Ten years ago, USA debuted Psych, a little show about a fake psychic who solved crimes. The network was in the nascent stages of its “blue sky” period, a time that included Burn Notice, White Collar and Royal Pains. Now that this phase is essentially over, it’s easy to declare Psych the best of the no-heavy-watching-required bunch.
Starring James Roday, Dule Hill, Timothy Omundson and Maggie Lawson, the comedy-mystery hybrid was decidedly lighter than most shows centered around solving murders. Frequently hilarious, the show relished in spoofing the pop-culture landscape and tapped into the zeitgeist both past and present. Almost every episodes was themed around a trope, genre, or specific film or TV show. Psych ran for eight seasons and 121 episodes. In honor of its premiere (onJuly 7, 2006), here are the 10 best Psych episodes. Don’t be a myopic Chihuahua. Just sit back and enjoy our list. Wait for it. Wait for iiiiiiiit…
As an oddball freelance psychic detective, Shawn (Roday) investigates the lost causes and wacky cases that have been dismissed by the police. This storytelling conceit allows for all sorts of unusual characters (Psych’s favorite kind) to pop up in any given episode. In “Truer Lies,” Shawn finds himself on the side of a pathological liar (Jonathan Silverman) who has been accused of murder. Of course, Shawn is a bit of a liar in his own right, but he has nothing on this guy. The fun comes stems the drama of trying to distinguish the lie from the truth, all of which drives both the comedy and the mystery of the episode.
What if Shawn Spencer found himself working alongside another fake psychic? And what if Lou Diamond Phillips played the coolest federal agent ever? Both of these questions are answered in “Psy vs. Psy.” While the first season was good, this episode, which aired early in the second season, helped take the show to a whole other level. Shawn would run into other fakers over the years, but Phillips’ Lars Ewing remains the best of that bunch.
The first two episodes on this list represent a time before the show really became a “theme of the week” show. But “Heeeere’s Lassie” is a straight up riff on The Shining. The typically straight-laced Lassie (Omundson) loses his mind a la Jack Nicholson, and Gus (Hill) takes on the role of Shelly Duvall. The results are both funny and pretty intense. Psych was not usually a thrilling show. Often, its dramatic beats worked less well than the straight comedy. But here, the thrills and laughs combined for a terrifically eerie and weird episode.
An entire episode dedicated to the not particularly popular 1985 movie Clue? Why not? It’s Psych! The 100th episode brought in Clue stars Martin Mull, Lesley Ann Warren, and Christopher Lloyd and featured three alternative endings. Viewers got to vote on which ending they wanted to see (the third ending made an appearance on the DVD). The Clue environment is really the perfect match for Psych, and watching Shawn run around, like we all saw in the film (and it’s a good film, by the way), is an absolute delight.
Current vampire movies like Twilight are a very different animal from the vampire movies of the past. But Psych is for people who grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, so its vampire episode features appearances from both Corey Feldman (The Lost Boys and Kristy Swanson (Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Despite being a criminal, Swanson’s Marlowe Lassiter became a recurring character and a love interest for Lassie. This Halloween episode is a great riff on vampire flicks of a bygone era. Plus, Gus dresses up like Blacula (even if everyone mistakes him for Count Chocula).
Twin Peaks, at its core, was a murder mystery. So naturally Psych would create an episode that is a love letter to David Lynch’s legendary series. But instead of being creepy and weird, the episode plays the oddness of Twin Peaks for laughs. “Dual Spires” served as a reunion of sorts for the stars of Twin Peaks and featured cameos from Sherilyn Fenn, Sheryl Lee and Ray Wise. Shawn and Gus mostly work around Santa Barbara, but they would often go out of town when the theme of the week called for it. Their trip to Dual Spires is one of the best. Enjoy the Cinnamon Festival.
Don’t let the cheesy episode title turn you off. It’s not really a pop culture riff, although it has a bachelor party, a bachelorette party and a wedding. It’s simply a hilarious episode with a bunch of great comedic moments. When Juliet (Lawson) finds out Shawn has been faking being psychic all these years, it’s a long-awaited payoff that packs a dramatic punch. Laughs, thrills and pathos. This episode has everything… except a non-groan inducing title.
Look, this episode introduced Rachael Leigh Cook as Abigail Lytar. Rachael Leigh Cook is the most underrated actress of her generation, and she really could have been a huge star. She carried She’s All That, and Josie and the Pussycats is an amazing movie. Alas, she wasn’t the star she deserved to be, so she showed up on Psych. And the show was better for it. She’s great, of course, and has excellent chemistry with Roday. On top of the Cook factor, this episode takes place at a high school reunion. It’s wonderful all around.
Of all the recurring characters on Psych, Cary Elwes’ Pierre Despereaux is the best. He’s a debonair, suave criminal. A James Bond, but on the wrong side of the law. He and Shawn have a mutual admiration thing going on, even as they try and best each other. This is his first and best episode. And truthfully, any of the Despereaux episodes would have been a good choice for the top 10. Every time he showed up, the installment ended up consisting of big, action-packed events that were a joy to behold.
“Last Night Gus” is Psych’s spin on The Hangover, two long years after that movie came out. Despite the belatedness of the parody, it’s still an absolutely fantastic episode—no episode of Psych is funnier. It’s wall-to-wall hilarity as we discover the events that have occurred in the recent past. Woody (Kurt Fuller) and Henry (Corbin Bernsen) are both great in their roles in all the madness. Ed Lover even shows up! Psych is, after all, a comedy. So it’s only right that the most hilarious episode of them all be crowned the best episode in the show’s history.
Chris Morgan is not the author of THE book on Mystery Science Theater 3000, but he is the author of A book on Mystery Science Theater 3000. He’s also on Twitter.