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Even though I very much enjoyed it, last week’s season premiere of Psych left me concerned with how set in its ways the show has become. That we’d continue to see slight variations of the same episode every week, with no evolution in characters or plotlines. Well, it seems that the creative team behind the show had similar thoughts, and this week’s episode goes to great lengths to mix up the usual formula, with fantastic results.
The mystery of the week focuses on a woman found drowned after driving her car into a lake, but more than the mystery, the episode was about mixing up the character pairings. Instead of having our 'psychic' detectives, Shawn and Gus (James Roday and Dulé Hill) attempt to work their way into an investigation of detectives Lassiter and O’Hara (Timothy Omundson and Maggie Lawson), the teams are changed. Lassiter and Gus are the main pair on the case this week, with Shawn and O’Hara teaming up out of spite, upset that they’re each being excluded. This twist allows for new comedic possibilities, with Lassiter and Gus in particular, proving to be an comedically rich duo.
Not only does this episode prove a break from the normal show beats, it also takes time to point out and tease itself over its predictability. When Shawn declares that a seemingly accidental death was actually a murder, Lassiter immediately gets annoyed with how 'predictable' Shawn is and then paints a step-by-step picture of how the next few scenes would go in a normal episode. Later on, Gus gets confused when Lassiter, unlike Shawn, introduces him by his actual name and not some ridiculous pseudonym. Furthermore, at one point Gus gets annoyed at Shawn for doing his 'psychic' act when no one but Gus, who knows he’s not a psychic, is around.
Oh, and did I mention there’s tap dancing? Lots and lots of tap dancing. The most comically satisfying outcome of the Lassiter-Gus pairing comes when Lassiter is convinced to join Gus’ tap dancing class, only for the detective to discover that it helps him concentrate. From then on, whenever he needs to clear his head to think about the case, Lassiter begins to quietly tap, no matter how inappropriate the situation. In addition to the laughs this generates, it also allows Dulé Hill to show off his dance background. And show it off he does, in a nearly five minute performance that ends the episode after the mystery has been solved. If this acting thing ever stops working out for Hill, it’s clear he has a nice fallback career.
The episode’s one weak spot is its central mystery, which isn’t bad so much as it is predictable, and not in a self-aware way like other parts of the episode. When only two new characters are introduced, the victim’s boyfriend and his lab partner, and then one of them dies a half hour in, it isn’t exactly hard to figure out who the killer is. But between the tap dancing and the switching up of roles among the main characters, the mystery is given very little screen time, making it not nearly as important a factor to the episode’s success as in a normal week.
It remains to be seen if mixing up the formula will become a regular quality of Psych, or whether this was simply an isolated incident and next week it will be back to business as usual. But whichever way it goes, the fact that the writers were willing to mix it up at all, gives me faith in their awareness of the fact that, without change, the show will eventually get stale. This episode is also evidence of how many new comedic possibilities can be discovered by slight twists. Here’s hoping that its creative success leads to more risk-taking in the future, with similarly funny results.