Thursday, July 3, 2008

Psych: The Complete First Season (live action TV series)

The first season has no overarching storyline. In the first episode, Shawn Spencer is established as a flippant, irresponsible joker who, starting at an early age, was trained by his father to observe, remember, and analyze his surroundings (I think his father was hoping Shawn would become a cop). Shawn mostly uses his skills to solve crimes based on things he sees in news reports, calling in tips and trying to collect commendations for them. When his most recent called-in tip leads to the cops considering him a potential accomplice to the crime, Shawn explains his crime-solving success by claiming that he's psychic. A short time later, Shawn has rented office space and ropes his best friend Gus into helping him out with his new psychic detective agency, Psych.

I don't consider this show good enough to actually spend precious money on, but I did enjoy watching the copy I got from my public library. The biggest reasons to watch this show are the characters and the humor.

I've already mentioned Shawn a little - one of the things I like about him is that's he's not just an irresponsible joker who lies way too easily, he's also got a heart. In one of my favorite episodes, he helps a former cop who's developing Alzheimer's - the cop says he knows a murder was committed, but no one believes him except Shawn. During an incident when Shawn was little, this particular cop believed him when his own father didn't. It was a sweet episode. Also, despite the fact that Shawn's a lady's man who enjoys any time with a woman that won't lead to commitments, he refuses to be the rebound guy when he knows (using his powers of observation) that the woman could easily patch things up with her boyfriend.

Shawn's friend Gus is the perfect foil for him, making this a buddy show as well as a comedy and a mystery. Gus is pretty much the opposite of Shawn - he's geeky, responsible, and would prefer to follow the rules. However, they both find it very exciting to solve crimes, and so it's usually not too hard for Shawn to rope Gus into a new case.

Besides Shawn and Gus, there's Henry, Shawn's father, and the cops Shawn and Gus spend the most time with, Carlton Lassiter and Juliet O'Hara. Shawn's father is the only person he can't regularly fool. He's smart, cynical, and critical of others, especially Shawn. Lassiter sneers at everything Shawn does and gets annoyed that the department uses a "psychic." Of course, the success of this psychic undercuts his self-confidence a little, particularly in one episode, although he'd never purposefully let anyone know how he was feeling. Juliet is pretty, eager, smart, and fresh out of the academy. Although I don't think she entirely believes Shawn, she sees that he gets results and is willing to bend a little and let him help her and the department out.

There are many aspects to this show that people may not like, however (although I finished the entire first season, my mom didn't get past the first couple episodes). First, getting back to the characters, there's Henry's treatment of Shawn. He always criticizes him, and, when Shawn was a kid, he never let him play like a normal kid. He criticized Shawn on his sneaking skills when Shawn was playing hide-and-seek! There are moments when it's apparent that he really does love and care for Shawn, but you have to able to get past everything else first. Besides Henry's treatment of Shawn, there's Shawn's treatment of Gus. Considering the number of times Shawn has tricked Gus, lied to him, and roped him into dangerous things, it's a wonder Gus is still Shawn's friend. Some people might write this off as just their buddy dynamic, considering there are plenty of times when the two have fun together and Shawn balances Gus by forcing him to have fun every once in a while, but it's something that might bother other people.

Second, the people around Shawn aren't very smart. This is one of the main reasons Shawn is able to do as much as he does. The cops are nearly incapable of solving crimes without him and, in fact, might've arrested the wrong person a time or two if it hadn't been for Shawn. Everyone Shawn encounters is easily tricked by the most obvious lies - I cringed when Shawn and Gus tried to pass themselves off as wildlife experts with horribly fake accents and someone actually believed them.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Monk (live action TV series) - Adrian Monk is a former cop who's wife was killed. Most episodes of this show can stand alone, but the overarching plot, when there is one, is Monk's attempts to discover who killed his wife. Monk, like Shawn, is excellent at helping the cops solve crimes based on details he can see that no one else does, but he's crippled by his OCD and fear of just about everything. He travels with a nurse so that he can at least function in public and at crime scenes. Viewers who want another humorous and quirky mystery show with interesting characters might like this one.
  • Dexter (live action TV series) - Dexter and his whole family are cops, although he works as a technician specializing in blood spatter. Dexter is also a serial killer. Dexter's foster father realized what he was becoming when he was younger, taught him how to keep from getting caught, and taught him how to choose worthy victims (the bad guys that the legal system can't catch or keep). Dexter now has two lives, his life as a serial killer, and his life as a guy trying to look as ordinary and normal as possible. This show is more graphic than Psych (blood, cut up body parts), has more bad language, and the humor tends to be darker. However, if the thing that most interested you about Psych was the father-son relationship, you may want to give this one a try. Like Psych, Dexter has flashbacks to Dexter's childhood, showing how his foster father molded him into the person he is today.
  • One for the Money (book) by Janet Evanovich - One for the Money is the first book in Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series. If you'd like something with lots of humor and quirky characters who manage to bring in the bad guys and solve crimes in spite of their aura of amateur-ness, you might like this book and this series. Although the main character is a woman and doesn't even have anything like Shawn's level of skills, she and her mostly incompetent friends (except Morelli the cop and Ranger the badass bounty hunter with a past) manage to get everything to mostly work out by the end of every book. In the first book, Stephanie, a resident of Trenton, NJ who's desperately in need of money, gets a job as a bounty hunter for her cousin Vinnie - nevermind that she doesn't know the first thing about being a bounty hunter and doesn't even own a gun. Her first assignment is to bring in Morelli, a cop who's been accused of murder and the guy who charmed her out of her virginity when she was 16.
  • Burglars Can't Be Choosers (book) by Lawrence Block - This is the first book in Block's Bernie Rhodenbarr series. Bernie is a professional burglar who's intelligent, ordinary, and as honest as someone in his profession can be. In this first book, he starts off on a job finding a leather-bound box in a house. Unfortunately, the box isn't there, there's a dead body in the house, and the police find Bernie in the place and assume he's responsible for everything they find there. Bernie doesn't know if he was set up or not, but he's got to stay ahead of the law and prove he didn't commit murder. If you'd like something with humor and a main character who is both likable and only honest according to a certain narrower definition of honest, you might like this book and this series.

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