In Defense of Psych

Psych is one of the best shows that I don’t think most people should watch.

I was a zealot at first. I am always zealous with detective shows that I love. I told people to watch, talked to friends who I knew liked mystery or comedy.

Psych is both mystery and comedy at once -- a hilariously post-modern take on the detective genre especially as it relates to the traditional European mystery’s trope of the special man. The European detective is the person with some extraordinary ability -- think Sherlock Holmes or Poirot. He/she is such a genius that he/she can solve cases that baffle others just by glancing at evidence.

Well, Shawn Spencer of Psych is the same. The difference is that these detectives are such geniuses they often live outside of society. They live the life of the mind learning new things to supplement their extraordinary abilities.

Shawn is incredibly observant like Holmes, but he’s also a bit of an idiot who doesn’t want to study, and he’s incredibly charismatic. He gets by on faking psychic abilities to bumble his way through life. Like any great post-modern take on literature, Psych spends fifty percent of the time referencing and commenting on popular culture as we follow Shawn and his sidekick Gus through the world they’ve created for themselves in a completely ironic sometimes shallow, sometimes deep discussion of the nature of detective fiction.

My favorite bit is Psych’s recurring discussion of The Mentalist. The Mentalist came out years after Psych and clearly borrowed from the basic premise. Rather than berate the show, all of the characters on Psych revere it and attack anyone who dares to say a bad word about it. It’s genius.

But here’s the thing that makes Psych truly genius. It’s not written for everyone. The jokes and references target Gen-Xers specifically, and they are happy to leave out anyone who isn’t between the ages of 35 and 48.

I tried selling the show to people who were older than I was, people who love mystery. The thing is that unless you loved Magnum P.I., kind of hated but kind of loved the Friday the 13th movies, understood why “Rio” was the only truly lame thing Duran Duran did, and are obsessed with Tears for Fears even now, none of it’s funny.

That’s the beauty and shortcoming of post-modernism. It exists only for some and only for a brief moment. The older people I brought in on the show just kind of stared at the screen. Then I watched it with my assistant, who is 27. I laughed and laughed at the camera angles in the horror episode, realized halfway through that it was referencing the horror spoof April Fools Day, and completely loved that the plot ended halfway through the episode, but he didn’t understand why any of this was funny.

Why should he? It’s a show that just wasn’t written with him in mind.

So I’m not trying to sell it any longer. I don’t think it will go many more seasons anyway, and who cares if anyone but my friends and I like it. It’s an interesting way to develop a show and to target an audience, and it’s not a bad lesson for writers. A show or a book doesn’t have to be universally appealing to be good. It’s enough to entertain and enlighten any group of people. But I think what the show’s creators, writers and actors are doing that really makes it loveable is that they are entertaining themselves.