Psych signed off earlier this year with a sweet, quiet finale that was quickly buried in the collective uproar over How I Met Your Mother. I was baking sumbitch cookies for a HIMYM party when I could have been catching up on Psych’s last season, and I have to live with that, but I’d be remiss if I never said goodbye to my first TV rebound.
I probably should have known what my future would hold (this blog and pillows with fictional characters’ faces on them) when I reacted to the end of Alias like I was going through a breakup. It took me three years to start watching Lost because I wasn’t ready for anything serious. But my friend happened to mention that there was this new show about a guy who pretended to be a psychic and slipped into a spelling bee and made a girl spell ‘banana.’ That sounded just about right.
Psych was an irreverent screwball comedy about best friends who somehow managed to solve crime. It was gloriously meta (“Gus, don’t be the only black lead on a major cable network”), with catchphrases and running jokes that the show stopped trying to explain right around the time it stopped trying so hard to make Vancouver look like Santa Barbara. This was a show less concerned with bringing in new fans than with entertaining its current ones, and I always had a feeling that the writers were laughing harder at their scripts than anyone. While most of comedy’s funniest characters don’t know that they’re funny (e.g. Ron Swanson or Danny Castellano), Shawn and Gus knew it almost too well.
In addition to all of the “painfully cute mugging” (a label the show embraced from a reviewer who meant it as a slight), Psych was also an eighties pop culture time capsule that got both more obscure and more intense over time. It was a show about how to grow up, a romantic comedy, and a constant homage to something. For a few years there, Psych was my go-to happy show. To celebrate it, here’s a look at my top 15 episodes.
15. “An Evening with Mr. Yang” (3.16)
The first part of the Yang trilogy is one of Psych‘s most successful dramatic outings. That’s thanks in large part to Jimmi Simpson’s turn as criminal profiler Mary Lightly, whose delightfully unintentional creepiness balances out the killer’s calculated games. Cybill Shepherd returns as Shawn’s mom, and Rachael Leigh Cook is back to stir things up between Shawn and Jules, but the biggest casting news here is that “An Evening with Mr. Yang” marks the first appearance by a member of the Breakfast Club.
“So what’s Mary short for? Marion?” “No.”
“You haven’t taken this thing seriously from Jump Street.”
“Ankle weights. Totally reinvigorated Ryan Reynolds’s career.”
“This could be directed at any one of us…probably not this guy.”
14. “Six Feet Under the Sea” (3.10)
A sea lion with a feel-good story turns up dead, and Gus needs Shawn to support him in his time of need. Shawn just wants to ride a dolphin. So it’s basically the usual nonsense, just with more aquarium.
“These are my sneaking around pants. Don’t be jealous. I got you a matching pair.”
“I could vault it.” “WHERE WOULD YOU LAND.”
“Gus, don’t be exactly half of an 11 pound black forest ham.”
“They can smell the light.” “They also type.” “True. Not well. But they’re sharks with fins so it’s still impressive.”
“Arrivederci, my furry little Michael Phelps.”
“And I’ve been doing something I like to call stalling, and Rutger Hauer calls schtalling.” “Why?” “Because he’s Dutch.”
13. “Black and Tan: A Crime of Fashion” (2.15)
Psych goes Zoolander and Dulé Hill oils his head. Next question, please.
“‘Nondescript’? I’ve never heard a woman described like that unless she was a robbery suspect.”
“You don’t remember where you were this afternoon?” “It was yellow. And boring.”
“I wonder if it looks like the loft in Head Over Heels.” “You and only you can confirm that.”
“I encourage you all not to cry, but to drink and laugh and dance as we remember a man who once thought a belt made of dried bits of panther was a good idea”
12. “Feet Don’t Kill Me Now” (5.02)
The first 57 minutes could be a black screen and the last three could be that tap routine, and this episode would still make my list. Everything else is a bonus. Remember when Dulé tap danced on Smart Guy? It’s like that.
“You are so predictable, Spencer.” “As predictable as your next date ending with the words ‘I hope this never happens to someone else’?”
“Is it court ordered? Will it make you faster?”
“Jules, don’t be Canada.”
“You slip in a tub.”
“Black guy’s my partner.” “They’re both black.”
11. “Bounty Hunters!” (2.09)
Shawn Spencer, Bounty Hunter. Admit it. It’s hot.
“Oh, dude. Labradoodle.”
“Gus and I were almost murdered here earlier, so we came back for sentimental reasons.”
“These don’t come in tiny.” “We’ll just get women’s large.”
“Yeah, well, that’s the way it usually goes when you meet your childhood heroes, Gus. Nothing but heartache and disappointment. Remember how sad you were when you ran into Judge Reinhold at the dry cleaners?”
“You know, when you reprimand us, you might try using your feeling voice.”
10. “Shawn (and Gus) of the Dead” (2.16)
It’s Night at the Museum and Gus is having none of it. Shawn puts his sneaking around to good use in this episode, finding a missing mummy, solving a murder, and saving Chief Vick’s job, all while showing off for a museum curator who likes Red Robin.
“Gus is gonna have an aneurism, and not the good kind.”
“I can’t spend the night in the museum, Shawn, I DON’T HAVE MY TOOTHBRUSH.”
“I NEED you. I need the sweet blue shirt, I need the pants, I need the winsome smile that hides the sad Jamaican clown inside.”
“Great. Now we got a mummy on the loose and the son of a bitch knows how to drive a stick?”
“What we have is simple and shallow and unobtrusive, so let’s have this conversation when you’re 90 and maybe on an oxygen tank.”
9. “Murder?…Anyone?…Anyone?…Bueller?” (3.02)
This is not the only Psych episode to go full John Hughes, but it might be the show’s most obvious love letter to his classics. Shawn and Gus’s high school reunion brings us jocks, nerds, a fist-pump freeze frame, an old sweetheart (Rachael Leigh Cook), and that rooftop Breakfast Club dance. It’s just fun.
“Is that Judd Nelson?” “Yes it is. And it is sweet sweet nice.”
“You know, there are those who believe I flared my nostrils too much in that film.” “Oh no, I mean, how else could we have known how angst-ridden you were?”
“Will you please leave? I’m sure the nondescript blazer rental place is about to close.”
“Assuming that Parker Stevenson had never been born, have you ever seen a very attractive man solve a crime before?” “I did see John Cusack prevent a jaywalking once.”
“I agree. It is both surreal and disturbing to watch two murderers do the Cabbage Patch.”
“Gus, don’t be an incorrigible Eskimo Pie with a caramel ribbon. It doesn’t matter what these people think of you. But—and I put this out there as a challenge to you—you really want to show them that you’ve lived up to your potential? Help me solve this case, please. Come on! How many of our classmates are out there solving a murder tonight? Huh? A handful, maybe. You could be one of them.”
8. “Extradition II: The Actual Extradition Part” (5.10)
International man of leisure Cary Elwes guest starred in four episodes of Psych, and any one of them could make a case for this list, because he’s Cary Elwes. The man is clearly enjoying himself. He says “toodaloo” twice. I’m not sure I trust anyone who wouldn’t want him to get away with art theft at least a little bit. This episode is also notable for being the one where Shawn and Juliet finally, properly make out in a pile of Canadian teddy bears.
“You call it prison; I liken it to a mid-range Sandals resort.”
“I have this small, somewhat impressive shiv that I learned to make from one of 30 prisoners named Gord.”
“Oh Camilla Parker Bowles! I’ve been set up!”
“It was a York Peppermint Patty, Shawn.” “What? That’s way too generous.”
“If I hadn’t waxed my head, I’d be dead right now.”
“How many more people are you gonna let him kill?” “I don’t know, Gus, maybe one more. Tops.”
“Maybe you need to take a chance. Put your heart on the line. Oftentimes they turn out to be cold-blooded murderers, but sometimes, they DON’T.”
7. “Lassie Did A Bad, Bad Thing” (3.11)
One of the best things about this episode is that it sets up a running joke for the rest of the series: Gus is never totally convinced that Lassiter didn’t kill that guy.
“I mean, we all knew that he would shoot somebody someday.”
“A casual gentleman’s shoe. What are you, the great Gatsby?”
“The composer of ‘House at Pooh Corner’ and ‘This Is It’ has fallen on hard times?”
“You guys are thinking about cupcakes, aren’t you?”
“I can’t believe you thought that text was actually from me. It lacked all nuance, my signature mocking tone, and it was utterly devoid of emoticons.”
6. “Shawn 2.0” (5.8)
Shawn meets Curt Smith and reacts exactly how all of us do in the presence of our favorite stars. (“It’s you! The real you. The fleshy you. I love you.”) Nestor Carbonell and his impossibly dark eyelashes also guest star.
“I love Curt Smith and I don’t care who knows. I will sing it from the rooftops, Gus.”
“His name is Declan. Don’t you find that utterly ridiculous?” “No.” “That’s because your name is Burton.”
“Specifically, we’ll be bringing in Psych because of their experience working with serial killers.” “We help them write and produce one-act plays on the weekends.” “They’re usually very dark.”
“That painting kind of makes you look like John Stamos.” “Thank you.”
“I can’t believe I’m single again.” “You know who can? Anyone who met you eight days ago.”
5. “The Greatest Adventure in the History of Basic Cable” (3.4)
Shawn’s uncle Jack (Steven Weber) stops by to rope the guys into a treasure hunt, and Shawn gets the last word in the best possible fashion.
“This is not real gold. But it is REAL CHOCOLATE!”
“I don’t give anyone keys, not even Shawn.” “Oh that’s not true, I actually made a copy a while back. It was when I was hooked on Wow Wow Wubbzy on Noggin—I didn’t have cable. Oh I also stole your toilet paper for about a year, and a huge box of sporks.”
“I can’t believe you actually pretended your uncle was your dad.” “I wanted Gus’s dad to do it, but there was a genealogy issue I just couldn’t sort out.”
“It’ll be dope with my one Puma.”
“I can’t believe we’re actually digging for buried treasure.” “I know, dude. And you’re getting your pants totally dirty and you don’t even care. I’m so proud of you.”
4. “Thrill Seekers and Hell Raisers” (4.11)
Sarah Shahi’s extreme sports-loving Ruby brings out something new in sensible Gus, and she pushes his guy love with Shawn to new levels. There’s also a running joke about the last name Sampson, and it’s gold, all of it.
“People say our intense love of bunnies is creepy at our age, but history will prove them to be heartless bastards.”
“All my cash is tied up in dress shirts and decorative pillowcases.”
“The truth is, I found it pretty exhilarating. I mean, the only thing I can really compare it to is the moment I found out you can have brownies delivered.”
“Man, she likes to almost DIE. And so do her friends.”
“Sampson. It’s just a great name. Straight out of film noir. Like an old detective who drinks hard, but loves even harder. Or, go with me here, Sampson, a tiny little orphan mouse who must find his way home to Wolverhampton.”
“Sampson! The loveable St. Bernard who lives next door but doesn’t realize how big he is.”
“Let me ask you something: What’s the first thing that pops into your head when I say Sampson?” “A vacuum you can use in space.”
3. “100 Clues” (7.5)
It’s Clue, so it has my heart. Psych dedicated its 100th episode to a detailed homage to the 80s cult classic, reuniting cast members and nailing the film’s little details (even the score) without just remaking it. What really makes this one work, though, is the fact that Psych already shares Clue’s sense of humor. The murder is played for laughs, the wordplay builds on itself as it goes, and there’s always that one guy who wants to run around a giant house just to prove that he can.
“We split the food of the dead 50/50. That’s always been the deal.”
“Probably the storm. I experienced a similar one years ago—when I was at Harvard.”
“We all played a role in sending Billy off to prison, an experience he claims was a blessing, but I believe deep down he is resentful and bitter that his wife was stolen from him by that beautiful bastard-face dancer Derek Hough. His words. Though I too would have chosen the word Derek.”
“She’s been working miracles for us. Helping us to get back all the years that we lost to drugs and late night games of Clock Me Noggin.” “That’s a white man’s game.”
“Well, Billy, I’ve been shot in the diaphragm, and I’m fairly certain I was also attacked by an adult panther.” “Emma, sure.”
“But he IS planning on taking us out one by one by one by one by one by one by one.”
2. “Scary Sherry: Bianca’s Toast” (1.15)
The season one finale combines my love of Halloween episodes with my love of fictional sleepovers, and those almost never overlap. Directed by Clue‘s John Landis, “Scary Sherry” brings us the origin of the Bud joke, a fun new fact about Juliet (she gets really into undercover work), and Poppy the Scottish housekeeper, whose story about her childhood dog might be my favorite line on this show. For proof that the cast had a great time with this one, watch James Roday absolutely BREAK during Betty’s interrogation scene.
“I took a crowbar to the eye socket during a sangria party gone wrong.”
“Don’t ever compare my black ass to George Dzundza again.”
“We actually started an urban legend.” “That’s dope!”
“You know, growing up in Edinburgh, my sisters and I had a basset hound who used to hoot like a snowy owl.” “No kidding. What’d you name him?” “We called him Basset Hound. Although my sister, she always used to call him Uncle Jimmy. I never knew why.”
“This is really extensive…candle-wise.”
“Lassie! Our timing is REALLY starting to crackle.”
1. “From the Earth to Starbucks” (1.10)
Back when he had to elbow his way past Lassiter into every case, Shawn decided to build Lassie’s confidence by helping him solve an astronomer’s murder. It was one of the first indications that Shawn could be selfless for anyone other than Gus, and it netted him Juliet as a new partner in crime. “From the Earth to the Starbucks” bounces between the Psych office, still all sunny and new, and the observatory, and it’s packed with jokes, not to mention the original Pluto pick-up line. Never change, Gus.
“You know they make the kind of paint you can eat now.”
“You’re a striking man with strong features, eyes that women want to do cannonballs into. You have great posture and penmanship the likes I’ve never seen.”
“Why? FISH DERBY IS ON.”
“I was up half the night dreaming about whether the gel caps are more effective than the tablets.” “First of all, tablets. Always tablets. That’s a given. Secondly, I’ve been having this re-occurring dream where I’m flying over Auckland on the back of a swan made primarily of cocoa. His name is Clem. But your dream was pretty interesting too.”
“There are over 400 stars in our galaxy. Maybe more. No one knows for sure.”
“And that, ladies and gentlemen, is precisely why time travel is not only possible, but may have already happened.”
Psych fans, what are your favorite episodes?