Why Psych Got Less Funny

The initial seasons of Psych are drop to the floor laughing value. The middle seasons are less funny but fairly okay storytelling. The final seasons are painfully unfunny.

What happened?

My Theory

Part of Psych's charm from the beginning were the coy allusions to outside pop culture. The following is a classic exchange between Gus and Shawn:
(Gus steps on a floorboard, making it creak.)
Shawn (to Gus): Dude, there's something under there.
Gus: What do you think it is?
(Shawn starts to make heartbeat sounds.)
Gus: Will you stop it, Shawn. You know how that story gives me the creeps. (When Shawn won't stop making heartbeat sounds, Gus gets behind a creaky rocking chair, rocks it, and speaks in an elderly voice): Norman! Norman! Norman! (Shawn freaks out.)
These allusions enhance the dialog and the viewer's enjoyment. I probably catch only about 1/2 of them but the ones I do give me the giggles and a little bit of pride for being able to spot them.

Wild West allusions always work with Timothy
Omundson who looks fantastic with and
without facial hair.
These types of allusions are funny precisely because they are designed to be delivered but not dwelt on. (My favorite example of a fly-by allusion actually comes from NCIS. In an early season, while discussing the U.S.S. Eisenhower and the fact that ships are "she"s, Tony Dinozzi says, "Then shouldn't it be named after Mamie." I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I didn't get that reference immediately. [Mamie was Eisenhower's wife.])

So the multiple allusions in Psych's early seasons are not only delightful but enhance the episodes, especially when they are joined by non-allusive banter:
Shawn: Is this a briefcase or an attaché?
Gus: I think it's a briefcase. Attachés have a softer shell.
Shawn: Really? That's all that differentiates them, a softer shell?
Gus: Well, "attaché" does have a better ring to it.
Shawn: Let's go with attaché.
Unfortunately, as the show continued, the allusions become not clever dialog but the whole point. That is, the show become . . . satiric is actually not the right word . . . entirely referential.

Really? That was your plan? That has to
be the poorest executed attack in history. I
was two feet away from you all the time. I mean,
you have to be absolutely, without doubt,
the worst murderer I have ever seen.
When Tim Curry showed up in the Season 2 episode "American Duo," he was hilarious. Yes, he was spoofing Simon Cowell but he was so cleverly obnoxious in his own right, he was enjoyable to watch.

Yet when Christopher Lloyd showed up in the Season 7 spoof/tribute to Clue, he wasn't funny at all. And he can be! But he wasn't there to be his own crazy/chewing-the-scenery self (which Tim Curry was); he was there to remind us of the other movie.

More and more of Psych's episodes in later seasons depend not on a plot that happens to contain funny references but on the funny references that sort of, maybe, not really try to form a  plot--except funny references all by themselves do not a story make. And oddly enough, they eventually cease to be funny.

Humor needs context.

1 comment:

FreeLiveFree said...

I never paid much attention to Psych. It seemed to be fluff, though entertaining fluff. Of course, I did not watch many episodes. Of the USA shows, I was a big fan of Burn Notice and Monk. I also liked White Collar.

Monk became more about the humor and less about the mystery as it went on. I have to wonder if some of the writers left or something. Burn Notice became less episodic and more into story arcs. In my opinion it actually improved.

It's probably difficult to change without losing fans, but if you don't the show gets stagnant.