The movie is coming and my mind is stuck on Psych.
I should note that, heartbreakingly, Omundson suffered a stroke (BUT HE SURVIVED. HE’S FINE.) just as production on the movie was about to begin, and his role was mostly cut. Though they have promised his presence will be felt, and I hear he will have a brief appearance. I’m still excited, but that’s a bummer.
This was going to be a top 10 list, then a top 11 list. I wasn’t expecting this to to be so hard. It was actually really hard. I had a few episodes in my head that I knew I really liked, but I recently rewatched the series in preparation for the movie, and I had forgotten how many awesome episodes there are of this show. Why top 14? Because I can! But no more than that, because damn, this took a long time to write.
But, yes, there’s a lot of good stuff missing from the list, and I probably left out all of your favorites. Go make your own list! But the episode with my favorite ever joke isn’t even on here, so I was really going for overall quality.
Oh, and I’m discounting the musical, because it was a feature length television event, and that’s not fair. But the musical is wonderful. Yes, I realize that you can split it in half, but why would you do that?
14. Lock, Stock, Some Smoking Barrels and Burton Guster’s Goblet of Fire (08×01)
I couldn’t not include a Despereaux episode. That would be madness.
Aside from that, this episode is like if Guy Ritchie directed The Italian Job, starring Dulé Hill as Harry Potter. What about that doesn’t make you want to drop whatever you’re doing and watch it immediately?
I’m partial to Mini Coopers, so it didn’t hurt anything that that was the getaway car. And the episode makes us question if, after all his previous nefarious involvement, Despereaux was actually working undercover for the government (or then again, maybe he wasn’t). It was done really well.
One of the other things that I appreciate about this show is, while it does poke fun at nerds and geeks, Gus is one. A lot of the people who watch this show are as well. As the series wore on, the references to things like Harry Potter, conventions, and cosplay became kinder. And Gus wanting to attend a Harry Potter convention wasn’t so much a point of ridicule, so much as an obstacle for Shawn, who was trying to convince him to help with the case.
This was also a really great way to start season 8. Season 7 ended with our beloved SBPD being dismantled. Setting the first episode of the next season outside of the country allowed for the first episode to be fun and lighthearted. An immediate return to form, thus leaving some of the more serious elements for later episodes. I was one of the people who watched this show as it aired, so it was nice to have this open the season after waiting out the season break.
13. 1967: A Psych Odyssey (08×06)
Seeing the list laid out like this makes it seem that it’s stacked in season 8’s favor. This is odd to me, because on the whole, I don’t think of season 8 as being the stand out season. But it has a lot of important endings that were the moments that really stuck with me, and I couldn’t bear not to include them.
While seeing the characters as their 60’s counterparts was a lot of fun (as was Dulé Hill’s awesome musical number), that’s not the reason this episode is on the list. Lassiter is finally appointed police chief, but on the condition that he be assigned a new head detective, meaning the job won’t go to Juliet. He tells her that, and then says that’s the reason he’s not taking the position. Juliet in turn, tells him to take the job. Instead she’ll take the head detective position Chief Vick offered her in San Francisco.
Then she has to tell Shawn, and the night before she’s supposed to leave, she takes off while Shawn’s still asleep, snatching away any last attempt Shawn would have made to make her stay (she knows him well), but also taking away his chance to say say a proper goodbye.
The scene with Lassiter was actually the thing that got to me the most. Shawn she’d continue to see, but Lassiter, not so much. They’d worked side-by-side for 7 years, and as he was promoted, the plan was always to promote her along too. When the role was offered to him the way it was, he felt like moving forward without her would be a betrayal, so instead, she moved on without him. Their final scene (and it was the last scene the two of them have together in the series) had me in tears.
12. Santabarabaratown 2 (07×01)
Again, this one got a spot because of how emotional it was. Shawn’s relationship with his father, Henry, is complicated. Paren-child relationships often are, but there were a few moments, when the show would do flashback sequences, and I’d find myself thinking, “okay, we’re bordering on child abuse now. We’re not quite there, but we’re close.” Not that Shawn made anything easy for his father, ever, but Henry was always pushing Shawn to be more analytical and grown-up. The resulting rebellion meant that Shawn never grew up.
But when Henry gets shot at the end of the previous season (and props to Corbin Benson for some of the best getting-shot acting ever), Shawn becomes both angry and terrified, in a way that we just never saw before (or really after). The scene where Shawn breaks into the shooter’s house, and proceeds to destroy every valuable item he sees, hits an oddly emotional note, and one the show doesn’t often explore. Shawn’s dealt with countless murders and shootings, but when it’s personal, he can’t cope.
But it’s not completely devoid of comedy. Lassiter find’s his “favorite landmine,” Shawn and Gus accidentally set one such mine and need to be rescued, and there are multiple gun-conga lines, which Shawn insists on mistakenly calling “Mexican standoffs.”
And Juliet has to save Shawn at then end. I love when that happens. To be honest, there was some casual sexism earlier in the series that was mostly eliminated by the end. The only sexist comments by this point were meant to show that someone was a terrible human being.
Oh, and Henry doesn’t actually die. That’s important.
11. Black and Tan: A Crime of Fashion (02×15)
Because Shawn and Gus have to be models and that’s just funny. What lands it, of course, is that Shawn thinks he’s hot shit, then he’s repeatedly taken down a peg throughout the episode, when the real models are baffled by his presence. Even Gus fairs a little better than Shawn.
This episode isn’t gimmicky in any way, nor does it have a particularly strong movie tie in, like many of the episodes do. It’s just a strong episode that’s a lot of fun, with as good a mystery and resolve as any other.
And we learn Shawn and Gus should never be allowed at a funeral ever. But that scene is bloody brilliant. Plus, it’s open casket, and everyone’s a little too handsy with the body, really.
Of course, the joke that everyone probably remembers from this episode is Shawn and Gus going by the aliases Black and Tan. Respectively. And calling out the bouncer who refers to them by each other’s names.
And this show is sort of famous for its guest stars, but somehow people seem to forget that this episode features Amanda Pays! From Max Headroom and The X-Files. I’ve written about both of those shows on this blog before, and Pays is awesome. I love her in the former and love to hate her in the latter. A joke of the episode is that her character’s set up on a blind date with Henry, and in the beginning he claims they don’t have any chemistry. The actors are married in real life.
10. Murder?…Anyone?…Anyone?…Bueller? (03×02)
This episode gets a lot of credit for being their Breakfast Club episode. There have been numerous references to The Breakfast Club throughout the series, including several of the cast members guest starring, some in major and recurring roles, but this is the episode that just exists as homage. (The only actor from the main five that they failed to ever get on the show was Emilio Estevez. Maybe he’ll turn up in the movie or some other future incarnation.) As the title would suggest, there are a few send ups to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off thrown in the mix, as well.
Gus is organizing his and Shawn’s high school reunion when, of course, Shawn thinks he sees a murder and has to convince everyone of what’s happened. Lassiter, it turns out, is already there, on a date with an intense and dramatic woman, played hilariously by Janet Varney (whose character also been illegally filling prescription medication). Juliet agrees to attend the reunion undercover. Then, after Shawn has to make a phone call to his dad, both his father and mother show up at the reunion, much to Shawn’s horror.
WhenGus realizes that there has been a murder at the reunion he’s been so carefully planning for so long, he and Shawn have to carry the body, stuffed in the mascot’s costume, through the halls of the high school.
This episode also marks the introduction of Abigail, who becomes the first real girlfriend we see Shawn have. Yes, unfortunately, her personality begins to erode away in later episodes, but she’s great in her first showing. She’s able to match wits and 80’s references with Shawn. Their banter provides some really excellent dialogue and some sweet moments.
9. Pilot (01×01)
Pilots are always a little off. It’s all the actors’ first crack at playing the characters, the creator/writer is still figuring things out, moments are bound to change as their being shot, and it doesn’t have the polish that any network is going to give it. They’re always just a little strange. Psych is no different. Juliet isn’t even in the show until the next episode! (Though I always attributed that to Anne Dudek getting cast in House. Is that what happened?) I’m really happy we ended up with Maggie Lawson though, so I can’t complain.
That being said, the pilot episode of Psych is a really strong showing. The original pilot is longer than the one that was aired and really gives the whole thing time to breathe. Seeing how Shawn uses his non-supernatural abilities in a way that seems supernatural is handled really well, both in the way he works out the murderer as well as how he convinces the police department that he’s psychic. The elements themselves may not be the most original, but the way they’re assembled and the characterizations laid over it is incredibly effective. Also, it explains why he needs to pretend he’s psychic, and keep the charade up. This isn’t just for fun, there are stakes. Shawn’s in a lot of trouble if they realize he’s faking. But in the moment, it’s the only way he thinks he can keep out of trouble.
The chemistry between Shawn and Gus is instantaneous and never weakens. And it’s probably the most important part of the show, so it’s impossible to oversell this. We know everything we need to about who these characters are and what their relationship is from the first scene they have together. Like writing should do. Lassiter, Vick, and Henry are also pretty clearly drawn from the start, which I think is a combination of good writing, casting, and acting.
8. Dual Spires (05×12)
Alright, so if you’re not a Twin Peaks fan or have never seen Twin Peaks, you might have seen this, thought “that was weird,” and then moved on with your life. But if you are familiar with Twin Peaks (especially if you actually enjoy it), then you may very well still be recovering from this episode.
It included several actors from the original cast: Dana Ashbrook, Catherine E. Coulson, Sherilyn Fenn (my favorite!), Sheryl Lee, Robyn Lively, Lenny von Dohlen, and Ray Wise. Wise had appeared in an earlier episode of the show, so they devised a way that his character would end up in the strange town of Dual Spires. The episode followed a similar plot line to Twin Peaks: a girl washes up dead, but in a town full of weirdos, how do you find the killer?
There were maybe more Easter eggs in this episode than any other (especially if you watch the extended cut). The episode clearly had a lot of love for the series, though wasn’t afraid to point out some of its flaws, like its lack of minorities (at one point, a little girl asks Gus if he’s Frederick Douglass).
I’ve written about Twin Peaks twice in the last year (and seen the original series again), so I found myself catching even more of the references in the Psych episode than I had the first time around, which means it gets better on repeat viewing. I consider this the mark of a great episode.
And, hey, maybe “Dual Spires” is part of the reason they got the attention of Jennifer Lynch, who went on to direct future episodes of Psych. Jennifer Lynch is the daughter of Twin Peaks creator, David Lynch.
7. Mr. Yin Presents… (04×16)
I back and forthed on this one. I knew I wanted a Yin or Yang episode on the list. Seasons 3, 4, and 5 each had an episode where the villain was either Mr. Yang (played by Ally Sheedy) or Mr. Yin. And these episodes were DARK. Yin and Yang would go after people close to Shawn and threatened to murder them if Shawn couldn’t solve the puzzles left for him. The first episode gets major points for it being the first time they tried something so dark and doing it so well (and Gus does some of the best best friending), and the last episode ties up the arc really well.
But “Mr. Yin Presents…” had to win in the end. It’s a love letter to Hitchcock films and has some really gorgeous technical elements. There are some shots in there that are unlike any other in the series. There are also just a million awesome references. Ally Sheedy gets to be heavily featured, as they visits her in the institution where she’s being held, and she gives them information on the new killer.
Eventually, Shawn is forced to chose between saving Abigail (his girlfriend at the time) and saving Juliet. He saves Abigail and gives Lassiter the information to reach Juliet. In the end, both are saved, but each comes with a price. Abigail realizes the dangers that Shawn’s work really brings (after nearly being drowned) and decides it’s not a life she’s comfortable with and breaks up with him.
Meanwhile, Juliet is traumatized (after nearly being dropped off a building), and it affects her work, an arc which continues into the next season, forcing her to take a leave of absence, and then having trouble when she tries to return to work, with an overprotective Lassiter trying to dissuade her.
I also feel like “Mr. Yin Presents…” was an episode for movie lovers, and I’m maybe that above all else.
6. The Break Up (01×10)
This is another emotional one. Actually, it’s THE emotional one. I know because I recently watched it and just bawled the whole episode. But then it was also really funny, so I choke-laughed and sob-giggled through the whole friggin’ thing.
The title doesn’t refer to Shawn and Juliet, it refers to Shawn and Gus. As I previously mentioned, that relationship is the real heart of the show. Shawn gets to be with Juliet, but it means sacrificing his friendship with Gus. Or so he thinks.
It’s almost cruel, really. Shawn completely packs up, clears out the Psych office, tells Juliet he’s moving, makes a good-bye video for a few key people, and leaves. The face-to-face good-bye’s are just to hard for him. But, ouch, Gus’ expression when he’s finished watching the message. It’s a mixture of confusion, sadness, frustration, anger, and betrayal. He doesn’t understand. Is it true? Is it a joke? And then he realizes that Henry found out Shawn had left in the same way, and he realizes it must be real.
Again, one of the real gut-punches of the episode involved Lassiter. Lassiter, who so often played light antagonist to Shawn, watches his good-bye message. And then comes the moment. Shawn’s gonna admit it. The one person who always doubted he was psychic, and Shawn’s gonna come clean and tell Lassiter he was right, and Lassiter turns off the message and breaks the DVD it was on. In the end, Shawn left, Psych was closed, and Lassiter would rather have the illusion. And I fucking wept. (Guys, I’m beginning to think Timothy Omundson is, like, a really good actor.)
The episode also incorporates a murder mystery as per its usual. Shawn’s Billy Zane obsession gets a hilarious payoff as Billy Zane plays the killer. (And the often mentioned Val Kilmer also makes a cameo.) There’s also a really great car chase where Shawn and Gus are both steering a student driver car.
In the end, the whole main cast, minus Lassiter and Henry, are together again, but in San Francisco (where the Psych business will be reopened), and the idea is that they can basically continue on as always.
5. Last Night Gus (06×02)
Full disclosure, as of my writing this, I’ve not seen The Hangover, and this episode is a send up to it. But if anything, I think that it deserves points for me enjoying it as much as I do without ever having seen the film is references.
Shawn, Gus, Lassiter, and the coroner, Woody, all wake up in the Psych office and try to piece together the events of the previous drunken night, which ended in a murder. Each of them could potentially be the murderer and none of them remember what happened.
Shawn is especially out of his element, eventually exploding in a rant about imaginary ice cream cones. Lassiter spends the day trying to conceal that he has a black eye, getting into an insane argument about sunglasses with Juliet. His gun is also missing bullets. Gus goes into a panic after discovering the Blueberry, his company car, has a dent in it. Woody has a strange substance all over his face that looks like cocaine, but turns out to be from powdered donuts.
Everywhere they go, people remember them and no one’s pleased to see them again, particularly the donut guy.
Of course, none of them killed anyone, but them trying to follow the clues while they’re all hungover is hilarious. And Shawn’s utter despair at being unable use his memory and observation skills to go faux-psychic are where much of the fun stems from.This is compounded with Henry waking up in an unfamiliar hotel with a similar problem, no pants, and discovery that a corpse has turned up in one of his shirts. That and the group dynamic. Anytime Lassiter has to work with Shawn and Gus is great. And Woody is always an excellent addition.
4. Cloudy with a Chance of Murder (01×13)
This episode was so good they made it twice. But the remake just couldn’t live up to the original (though I love the My Cousin, Vinny joke). Full of puns, this early episode is a great example of the show’s ability to take any category, like weather station, and turn it into a murder mystery. The reason the original worked was it didn’t feel overstuffed or even heavily themed. And, as this list has made abundantly clear, I love my themed Psych episodes, but it’s nice to see the show successfully pull off a more straightforward episode of TV. Because it can. The show’s legitimately good.
The plot isn’t all that complicated: a lawyer, Adam Hornstock, played by the excellent character actor Michael Weston (who is seriously a big part of the reason this episode works), is trying to convince a jury of his client’s innocence, but he just doesn’t have the confidence to back up his claims. But Shawn doesn’t think the defendant has killed anyone and decides to step in. He and Gus become legal consultants, helping Hornstock build up his case.
I challenge you to find a better scene than Shawn handing Adam alternate and increasingly ridiculous names for the weatherman. And then I’d like to refer you to the gag reel for the rest of the names, which were left on the cutting room floor. That sequence brings me so much joy.
Shawn’s antics in the courtroom, Adam’s boomeranging confidence, and Shawn wrestling Gus’ tie off made this episode an instant classic for me. Apparently the crew disagreed. I still love it.
3. Heeeeere’s Lassie (06×11)
Like “Dual Spires,” appreciation for this episode involves some prerequisite viewing. But, oh man, do I love The Shining, and this episode! It makes me giddy with glee. And alliteration, apparently.
Lassiter moves into a new building and starts experiencing some strange things there that he can’t explain. Embarrassed that he finds himself considering the disturbances may be paranormal, he asks Shawn and Gus to take a look. They’re THRILLED by this turn of events, showing up at the building in Ghostbusters-esque jumpsuits and wielding ghost-hunting equipment.
They meet several of Lassiter’s strange neighbors, each reminiscent of a character from a horror film. But overall, nothing seems suspicious while they’re there, which drives Lassiter nuts. But that night they witness a light fixture filling with blood. Lassiter becomes increasingly sleep deprived and paranoid and Shawn and Gus suspect a neighbor is trying to drive him away. But by the time they tell Lassiter, he’s gone full Jack Torrance and begins chasing Gus around the building with a sword, until they’re reenacting THAT scene. You know the one. They find out that one of the tenants was pumping amyl nitrate through the vents, which resulted in all of Lassiter’s strange behavior, and the tenant is arrested.
Some of the best moments include my personal favorite alternative credits sequence, Amy welcoming Lassiter to the building, the pregnant woman, Rosemary, the bloody light fixture, the holiday photos (akin to those at the end of The Shining), and the Lassiter/Gus chase.
2. Scary Sherry: Bianca’s Toast (01×16)
The season one finale very nearly took the top spot. And depending on my mood, these top picks could all jostle for position and shake down a little differently, but here it’s ended up just shy of the top spot.
Haunted by a death Shawn thought he saw as a child, the urban legend of Scary Sherry has been passed around town and survived into his adulthood. Meanwhile, a sorority has had some strange activity and the girls in the sorority house suspect ghost activity. Shawn and Gus are only too happy to investigate. Juliet goes undercover as a graduate and alumna of the sorority when bodies start dropping.
It’s the perfect set up for the show, a scream queens style setting and cast of characters, bizarre, but amusing deaths (the second half of the title refers to an unfortunate incident one of the girls has in the bath with a toaster), and the setting of Halloween night.
By the time Juliet finds herself the next target of the murderer, she’s been lured to the hospital of the Scary Sherry scene. Shawn and Gus overcome-ish their fear of the site, and they and Lassiter rush to the old facility, hoping to rescue Juliet, but she proves she can handle herself. When they find her, Juliet has taken the ax from her would be attacker and stands over her with it, screaming “you’re under arrest, you crazy crazy bitch!”
Lassiter’s side of the episode involves him trying to train an aging rookie detective, who drives him crazy, but who he also seems to have a begrudging affection for. At the end, the rookie ends up in the hospital, and Lassiter sees Shawn, Gus, and Juliet having lunch together at the station. He seems to want to join them and, for a moment, looks like he might, but then turns away. Shawn calls after him and tosses him a fortune cookie. Lassiter wanders off with it, but smiles. He’s making progress. Not that he ever really reaches the level of friendship the trio have. Ah, well. Still, a great episode.
1. Tuesday the 17th (03×15)
Fun fact: the original airdate of this episode was Friday the 13th.
I’ve actually written about this episode before on my 11 excellent episodes of TV post, so it may not be surprising this ended up at number one. And I’ve not seen Friday the 13th in its entirety, so like the Hangover episode, I’m not terribly familiar with the source material. Though I have seen scenes from it, including the ending, and I’ve seen Freddy vs. Jason (WHICH IS A GODDAM MASTERPIECE. FIGHT ME).
Like Scary Sherry, Tuesday the 17th is a great set-up for Psych and in a somewhat similar vein: Shawn and Gus are asked for help by an old camp friend (whose name is Jason…hmm) after a counselor at the camp he’s opening goes missing. As they head towards the camp, they’re warned by a guy on the road not to go there. While touring the camp, Shawn finds bloody clothes. True to horror movie fashion, the counselors, who are each perfect horror film archetypes, want to split up and search the grounds. Shawn wants to stay put and call the police. The others all leave, but Shawn calls Juliet who meets him at the camp. Shawn then finds the missing camper shoved in a laundry sack as a hooded figure bursts in. Shawn runs off, before realizing this is all an elaborate prank. The camp is horror themed and they were testing it out on Shawn. Even Gus was in on it. They break into a celebration montage complete with champagne and Harvey Danger’s “Flagpole Sitta” (LOVE IT. I basically claimed this song as my anthem in college, so I felt like this episode was speaking to me personally, while watching it in my dorm room). Then a real dead body turns up. From there on out they have to figure out which of the counselors is a murderer.
Meanwhile, Lassiter has to face the fact that his estranged wife is, in fact, divorcing him and does more good acting.
Shawn literally being placed in a horror movie setting and situation is brilliant. So often he’s able to dance around the edges of any real danger. Here, he recognizes the signs, and there’s not really anything he can do about it. And Shawn’s childhood Rick Astley piñata?! Brilliant. Seeing Gus have such a close friendship with Jason and witnessing Shawn’s jealousy adds an interesting layer to their characters that we don’t often get to see, without tearing a rift in their relationship. This episode is quite simply everything I want from a Psych episode.