Three years ago, the art of detection took on a whole new meaning when Shawn Spencer and Burton “Gus” Guster arrived on the scene as the USA Network’s crime-solving dynamic duo in the hit TV drama/comedy Pysch. The series follows the adventures of a young police consultant, Shawn Spencer (James Roday), who solves crimes with powers of observation so acute that the precinct detectives think he’s a psychic – or at least that’s what he lets them believe. Shawn is joined by his best friend and reluctant sidekick, Gus (Dule Hill), and his disapproving father and former police officer Henry (Corbin Bernsen), who, ironically, was the one who honed his son’s observational skills as a child. While Karen Vick (Kirsten Nelson), head of the Santa Barbara Police Department, and SBPD Detective Carlton “Lassie” Lassiter (Timothy Omundson) cannot dispute Shawn’s and Gus’s results when it comes to helping catch the bad guys, Lassiter has strong doubts about Shawn’s psychic claims. Meanwhile, there is a bit of romantic tension between the “psychic” and Lassiter’s partner, SBPD Junior Detective Juliet “Jules” O’Hara (Maggie Lawson).
Season four of the popular series began airing on August 7th, 2009 in its regular Friday night time-slot of 10 p.m. EST/9 p.m CT. The action intensifies this season as the crime fighting team of Shawn and Gus save an old western town from a corporate take-over which ends with an old-fashioned showdown, outwit a notorious international art thief, and prove an exorcism may not be the only way to exorcise a demon. On the personal side, Shawn and his girlfriend Abigail’s (Rachael Leigh Cook) relationship grows, and Shawn has to adjust to being in a relationship. Fourth season guest-stars include Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride, Twister), James Brolin (Catch Me If You Can, Hotel) and Sendhil Ramamurthy (Heroes).
At the end of July, myself and several other journalists had the opportunity to speak with both James Roday and Dule Hill via conference call to discuss the fourth season of Psych as well as the series in general and other topics. An edited version of that Q & A session follows.
What do you feel was the secret behind what I thought was an exceptionally good third season, and how do you keep that momentum going into the fourth season?
JAMES RODAY – Well, for me, I felt like season three was sort of a tale of two seasons, really. I thought we especially heated up in the second half of the season, which makes it a little easier to keep up the momentum because I kind of felt like we were riding a high going into the hiatus. And with the last batch of episodes we shot, everyone was feeling confident and good and didn’t want to stop. As a result, I think that has yielded some pretty strong stuff at the beginning of season four.
James, what was your reaction to Shawn walking away from Juliette, and how often will we see Rachel Leigh Cook this year?
JR – Maggie Lawson, the actress who plays Juliette, did such a wonderful job in that scene. I watch it sort of as a fan of the show and feel for her character as well as Shawn, but, you know, that relationship is like a marathon. I think that everyone gets that and knows that there’s going to be a lot of going in circles and missed timing as well as hurdles that have to be cleared in order for something to ever actually happen. And this season, Rachel Leigh Cook’s character of Abigail is one of those curve balls. We’ll be seeing her sporadically over the course of the entire season.
And Dule, how about you? When does your characer get a little bit of romance?
DULE HILL - I think it will probably happen during the second half of season four. It’s been a long time in coming, so Gus has a little pent-up energy, and I think he’ll get to take care of that later on this season.
Dule, you have such great comic timing. Is it something you’ve worked at or feel comes natural to you?
DH - I think it comes more naturally to me. I mean, generally I’m someone who likes to have fun, make jokes and act a fool, so I guess it’s something that just comes easy. But then also working with someone like James and the rest of the cast, you kind of, I guess, improv on the day, like I do as a person. It has to do, too, with James and the other great writers on the show who write all this fun stuff we do. I’ve learned a great deal as well since season one, and I think my timing has gotten better since then.
James, you write a number of episodes – how you you come up with the concepts for them?
JR - I usually just pick a genre of movie that I feel like saluting and then go off and come up with something that I can sort of pay homage to. That’s the great thing about our show; we’ve sort of created a landscape for Psych where we’re kind of allowed to go off and give shout-outs to movies and genres that we love. So if you look back at my episodes specifically, that’s pretty much what I do. I just sort of decide that I want to do a slasher episode or maybe a werewolf one, and Psych is one of those very unique shows on TV where somehow all those things can work.
Shawn comes up with some creative nicknames for Dule’s character; how does that idea come about? Are we going to be seeing some other names this season?
DH - Always. There will be an endless list of new names for Gus.
JR - It’s part of the permanent fabric of the show. It started off as just an improvisation all the way back in the first episode after the pilot, I believe, and it just really caught on with everybody in the writers’ room and on-set. Everyone is in on the joke now, so, yes, there will be plenty of new names.
How important is the mystery element of the show to the both of you as well as everyone else involved in the show? I mean, would you sacrifice a few good jokes to have the mystery plot really work, or is it just first and foremost to make the show funny?
JR - I think there are a couple of different camps on that one, and I think we’d probably fall into the camp of, no, never sacrifice a good joke to make the mystery better. And then there are people at our network and one of our executive producers, in particular, who would probably disagree and say that you can always spare comedy on this show and that we need to have good cases. But I don’t know. We had kind of an eye-opening experience at Comic Con where we got to come face-to-face with some of our fans, and I feel like the majority of them are tuning in to watch us act like fools as opposed to solving a mystery.
DH - I mean, I think there should be a balance. I feel that the show is first and foremost a comedy, and people tune in to laugh every week. But I also think you have to have that balance because if you don’t then it’s possible to have a bit of overkill if, for example, you have a joke on top of a joke on top of a joke on top of a joke. So that’s always the challenge with this show, making people laugh but also keeping them engaged in what’s going on and taking them along on a journey.
The bantering you guys do on the show is so great. Is that always directly from the script, or is there some room for you guys to ad-lib a little bit?
DH - There’s definitely room to ab-lib, so the simple answer would be no, it’s not all directly from the script. I’d say most of the ad-libbing comes from James. Then it’s me just keeping up with him at that point and we see where it goes from there.
JR - We’re pretty lucky in that we have a long leash on our show. There’s a lot of room to sort of play around and maneuver, and sometimes that’s how we find our best stuff, and other times how we find our worst stuff.
You mentioned Comic Con – were you surprised by any of the people that are fans of the show or overwhelmed by the crazy amounts of nerdiness going on down there?
DH - I wasn’t necessarily surprised at the type of fans. We have such a wide variety of fans for the show that if someone says that they’re a fan, it doesn’t really surprise me. I guess what surprised me the most at Comic Con was the fact that there must have been 4,200 to 4,500 people in the room that we spoke in, and I was very flattered by that.
JR - It was definitely overwhelming, and it was also great to, again, be face-to-face with our fans. We shoot up in Vancouver and it kind of puts us in a bubble sometimes, so to be able to come down [to Comic Con] and sort of hang with them and mingle with them a little bit and feel the love was great, and we were really blown away by it.
James, looking at season four, how do you feel your character has further grown and developed, and are there any new acting challenges that have accompanied that for you?
JR - I think Shawn and Gus are both works in progress. I mean, they’re both sort of overgrown kids, but I think Shawn is trying to be in a relationship, and that’s new. The idea of him maturing but not really maturing is kind of a high-wire act, but we do our best to continue to peel back the layers of these guys. We have one episode coming up that actually gets pretty serious. My character is shot and that was interesting. I was separated from the rest of the cast for the first time because of the way the story is told, our characters are broken up into three groups. So we each got to work with members of the cast that we don’t necessarily always work with, and that was different and challenging. It’s really saying something when you’re in season four of a show and can still come up with something story-wise that hasn’t been done before.
What surprises can fans expect this season? Is there a big one that they would be blown away by?
DH - There is a big, big one.
JR - We have a pretty big guest-star surprise up our sleeves, but viewers will have to wait a little bit because I don’t think it’ll come around until the winter and the second half of the season.
Growing up, were there any comedians that stood out to you and influenced you to go into comedy at point or another?
DH - For me, it would be Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, Bill Cosby, Steve Martin. I love Steve Martin, Joe Piscopo and the whole Saturday Night Live crew. I love laughing and making people laugh, so it would be all those people who make me laugh, too.
JR - I would add Chevy Chas to that list and, for me personally, Val Kilmer in Top Secret! and Real Genius.
Being big stars yourselves, are there people you still get star struck about or would like to meet?
JR - I get star struck anytime I meet performers who I grew up watching and appreciating. I mean, it’s still incredibly surreal to me that a long time ago I was a kid in San Antonio watching movies, and now I’m working with some of the people that are in those movies. I don’t think it will ever stop being surreal on some level. And I also get tongue-tied and freaked out when I meet athletes, too. We’re so lucky to be able to do what we’re doing, and then on top of that, to find yourself in situations where you’re meeting people that you sort of looked up to and were inspired by, is special. So yes, I will always be star struck and it will always be a little bit weird, but it’s also fantastic.
DH - Most of the time I’m pretty laid back and cool with meeting people. The only person that I think I’d really geek out over is Joe Montana. It’s kind of random, I know, but if I could meet Joe Montana and he could throw me one football pass, I would be over the moon.