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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Psych: “True Grits”

Illustration for article titled Psych: “True Grits”
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A show with a shorter-than-major-network season should not have filler episodes. With less material to air, fewer scripts to write, and less ground to cover, it should be logically easier to come up with a season with a more consistent standard. Psych produces 16 episodes each year, roughly divided in half, with no overall serialized story beyond romantic plotlines and tidbits of Shawn’s family life. That go-between haze of never giving out too many arcs to follow outside of the episodic case-of-the-week plot is fine, but without a compelling or coherent central story each week, Psych just falls apart into a mess of occasionally funny one-liners. “True Grits” is the weakest episode of the sixth season, with a bland, unfocused plot that barely tells a semblance of a story as it hurries through the comedy cop motions.

Anthony Anderson is the top guest star this week, playing a wrongly convicted former chef exonerated by a generic Innocence Project, apparently focused on armed robbery cases instead of murders or other cases aided by DNA evidence. He’s quick to impress the fact that in his almost three years in prison he “lost everything” upon the media and upon Shawn and Gus—those words are spoken three times before the opening titles. In order to get restitution, he needs to find the actual perpetrator of the robbery of the restaurant he worked at. Juliette was the detective who put him behind bars, so Anderson (I see no reason to call any guest stars on a show like this by their character names) turns to Gus and Shawn.

This season hasn’t featured a lot of Maggie Lawson as Detective O’Hara, and even less of just how good of a detective she can be, so it was really nice for the one big bright spot of the episode to be how well she handles this re-investigation. It’s subtle, but having a part in the wrongful conviction clearly had a big affect on Jules, as she hunkers down and works incredibly hard to connect a string of eerily similar burglaries back to the one Anderson allegedly committed. Since Shawn and Gus work for Anderson, who is suspicious of Jules and all police officers, they cut ties with the cops for this one. Lassiter plays up a nice comedic moment, driving a wedge between Jules and Shawn as they begin to navigate what separating business and personal mean for each of them. Lassiter is my favorite character, but this was Jules’ episode to shine, always staying one step ahead of Gus and Shawn through solid detective work. Frustrating Shawn for severing their partnership is just a bonus.

Unlike many other episodes this season, “True Grits” kept hitting notes that just bugged me. For starters, a string of burglaries with key similarities to the one that put Anderson’s character behind bars occur right after he gets out of prison, instead of, I don’t know, any other time before or since that one that wasn’t actually committed by him. Then, Shawn suddenly has 20/10 vision in the convenience store and jewelry shop, reading tiny print from across a room. The usual red herrings come out. There's the standard surprise discovery of a previous witness, only this time they’re dead. There's the raised voice conclusion jumping in the police station. Every building block of a Psych episode written on an index card and posted on the whiteboard in the writer’s room is right where it should be.

I laughed enough times to keep this from being an unmitigated disaster, but without a theme or memorable case, the only way this episode will stand out among the other episodes this season will be as The One with Anthony Anderson. In fact, since I went to Northwestern, which has a prominent innocence project of its own through the Medill School of Journalism, I’ll probably remember that aspect more than the guest stars or Maggie Lawson’s standout performance. Patrick Gallagher is fine in his five minutes, but I only remember him as Ken Tanaka from the first season of Glee. Shawn showed a hilarious amount of knowledge on the number of Get Out of Jail Free cards in a standard Monopoly game. Sure, fine, I laughed. I smiled a bit, but that didn’t save the episode.

It’s understandable that not every episode of Psych can have a theme or a big time guest star with a well-plotted case. But I’m really going to try and forget this one even happened, and hope that the sixth season finale next week leaves things on a high note. The show is back for a seventh season in the fall, when it will surpass 100 episodes. If I was being generous, I’d say the show is operating around a 50/50 split between memorable and forgettable episodes. This tired, by-the-book hour of buddy investigation procedural definitely belongs in the latter camp.


Stray observations:

  • This episode was directed by Reginald Hudlin, the President of Entertainment for BET who is currently producing Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, Django Unchained.
  • Carlton Lassiter’s Enemies list: 1) Internal affairs. 2) UNICEF. 3) Lance Bass (don’t ask). 4) The Innocence Project.
  • Henry gives kind of a mini-lesson on love and money late in the episode, which reminded me—whatever happened to that aspect of the show? No more flashbacks or lessons from Shawn’s past that come back to inform his current investigations?