Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

16 Jan 2010, 11:18 a.m.

My Worst Inhibitions

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2010 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

As a Christmas gift, Leonard got us the DVDs of the first three seasons of Psych. We're in season three or so. Some observations:

Wow the pilot feels way different from the rest of the show. Shawn's more hypercompetent, the tone is darker and less funny, fewer pop culture references, Detective Lassiter's nearly neutral evil (instead of the lawful good he turns into later in the show), Shawn's dad is "back" in town (instead of having lived in Santa Barbara continuously since working for the SBPD), Det. Barry is more skeptical than Det. O'Hara is, etc., etc. I like the general tone of the later episodes better, but Leonard and I both miss Barry.

Psych as Sherlock Holmes homage: Shawn uses keen observational and reasoning skills, J Watson & Burton Guster are both medical folk known by their last names, and they have a weird relationship with the legitimate police. Leonard also stretch-suggested that, just as Holmes was addicted to cocaine, Shawn is addicted to pop culture references. The constant stream of references, only some of which I get, is one reason that Leonard likes this show -- like Mystery Science Theater 3000, it provides quantity and variety in pop culture jokes. (Leonard also likes their episode titles.) For example, in Anupam Nigam's Season 1 episode "Game Set...Muuurder?" the tennis star is "Deanna Sirtis" which is a really obvious reference to Counselor Troi from Star Trek: The Next Generation. (Nigam tends to write interesting episodes that use characters well, and is Indian, whoo!)

Yeah, basically ALL of Psych fails the Bechdel test massively. Even when [Interim] Chief Vick and O'Hara talk, it's usually about one of the guys. "Who You Gonna Call?" made me cringe a bit in how it treated a trans character, and none of the show's treatment of non-hetero folk has ever struck me as especially winning. I think the show treats Gus's blackness in a non-fail manner but I may not have caught things.

Henry Spencer is, in the more formulaic episodes, basically Wilson from Home Improvement.

Leonard and I usually sing along to the theme song as though we are happy guinea pigs named Enthuse and Happy (way too bizarre and one-off to put in the slang dictionary). Leonard thinks the song's lyrics make very little sense. I've unsuccessfully argued that the song is from a true neutral to a lawful good, trying to persuade the listener to live and act in the fruitful ambiguity of method and purpose. Steve Franks (not to be confused with household favorite Steven Frank) created the show to have a nice light comedy feel, so I speculate that his song is also a message to darker, less referential & over-the-top shows.

I'd watch a version of Psych that was 90% Detective Lassiter. I am resisting reading all of Timothy Omundson's in-character blog, but found this four-year-old interview interesting (mostly so I can give thanks I'm not a worker in the Byzantine industry that is mass media entertainment). Lassiter likes to believe he's a paladin (Julia, Moss, thank you for showing me episodes of The Middleman), but he's more of a lawful neutral. I am in idle moments working on a taxonomy that compares and contrasts Lassiter, Fraser from Due South, the Middleman, and Captain Carrot from the Discworld novels.

OK, now Leonard and I are just going through all our old episode titles and deciding which ones could be Psych episodes. "Mentos: The Deathmaker," "java.util.Murder," and "Death With Jeeves" are all probably unsuitable for various reasons. "Part One: Mur" I still adore. A quiet Saturday at Gunlinghorn.


16 Jan 2010, 14:02 p.m.

Glad you liked The Middleman! We really enjoy Psych, but you're not wrong about the failure modes it has. As far as whether Gus's blackness is a fail, it's troubling to me because on the one hand, I really like the character, and his interactions with Shawn, and I definitely like the Holmes?Watson comparison. But. He's relegated to sidekick, which kind of bites. I mean, so many times white guys get to be the smartest, coolest, save the dayest, best people. There's something to be said for being aware of that and actively trying to turn the tables. There's nothing Gus has that Shawn can't take away, as is particularly evidenced in an episode in Season 4, which I won't spoil for you. So that kind of bites. But I still really enjoy the show, and I think both James Roday and Dule Hill are hilarious.

16 Jan 2010, 14:03 p.m.

And I guess I forgot to close a tag there. Oops.

16 Jan 2010, 14:47 p.m.

I was reading recently about Eddie "Rochester" Anderson and his long-running role as Jack Benny's servant/sidekick. Benny made it a point that if there were any jokes involving skin color in their routine, that it would be Rochester who would deliver the punchline, a self-aware joke instead of a demeaning joke. It made me think of Psych and particularly of a running theme that was most prevalent in season 3 and somewhat in season 4 (or was it 4 and 5) in which there are a lot of semi-subtle btw-gus-is-black jokes -- in which Gus delivers the punchline. (E.g.: Lassiter: "Can I be Frank?" Shawn: "Sure, but only if I can be Dean and Gus can be Sammy." Gus: "Why do I have to be Sammy?") It's also worth mentioning IMO that despite being a second banana, Gus' character by and large avoids the modern trappings of black characters. Most of the time Gus is not "the black character" as much as he is the friend of Shawn's that happens to be black.

19 Jan 2010, 3:26 a.m.

I am a fan of Javier Grillo-Marxuach and really enjoyed the first Middleman comic book, and remember feeling bummed out that I wouldn't be able to watch the tv show. But I just realized, I can watch streaming episodes online. Thanks for mentioning it, so my memory could jog itself. Off to watch the show..