Last time the team behind Psych was at SDCC was bittersweet. While some may have suspected as much, it had yet to be announced that 2013-2014 would be the last season for the goofy sitcom about a highly observant, emotionally immature young man who pretended to be a psychic and solved mysteries and murders with his best friend Gus in sunny Southern California.
Although set in Santa Barbara, California, the series was actually filmed in Vancouver. The 2013 SDCC extravaganza involved free face painting of pineapples, women on roller skates periodically giving out swag to those waiting in line, two Oscar Mayer Weinermobiles and a preview screening of the 88-minute “Psych: The Musical.”
Fans, called Psych-Os, also got to high five the cast who came and made introductions before the screening at the now defunct 15-screen Reading Cinemas in the San Diego Gaslamp District. The gang was mostly all here in San Diego, but the panel was more low-key. Psych-Os on Twitter already knew a two-hour TV movie was on the way as a Christmas special.
The panel (which I was unable to attend) and the subsequent press round tables left Psych-Os with plenty to ponder. Executive producer Chris Henze assured that you don’t need to be a certified Psych-O to understand the movie: Freeze frames will set up the relationships in the first few moments. The TV series focused on Shawn Spencer (James Roday) who was trained by his police officer father Henry Spencer (Corbin Bernsen) to be extremely observant amongst other things (e.g. how to escape from the trunk of a car). Shawn had been earning reward money instead of working a 9-to-5 job, but the Detective Carlton Lassiter (Timothy Omundson) suspected Shawn had actually committed the crimes. Shawn then pretended he was psychic. As a psychic, he becomes a consultant for the Santa Barbara Police Department along with his childhood friend Burton “Gus” Buster (Dulé Hill) with occasional help from Shawn’s father Henry, now retired from the SBPD. Shawn also romances Lassiter’s partner, junior detective Juliet O’Hara (Maggie Lawson).
At the end of the series, the SBPD chief Karen Vick (Kirsten Nelson) had accepted a job in San Francisco and takes O’Hara with her. Shawn follows her and, after some second and third thoughts, Gus also quits his dream job and joins him. Lassiter remains in Santa Barbara as the new chief of police.
In the first eight minutes (shown during the panel) of the movie, we learn that Gus has a new job in San Francisco and that Shawn is still taking cases. Henze describe the clip as Shawn being chased while on a case, but we don’t know who has hired him and who’s chasing him.
What we do know is that Ralph Macchio will make an appearance, Curt Smith of Tears for Fears will not (“Shawn 2.0,” “100 Clues” and “A Nightmare on State Street”) and the main villain will be portrayed by Zach Levi. Henze said, “We’ve known Zach from Comic-Con. We knew that he sang and that there’s a crossover audience between Chuckster’s and ‘Psych.’” Levi’s series, “Chuck,” ran five seasons with 91 episodes on NBC from 2007 to 2012. “Psych” ran for eight season from 2006 to 2014 with 121 episodes.
The Psych team had wanted Levi for the musical, but in the end, scheduling didn’t work out. This time, although Levi has moved on to feature films, he was eager to work with this close-knit cast. “We had a lot of fun with Zach,” Henze commented, a sentiment echoed by cast members.
Steve Franks, who wrote the movie with star James Roday, admitted that during the run, besides Levi, they had always wanted David Bowie, too. Levi will be Bowie-esque in what Franks called “his weirdest phase: the Thin White Duke.” Franks, Henze and Roday admitted they had a list of must-haves: a “what?”, a fist bump, a pineapple and many Easter eggs.
Henze says there are a few “really deep, deep Easter eggs,” some in the casting of Vancouver locals. Franks mentioned that the half-beard from Season 7, Episode 1 (“Santabarbaratown”) makes an appearance. Soupcan Sam (Shawn as a homeless man) seems to be involved, but how isn’t clear and neither is whether Satchel Gizmo (Gus) will as well.
Roday confessed that Franks came up with a really clever pineapple inclusion concept. “We knew we had to do something that was better than average since we have been away so long,” and he promised, “There is zero percent chance that you will not spot it.”
Franks promised a “whole slew of new running gags and that the new Psych agency office has a new catch phrase and the office itself is some sort of homage.” Roday commented, “The new office is off the charts cool and probably the single biggest homage.” While some of the episodes were homages to specific genres, two hours “cannot just be a homage,” Franks explained, but conceded, “we take detours into genre.” Franks commented that his deep Easter eggs are largely drawn from the episodes that he wrote.
Franks and Roday were writing and filming during the recent presidential elections. Against that background they felt that the positivity was of utmost importance. Franks noted, “The show is about positivity. We’re about saying the world is a good place and everyone has a place.”
This is a show that hired a pregnant woman to play the interim police chief and made her pregnancy part of the show from the get-go. Nelson admitted that she and other cast members were nervous when the panel was placed in Ballroom 20, the second biggest venue at SDCC, but the fans were there. She revealed that Shawn’s case isn’t sanctioned by the SFPD and Woody now works for her. Unfortunately, Vick’s sister, Commander Barbara Dunlap (Jane Lynch) of the Coast Guard will not appear (Season 3, Episode 6: “There Might Be Blood”), but Nelson hinted that some members of her family might appear. On Levi, Nelson said, “I thought the connection was with James, but the connection was with Dulé,” tapping Hill as the true nerd in the cast.
Then there’s the other woman of the main cast: Shawn’s love interest “Jules.” Lawson said that making the movie was so much fun and being back together was like a “dream” or a “giant hug.” Lawson loves that Psych-Os have followed the cast on their other projects, including TV shows and theatrical ventures. In the movie, Jules and Shawn’s relationship has progressed but she couldn’t reveal how. She quoted Roday who commented publicly the Jules and Shawn romance had taken “literally three steps” forward.
Jules and the chief are also still a team. Jules still wears heels while crime solving. The filming brought back not just the cast, but many of the crew members which made filming “time warpy.” Lawson admitted that she and Jules are basically the third wheel in the Shawn-Gus and very real Roday-Hill bromance.
Because the movie’s action takes place around the holidays, Shawn’s father will be in San Francisco to spend Christmas with his only child, Shawn. According to Bernsen, “Henry has a lot more sex because he’s gotten hip.” In the beginning, Henry doesn’t want to get involved in the case “because he doesn’t want to risk his new cool clothing.” Bernsen stated that “Shawn is a little bit more mature” but also that “he makes ridiculous statements to me about my age.” Woody and Henry are buddies and they are in “the funniest, painful scene” where at least Henry gets a good “whooping.” While Henry and Woody survive, Henry’s cool rags apparently do not.
One of the mysteries fans are bending their minds around is the return of Jimmi Simpson. Simpson played Dr. Marion “Mary” Lightly III. Lightly was an expert on Shawn’s nemesis, a serial killer named Mr. Yang. Mr. Yang turned out to be a Ms. Rotmensen (played by Ally Sheedy). Lightly is supposedly dead. Not mostly dead, but really dead. While the conundrum of Simpson’s movie appearance was one purposely resolved by Franks and Roday, the writers had to work around an unforeseen obstacle: Omundson suffered a minor stroke in April of this year, just before he was set to begin working on the movie. Roday said this was a “curve ball” and he and Franks “holed up in a restaurant in Vancouver and got drunk” while figuring out how to tell the story without Lassiter, but still including the recovering Omundson.
While the “Psych” TV series ended with a reference to another USA Network show, “Monk,” Adrian Monk won’t be making an appearance although if this movie is successful Frank claims he has ideas for five other movies and Henze noted, “We’re not sure that Tony [Shalhoub] would think it would be fun. If he’s ready to put that outfit back on and play that character, then we’re ready to play.”
Currently no specific date in December has been set for the movie. There is a Psych-O campaign on Twitter to bring back the TV series to Netflix so fans can binge-watch before its premiere.