This is a fun piece I worked on in my Spring 2013 Shakespeare course. The assignment was an exercise in examining one of the many ways in which Shakespeare and his work still affect society today.
Pop Culture references, obscure and otherwise, have found a home in USA Network’s longest running television comedy, Psych. Since its inception, every episode of Psych has featured multiple Pop Culture references, occasionally adopting reference-themed episodes. The Psych writers’ approach to dialogue is not unlike the ever-popular ‘Gilmore-isms’ used in the CW network’s show, Gilmore Girls. Both Gilmore Girls and Psych utilize their characters’ vast interest in Popular Culture to their advantage. With this method of television writing, the possibilities are endless, and even the works of one William Shakespeare become a subject matter. In Psych’s “Tuesday the 17th” (an episodic nod to Friday the 13th, made complete with the inclusion of Horror-genre tropes), Shawn Spencer and his best friend/partner Burton “Gus” Guster have been recruited by Jason Cunningham, a childhood friend, to investigate mysterious occurrences at their childhood camp. Jason instructs Shawn not to inform official authorities of the events, but as the episode progresses and circumstances become more dire, Shawn takes advantage of his relationship with the local police department and has one Detective Juliet O’Hara drive to the campground to help out. Jason angrily addresses Shawn as “Iago”, the villain of Shakespeare’s Othello, upon the discovery. However, Shawn completely misses the reference, wondering aloud what “the parrot from Aladdin” has to do with the situation.
As previously stated, the writers of Psych work incredibly hard to incorporate elements of popular culture in addition to original material. Keeping this in mind, I believe that the brief nod to Shakespeare’s work is intentionally subtle. Just as Shawn Spencer fails to catch the intended reference, undoubtedly some members of the Psych audience misunderstood. The smart writing involved in this process is clear in the resulting win-win produced from the scene. Audience members who understand the Shakespeare reference will likely appreciate the inclusion, particularly in a TV comedy of this caliber; the writers manage to refer to the work of Shakespeare and create a comedic moment without using Shakespeare as the means to the end. Therein lies the significance of the writers’ inclusion. By referencing both a Shakespeare character and an Aladdin character, the writers create a level playing field for the audience. Both intellectuals and their counterparts will find a certain degree of enjoyment in the scene.
Ultimately, the writers work to bridge the gap between these two groups and in doing so, completely erase any pretense of superiority that is so often treated as synonymous with Shakespeare. The writing team at Psych does not infantilize its audience by spelling out the intention, and instead leaves the reference as is. Once again, I believe that the largest take-away from this example is the distinction between the reference made and Shawn’s misunderstanding of said reference. If anything, the scene acts as a commentary upon society’s familiarity with Shakespeare’s work. Without celebrating one or the other, the writers effectively situate those familiar with Shakespeare parallel to those less acquainted with the Bard.