USA has taken the assignment of finding a “Monk” companion perhaps a bit too literally, churning out another whimsical detective series whose central character possesses an unusually acute mind. In this case, that mental dexterity entails inordinate heights of observation, which are so finely honed as to border (to an outside observer, anyway) on the psychic. Alas, “Psych” isn’t nearly as much fun as it ought to be, offering a breezy but not particularly captivating twist on a very well-worn buddy formula.
James Roday plays Shawn Spencer, who from his early youth was trained by his cop dad (Corbin Bernsen) to develop unusual powers of perception. Those skills allow him to solve crimes while stretched out on the couch at home, detecting verbal tics or incriminating gestures from the snippets he sees on the local news, then phoning in tips to the police.
When the son of a wealthy family is kidnapped, Shawn — until now a job-hopping slacker — offers his services, but he quickly concludes that the only way these crusty detectives (in that notorious hotbed of crime, Santa Barbara) will take him seriously is if he claims to be psychic. So he makes a few unerring observations that buy him marginal cred with the captain (Kirsten Nelson), then enlists his longtime friend Gus (“The West Wing’s” Dule Hill) to function as his reluctant sidekick.
Roday has a nifty, rapid-fire delivery, Hill provides pleasant company and Bernsen is properly cranky as disapproving ol’ dad. Moreover, the willingness of people to buy into psychic abilities — as underscored by the 37 series (OK, so that’s a slight exaggeration) showcasing such characters — renders the genre ripe for a spoof.
Ultimately, though, “Psych” plays like just another detective show in a sunny seaside locale, juggling elements of humor and mystery, but neither in sufficient quantities to make the net result completely engaging.
That said, the 90-minute premiere does at least establish a premise with potential legs inasmuch as Shawn and Gus form their own bogus psychic detective agency (thank God they didn’t call it “Spencer: For Hire”), free to handle cases from the local cops as well as private clients.
Unlike Shawn’s powers of perception, however, which are visualized by zooming in on various objects, at first glance nothing here pops off the screen. And while “quirky” is fine as adjectives go, without “Monk”-like magic it’s as squishy a foundation for a new series as the Santa Barbara sand.