The deceptively simple show – ‘psych’
This one ranks as one of my all time fav TV shows. And it dint always start as the fan-wagon it became eventually for me. Being always an enthusiastic connoisseur of nicely made “crime detective” series, I came to like the CBS mystery “The Mentalist” quite a lot. It was well known to any self-respecting Mentalist fan that the show was inspired by another show in the same genre – “Psych”. But I always stuck to the story – “yeah psych started earlier and Heller got the idea probably from watching it. But hey, Simon Baker’s acting hit it out of the park by a mile. So who cares about a pretend psychic detective who wasnt even a serious customer anytime without a tragic backstory to match-up. I dint watch it for the longest part of a semi-decade. And then at the behest of a friend, I did give it a shot. And right from the first binge-watch session, I am hooked. The show at first looks like the tale of two goof-balls (OK at least one at any rate) who happen to solve the odd tough case. But then you realize eventually that the writer has embedded a couple neat backstories inside that seemingly banal humor-fest (not banal like boring, the jokes are very sharp – very) which are very hard to decipher to the unsuspecting eye.
For instance, the episode in which Shawn and Gus go back to the school for the gifted students where Gus had applied to has a great instance of this genius of the show. There Gus is mad at his parents for not allowing him to take admission in the school despite his being eligible for a scholarship. It was supposed to be a school which gave you a pass to the Ivy Leagues. A seemingly irate Gus tells his parents over phone a line which went something like this – “I could have been the next Widdgenstein”. (If only yo let me study in this school). Now to the one who doesnt know better it may come up as a perfect rationale. Your kid could be the next genius inventor or scientist always if he was smart and got the best education possible. Only, Mr Widdgenstein though sound phonetically similar to one Albert Einstein in pronunciation of their name (second!!), he was not a scientist. Not even a doctor or a mathematician. He was an Austrian Philosopher. Now one doesnt need to attend a great college to become a great philosopher – historially speaking. Great moder philosophers whose work has impacted hundreds of millions of people and a lot of geniuses themselves like Nietzsche and Soren Kierkegaard (Nikola Tesla admired him as his guide apparently) never went to any great colleges. Thus, it is a play on Gus’es smarts that he may have been a great book-scholar, but he lacked that imagination which supposedly made these great philosophers who he intended to become by going to those schools. And there are many many more such sharp takes almost mocking conventional wisdom littered throughout the show.
The character development in Psych
One thing of note about this show is the fact that the characters apart from the lead are also beautifully coloured and depicted in their full bloom. Someone like Henry Spencer, who is a great cop from his days is also a good coach to his son and trains him in those ways. But he also is an uptight citizen who has the most honourable response in various situations. Even when Shawn is shown to rebuff him all the time in the show, he is the wind beneath his wings in some measure. At the least he was when Shawn was a kid. That again seems to me to be a contradictory theme. Shawn realizes specially after his mother tells him that Henry dint leave her and it was the other way round that he may have been too harsh on – hopefully. It looks like that at the end of that episode. However, he doesnt mend his peculiar ways around his father. Except when it truly mattered. The moat of jest is the cover that protects what is real for this protagonist.
Other characters like the patriotic detective Lassiter, Juliet O Hara have also been developed in good measure. They seem pretty authentic through their back-stories. Many other minor (relatively) characters are also essential to provide balance to the backdrop and the story. All in all, while the show has a comic overtone or two, the characters are developed very well and sharp at moments when it is needed the most.
The lead character “Shawn Spencer” – unconventional and a study in contradiction.
The show takes us into the world of two childhood buddies – Shawn and Gus who are poles apart as personalities but have stuck together throughout (except when they were studying in college in different cities before they reunited). Their latest adventure (many may see it as a mis-adventure), is a detective agency going by the name of “psych” in Santa Barbara. They help the SBPD in fighting and solving crime like murder (almost 100 pct except an odd episode here and there). And they do it while pretending that Shawn was a psychic who could tune into the cosmic vibrations and engage with the spirits who help him decipher various clues (by imparting some signals). The fact is that he has an eidetic memory and can connect the dots backwards at the most opportune moments to yield the truth. Gus, on the other hand is a sales professional in the pharmaceutical industry who leads the most conventional life. He is well read and learned in his own way – mostly a fact-check machine. His breadth of knowledge is commendable. He likes to play by the book. He is not at ease to bend the rules. Either the society’s or the law. But Shawn on the other hand, is a carefree soul who lives by the moment. He leads the most dynamic-live-it-as-it-comes halcyon life possible. He has never held a steady job and has no plans of “growing-up” as he likes to say it. His father, being a stickler for rules, is always at odds with him for this behaviour and disposition. Both Gus and Shawn are foodies but it is Shawn who likes to comment about the candies he ate on a typical day – “yes the candies and the skittles”. The impression you get is that of a guy who is in some of his detractor’s words – some kind of a man-child and not dependable for serious work in life. Except he is. And not just because of his murder-mystery solving prowess. He actually has the best response in the most demanding of situations. The most mature and appropriate. And that is just the typical deceptively contrarian take on things the show has on almost all things which are conventionally accepted to be true in our world.
An example could be the time when he let his detractor and nemesis-de-comico Lassiter take credit for solving a crime before Lassie’s sister so he could still be the man she looked up-to. It was in-fact Shawn who had as usual solved the mystery but he directed Lassiter in a fashion so he appeared as in-charge and to have come up with the smarts to deliver the case. So as much as people may peg him to be the irresponsible man-child who coveted attention (in his father’s opinion) and whose world revolved around his own self in an indulgent way, he always had a strong grasp on the things and values that really mattered in life. And he has a strong conscience – maybe like possessed by children after-all who had’nt been corrupted by the adult-ed life.
And for what it is worth, he is the go-to guy for the SBPD chief Karen Vic whenever she needs someone to get them through the most complex of situations. hence, it is safe to assume that he is infact effective in what he does – highly. Hence, it is just a contrasting duality that his character presents embedded in the same man. Is it the hint towards the idea that like the best artists and practitioners. he reserves his best for the most important moments. It is never explicitly mentioned as such in the show. But maybe, this is his way to roll through life to be most effective and useful. By not letting the banality of it corrode his spirit. By preserving his spirit in jest. And if it is so, its a master-stroke. If you watch the show carefully, you realize what gets Shawn ahead of the pack mostly is his perceptiveness. He has the unconventional take on things and an attention to detail that matters. What if, his jest was just a mechanism to filter out the weed. And he could grasp firmly to the truth and facts that mattered. That would make perfect sense. The truth as it is, is generally very simple and right before us most of the time. It is our ego and cob-webs that prevent us by blindfolding us from it. Shawn does not have that issue as he has not grown up as he likes people to believe. Except when he is. He quickly latches on to the fact or truth that mattered. And thats a neat contradiction as well. The guy who just wouldnt pay any serious concern to what was happening around him does always have a sharp grasp on the truth that mattered. Perhaps that is how the universe operates. By revealing its secrets to those who wouldnt be blindfolded by their egos. Just like our head psychic at SBPD.