'Psych' Crack Viewers Up While Cracking a Mystery

Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, July 16, 2007 | Go to article overview

'Psych' Crack Viewers Up While Cracking a Mystery


Forget forensics: Collecting clues and catching crooks should be a blast, not a bore.

"You get so overloaded on the microscope, and that's not much fun" says Steve Franks, who dreamed up USA Network's "Psych" to prove that solving prime-time crimes can be a romp rather than a rehash of grim reality.

"Psych," which began its second season Friday, features a witty sleuth who uncovers the truth without relying on DNA -- much like "Monk," Tony Shalhoub's eclectic but quirkily successful detective.

"What 'Monk' does so well is start with an impossible crime -- and he solves it," says Franks, a devotee of lighter detective fare such as "Magnum, P.I.," "Columbo," and "Moonlighting." "We try to do a cool crime -- the police photographer did it, or murder at a competitive eating competition -- with a fun hook. Then we make it a legitimate mystery and lay out these clues."

"Psych's" premise is built on a pretense: Shawn Spencer (James Roday) is a sharply observant slacker, drilled since childhood by his police officer father (Corbin Bernsen) to absorb everything about his surroundings. Now he's got a knack for noticing key details often overlooked by police investigators: a stain, an out- of-place photo, a piece of jewelry, a tire track. To explain his prowess, Shawn tells people, "I'm a psychic."

And almost everyone believes him, including detectives on the Santa Barbara, Calif., police force, who ask for his help on baffling cases. With creative bluffs -- pretending to channel a cat that witnessed a murder, posing as a planetarium employee -- and coincidental luck, Shawn keeps up the ruse. Viewers can follow the trail of clues, too: When Shawn zeroes in on an object, it lights up.

"This is a guy who makes stuff up as he goes along, so I can sort of organically justify doing a lot of ad-libbing," says Roday, whose character parlayed a single successful case into a detective agency complete with a beachfront office.

"He is Peter Pan, this puckish dude who's going to try to stay a kid as long as possible," Roday says of his character. "The challenge is, how do you keep an adult who acts like a child interesting and likable? …

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