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For the past six years, the USA Network has aired a detective comedy television series called Psych, in which the main character, Shawn Spencer, played by actor James Roday, solves crimes with an unusual talent of psychic abilities. Shawn, along with his sidekick, Burton “Gus” Guster, played by actor Dule Hill, runs a small psychic detective agency that often consults with the Santa Barbara, California Police Department. Shawn often works with the police department’s lead detectives Carlton “Lassie” Lassiter, played by actor Timothy Omundson, and Juliet “Jules” O’Hara, who is played by actress Maggie Lawson. These four characters are often paired up to work together by Police Chief Karen Vick, who is played by actress Kirsten Nelson. One other pivotal character in the series, played by actor Corbin Benson, is Shawn’s father Henry Spencer. Henry plays a critical role, along with Gus, in keeping Shawn “in line”.

Precocious as a child and as an adult, Shawn’s character is revealed not only through the flashbacks to the 1990s, but also through the comedic banter he exchanges with all of the characters in the show. The flashbacks of Shawn as a 10 year-old boy, shown at the beginning of each episode, are helpful in understanding both his natural rambunctiousness and the character he has evolved into. The flashbacks also play an equally important role in revealing how Shawn came to acquire his “psychic visions”. Most of the flashbacks center on Henry’s attempts to impress upon a young Shawn the importance of the powers of observation. Playing games with his father, the 10 year-old slowly acquires his eidetic memory and “psychic” talent. In addition to his powers of observation, Shawn Spencer uses his powers of persuasion to convince those around him into believing in a psychic talent he has never possessed, and he is, thus, triumphant in solving whatever crimes come his way.

Shawn’s lack of true psychic ability is trivial and undaunting for him. The fact that he does not really possess any “sixth sense” does not hinder his self-confidence. It is within this cool, calm and self-confident persona that Shawn’s humor works well. His quick wit and just as quick responses allow his “psychic” abilities to almost always go unchallenged. For example, whenever his biggest skeptic on the show, Lassiter, begins to get suspicious of the “gifted” Mr. Spencer, Lassiter is predictably cut off by Shawn with some sharp insult or nostalgic reference to the 1980s or the 1990s. His deflection of suspicion is both masterful and entertaining.

But Shawn is most entertaining when paired up in scenes with his business partner, sidekick and, most importantly, best friend since childhood, Gus. The smooth exchange of conversation between the two characters not only gives the series its best comedic moments, but also aids in revealing Shawn’s entire personality. Gus has known Shawn for decades and it is without question that he is not only the catalyst for much of Shawn’s humorous commentary, but also the key to the physical comedy and slapstick exchanged between the two characters.
Shawn also uses a type of physical comedy to dramatize his psychic abilities. In order to persuade those around him of his “gift”, he often raises two fingers to his forehead, as if to concentrate on a “vision” he is having. He also often squints in order to see clearly his “psychic” vision. To emphasize his sense of humor, Shawn uses props, stunts and gags to invoke laughter. While these crazy theatrics are performed for humorous reaction, they are also performed to hide his more serious side. Shawn’s seriousness is often masked by sarcasm and humor. With few exceptions throughout the past six seasons of Psych, the series has consistently portrayed its main character, Shawn Spencer, to be a loveable, wise-cracking psychic detective, who uses his time and talents to seek justice, fight crime and solve mysteries, all while simultaneously entertaining those looking for a good laugh.




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