Other Work Shakespeare in "Psych"

Shakespeare in “Psych”

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.

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Shawn Song

I’ve heard it both ways.

Not long after the 2014 winter television season began, USA Network announced the conclusion to the successful comedy Psych would air in March. For many, the announcement was expected. Lead actress Maggie Lawson’s spot on rival network ABC’s freshman endeavor Back in the Game had given many fans and critics reason to doubt the continuation of Psych.

However, some Psych-os held out hope. I was one of them. The cancellation of Psych was unthinkable in my eyes. With an eight season run, and an almost cult-like following (appropriately named ‘Psych-os’), the success of the show speaks for itself.  It wasn’t until reading a interview with Dulé Hill concerning the finale that I came to terms with the knowledge that the show was ending. After commenting on the strength of the most recent seasons, Dulé stated that he felt the show was “ending at the top”.

The strength Dulé referred to comes from the show’s biggest feats, from the two hour event known as “Psych the Musical” (effectively a two part musical episode) to bagging each member of The Breakfast Club in dynamic guest roles such as Ally Sheedy’s portrayal of Mr. Yang, the popular villain introduced in the season three finale. Several of my personal favorite episodes or moments that occured on the show were at the direction of James Roday. Although Roday was fairly set with his role as lead character Shawn Spencer, he managed to find the time to direct eight separate episodes.

Nearly a month has passed since the conclusion of the series, a finale widely accepted. The series finale did the entire show justice by presenting the conclusion as more of a start than an ending. Psych fans everywhere appreciated tiny nods to some of the show’s earliest moments, in addition to a number of surprise guest stars. Halfway through the episode, one Psych-o tweeted “my tears taste like pineapples.” a statement unique to Psych and the fandom it produced.

Series finales are often paradoxes, as most fans desire to see the show continue regardless of how many successful seasons it has had. By and large, fan reaction to series finales is a mixture of dismay, defeat, and delight. It was no small miracle that Psych managed to dodge the bullet so many series finales face.

For all the seeming simplicity of the finale, Psych managed to accomplish where other finales of the 2014 season seem to have failed. There were no surprises, no confusing plot twists meant to leave audiences wanting more. The Psych writers team knew this was their moment, and they did not disappoint. Psych creator Steve Franks was fortunate in that respect- he was able to conclude the series just as he’d envisioned.

Every character in the finale episode of Psych saw a conclusion as well as a beginning. For some, it was the conclusion of one career that would lead to the advancement of another. For other characters, the conclusion was more abstract. Carlton Lassiter’s (Tim Omundson) conclusion, for instance, was one final act of character development. Once given the opportunity to be proven correct about his assumption concerning Shawn Spencer’s “psychic” abilities, Carlton destroys the evidence rather than hear the rest of Shawn’s confession.

I say this is the final act of character development for Lassiter because the very next moment shown is a wide shot of Chief Carlton Lassiter in his office, calling his wife to talk to his newborn. The image is vastly different from that of the pilot episode, where the audience is shown a frustrated man on a quiet downward spiral. Similarly, when asked what the best thing about working on Psych was, actor Tim Omundson responded “the best thing about working on Psych for eight seasons, hands down, is the people. They’ve become my family.”

The series finale stayed true to the foundation of the show, featuring strong dialogue and a focus on the various relationships that have grown out of the eight series run. Psych began as a series focused on a charismatic lead with Peter Pan syndrome and ended with the same charismatic lead making somewhat uncharacteristically grown up decisions.

In comparison to other series finales, the Psych series finale is fairly mild. However, in my mind, the series finale served up a great deal of delicious flavor. With neatly tied up plotlines and a general theme of new beginnings, this Psych-o has no complaints. I can live with a lack of gotcha! moments and character deaths if the trade-off is a series finale full of happy endings and beginnings.