By: Cam Sully
Plot: Shawn Spencer (James Roday, Showtime) happens to possess some uncanny powers of observation thanks to his father, Henry (Corbin Bernsen, The Dentist 1 & 2), a former police officer who taught his son to remember even the smallest details of his surroundings. When Shawn convinces the Santa Barbara Police Chief, Vick (Kirsten Nelson, The Fugitive), that he’s a psychic and with the reluctant help of best friend Gus (Dulé Hill, The West Wing), he starts solving cases for a skeptical but increasingly impressed police force that includes: straight-faced detective duo, Juliet (Maggie Lawson, Model Behavior) and “Lassie” (Timothy Omundson, Deadwood).
Review: Layered with well-thought out Scrubs-type gags, Lethal Weapon buddy syndrome, Barney Miller type wit and playing like a far more insane version of Monk, this show has plenty of competent visuals, creative pop culture references, Jackie Chan-worthy physical comedy, memorable characters (everyone will gave their favorite one to pick and choose here!) and even some outrageous crime cases. This is one distorted Scooby-Doo mystery team for that matter, and even NCIS was never this looney in execution.
For eight seasons, there are hardly a dozen sore spots or lacking episodes. There are plenty of visible slips and falls (even epic fails) but it’s all completely deliberate. So much thought is put into everything to where you will want to rewatch episodes eventually just to get all the gags. Apparently, the DVD commentaries are also a hoot and there used to be a “Spot the pineapple!” game on the show’s official website and this show is worthy of wasting time on given its attention to all areas. While most of the actors have a theater or comedic background, they’re rather diverse with all of their moods. The camerawork is also creative and allows the rest of the production to be engaging before the jokes fly front and center. While there are a dozen hundred pop culture jokes per season, they’re either appropriate for whatever discussion is being had, have many layers and are amusing because you can tell much work was put into them without making the mistake of relying on viewer knowledge. Even you’ve only partially heard of what’s being referenced, you’re bound to giggle for uncontrollable periods of time. Mystery Science Theater 3000 would even be jealous of half of these references that get spouted out. In later seasons, some of the often-referenced celebrities even make guest spots in winking unrelated roles and the series even concludes with a well-worded musical special! There is tons of humor for both kids and adults and no generational crowd goes unmentioned, especially the ‘80s, and this is anything but a low-brow, forgettable time-waster. Here, no one gets left out of the fun.
While the characters are idiotic half the time, they are extremely likable, quotable and very well-portrayed. And the crime cases are never too silly, mindless, predictable or repetitive as this show is aware that without a great set-up, nothing else is relevant. Each part of a joke matters here and it’s not going to make you lose brain cells. The show also helps to have the characters evolve (or fail to evolve after trying to no avail), but all because eventually someone is going to be a walking punchline. The characters all act coherently with each other and there are never any continuity errors made. This show respects everything from the viewers’ attention span to the new environments it conjures up each time. It wants and knows that it can entertain but it doesn’t have to cut any corners because it did all of the assigned homework in such a nifty way that you don’t feel jealous. No sir, this is one popular kid you want to like because its just that stellar.
Other comedy shows could learn from material like this as opposed to overdoing the mockumentary formula for the billionth time or throwing all their eggs in a basket and running with the first thing they see hatch in front of them. There’s been great improv shows and other over-the-top comedic TV but most sitcoms these days tend to be reliant on the talk show or laugh-track formulas if not the aforementioned styles. Here, we had a group of somebodies, nobodies and veteran actors all collaborating diligently in an organized fashion and never slowing down after getting too comfortable. And for that, they deserve our applause.
Consensus: An original yet witty comedy classic on par with Naked Gun, Police Academy and other action-comedy spoofs!