyed watching scenes between her and Shawn. They seemed to have this understanding and I could see a friendship, I would even say connection, formulating between the two. The writers should’ve given her a chance.
As much as I liked Abigail and Lucinder, I believe the ship that could’ve had it all was Shawn and Joy Guster. Be still my beating heart, from the moment those two were in the same room and started lip-locking I could feel the intense chemistry between them. I’ve read excuses about these two being “gross” and “not working out” because she was Gus’s sister. Well then you must’ve hated the show Friends. No? Then what makes this different from Monica and Chandle- oh, I see.
I won’t count the amount of times my interracial OTPs were the target of vitriol hate. Even a ship as obscure as Shawn/Joy (or Shoy as I came to call them), that lasted one fucking episode and was never revisited was still the receiving end of it.
I developed so many headcanons and ideas between these two. They practically grew up together and once Shawn used to put frogs on her head? I would’ve loved to see how that progressed into them spending a night together and eventually snogging on the sofa like horny teenagers. Oh the possibilities…
Finally, the ship that had become canon. The ship I least enjoyed. I feel like I’m the only Psych fan who never liked Shules. It was cliché, way too obvious, and had zero chemistry. And that’s mostly because I don’t like Juliet [insert appalled gasps], but I’ll get to that in my next point. This is actually a cop out (hah) a lot of shows do, and that’s to create a female character at the start of the show as security for future romance of the straight male lead, so that our hero can have the full package of his happily ever after in the end. As if it’s absolutely necessary for them to get together and just not let them be friends.
I never perceived that Juliet was into Shawn or as committed to the relationship as Shawn was, which was unfair for both of them. I think Juliet liked the idea of love. This guy has been chasing her since day one and after all the rejections maybe she owed it to him it to finally accept (which ladies, you never do!). There’s not a scene where she doesn’t roll her eyes, be exasperated or look like she’s babysitting him when they’re together.
Which brings me to my next criticism:
I’m sorry but I’ve got mostly negative stuff to say about this. So if you adore this character and can’t take criticism in any way I’d skip this part.
The definition of a Mary-Sue character. A character who seems to be absolutely loved by everyone over some memo I seemed to have missed. I don’t see a reason for her to be on the show other than to look good. She has the personality of a cardboard box and the fact that Juliet is a very bland character makes Shawn’s infatuation with her even more mind-boggling. There was a point or two where I was genuinely interested in her character, and that was in 1×03 where she was continuously disrespected by her partner, Carlton Lassiter, and in episode 1×08 where it was revealed that her and Gus have a shared love of comic books (in which case I actually shipped her with Gus a little bit). I truly got excited and thought finally! We were gonna get somewhere, and see more of this fangirl side, but the writers never revisited it. It’s like one step closer, ten steps back when it comes to her progression. Come to think of it, it’s probably why she gets in too deep with her undercover roles and embraces the personalities – she has none of her own!
That’s not to say this is a slam on Maggie Lawson. On the contrary I’ve loved Maggie since Model Behaviour. It’s just too bad Juliet O’Hara doesn’t do her acting justice. For this, I blame the writers. I remember listening to one of the episode’s commentary and the writers legitimately said something along the lines of, “just throw in something random or two and that’s her character” in regards to glimpses of her past. They literally confessed to not bothering with developing her character.
Loss of spark and inconsistencies
There’s no sensible way of saying this, what the fuck happened to the show’s spark?
The jokes used to be witty, the murders had a bit of mystery, the actors worked hard for the chemistry between every character. Where did all that magic go?
I think the loss started happening in season 5. Season 4 had its downs but it still had pretty strong episodes, like the exceptional season finale and of course the fan-favourite Shawn Takes A Shot In The Dark.
I can’t help but ask, did the network fire all the writers of seasons 1-4 and hire complete newbies who have never watched an episode of Psych in their life? Because incidentally, season 5 is also when the inconsistencies started happening. If I had a penny for every inconsistency I spotted on this show, I’d be a billionaire. Even something as small as Henry’s middle name (in season 1 it started with an L, in season 5 it’s Williams) had me throwing my hands up in the air maddeningly. At this point as a writer you just have to admit that you fucked up, especially with Shawn’s complete character turnaround and regression.
Let’s talk about that shit for a second. How the hell did someone so intelligent and observant in season 1 appear dumb as a post in season 6? You could argue that Shawn still made himself appear oblivious in early seasons, but he only used to pull those antics to get a rile out of Gus and his father. For example, he clearly knew how to use the word pro-bono in the pilot, and later in the season when Gus used the word Shawn made a joke that made it appear as if he didn’t know the meaning, which caused Gus to look at him exasperated. It was emphasised that no matter the silly clown act, it was still an act. This man was a detective and there were many moments in seasons 1-4 that reminded the audience of his brilliance. For example, in Weekend Warriors Shawn recreated Lassie’s board in the Psych office, in Gus Walks into A Bank Shawn’s mind goes over the shoes everyone wore, in Extradition: British Columbia there was an incredible sequence where his mind explored the criminals he’d come across, and in both 65 Million Years Off and The Greatest Adventure in the History of Basic Cable he recollects maps in his mind and sees them in a bird’s eye view out in front of him. By season 5, Shawn was made to look so dense he didn’t know whether he would be able to walk without his appendix. It makes you wonder how the police were still hiring him.
I’ve noticed a lot of these inconsistencies on Shawn’s character were made for the sake of cheap jokes. Here’s a tip for future writers, leaping at the chance of destroying a character you built just for a simple laugh is the surest way of losing your audience.
I think the most drastic change of his character that will always bother me is his opinion on the supernatural. Shawn made it heavily clear on his stand on ghosts/aliens/vampires/exorcisms, you name it, in opposition to Gus’s beliefs. In season 1 he firmly dismisses the idea of life on other planets and now in season 5 he’s suddenly a expert in all things alien? Talk about doing a complete 180. It wouldn’t have come as a surprise if they built up to this change, but it came out of nowhere. To top it all off he’s still making fun of “geeks” despite the end of Shawn vs the Red Phantom where he genuinely admits, “you were right from the beginning Gus, they are good people, good hearts”. I don’t see why he suddenly changed his mind, especially since he’s one of them now!
Another complete turnaround was Shawn and Henry’s relationship. It was progressing beautifully and realistically from seasons 1-3, and a little bit in 4, but suddenly everything was fine and dandy by season 5. Like what the hell did I miss? Did they have some camping trip together making s’mores and singing kumbaya during the hiatus? These two have 15 years of fighting and resentment between each other and now suddenly they buried all that?
In Polarizing Express there was a fight between the two that was a long time coming and I was excited to watch it unfold because this was the peak of everything, this was the fight they had to have in order to truly start mending their relationship. Unfortunately, it ended before it even started. James Roday confirmed it was a timing issue, but still what a disappointment. This fight was supposed to be building up to a season finale worthy of an episode and now it was wasted on a Christmas special that could’ve been written better (sorry James). Their relationship is like an onion, not because it’s supposed to make you cry, but because you have to peel back every bit of their disagreements to get to the centre of it all.
Speaking of team papa-son monkeys, I was also disappointed in the decreasing amount of flashbacks. These were my favourite parts of the episodes and then one day they disappeared from the show altogether. It just felt like the flashbacks were supposed to be headed towards Shawn’s teen years until the day he took off. I couldn’t wait to get to that point. Sadly, you guessed it, the writers didn’t revisit. (I’m starting to sense a pattern here).
It’s not even that the ideas weren’t strong after season 4, the concepts were there, just the execution was terrible. Such as the episode where Shawn had to go undercover in a mental institution. If you read Psych fanfiction religiously like me, you would instantly think of CollegeKid’s We All Go A Little Crazy Sometimes. A fantastic, very in-character and clever read that may as well have turned into an episode. Unfortunately the actual episode didn’t follow through with our expectations and was poorly executed.
In a nutshell, after season 4 the show became a parody of itself and I had to start distancing myself otherwise I’d lose my mind over how awful it had gotten. It’s come to a point where I deny anything beyond season 5, except the very special and hilarious Last Night Gus.
Shawn’s dying wardrobe and missing motorcycle
Oh the Norton, how I miss that baby. And by Norton I’m talking about the 1972 Commando that the show tried to discreetly change in season 4. Yeah, we noticed.
I get that the show can’t always get a hold of the motorcycle but at least they should’ve had Shawn holding his helmet underneath his arm so we could see he wasn’t walking everywhere or constantly relying on Gus who had another job to worry about!
What was even more noticeable more was his change of style. This truly disheartened me because I loved the polo shirts, the plaid, the acid wash jeans, and sweet Jesus the leather. But in season 6 it’s like he threw out all of his clothes and wore the same dark shirts (mainly the purple one) in every episode. Yes, Psych writers, WE NOTICED!
I think this change was supposed to coincide with him “growing up”. But if that’s the case then the writers clearly have some kind of misconception on being an adult. I’ve worked with people from all walks of life, including middle-aged lovelies who’re just as goofy and vivacious and colourfully-clad as early-season Shawn, but also responsible at the same time. Growing up doesn’t mean letting go of the things you love and enjoy, only means readjusting your priorities.
Lack of screentime for Vick and Henry
This was a true loss for the show. From the moment I saw Karen in the pilot I was instantly intrigued. Not only was the chief of police a woman, but she was pregnant on top of it? Oh my God, forever my hero.
Chief Vick is an amazing female character. Head strong, supportive, funny, intelligent, has a heart but never lets her professionalism waver. I applaud whoever wrote Karen because it’s so rare to find career-women on television that aren’t written to fall into the archetype of “bossy bitch”.
As for Henry, it’s ironic that he had even less screentime than he used to after he started working with Shawn in the same building. Again, a huge shame. There was a lot of potential there.
Let’s not kid ourselves, we all want to whump on Shawn one way or another.
When I first watched this show I honestly didn’t think it’s the type of show I’d obsess with. That was until…
[cue horror music]
One day I was minding my own business and thought, hey why not read a Psych fic with some Shawn angst and perhaps a little torture? Then BAM, hits me The Longest Day by LittleFairy. That little fucker got me hooked for life. And it got me desperate for whump on the real thing. (On the SHOW! Not on James! Jesus).
While I was still watching season 1, I discovered that Shawn was shot and kidnapped in season 4. I got so excited I literally paused the episode I was watching and skipped straight to the whumping 3 seasons later. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out as good as I read in fanfiction. But what did I expect? TV never gets it right.
So those are all the points I can think of right now that bother me about the show. I still enjoy it and own seasons 1-4. It just breaks my heart to watch a show with so much potential go wasted.
This is just my opinion, you’re free to love the rest of the seasons as much as you wish. If you would like you share your own criticisms or disagreements with mine or comments in general, feel free. I love talking about TV!
Till next time,
Sahar is in progress.