Tuned In: 'Psych' takes a musical turn

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It’s become a rite of passage for some prime-time series: The musical episode.

“Buffy the Vampire” and “Scrubs” did it in their latter years and “The Neighbors” managed to squeeze in a musical in its first season.

Now USA Network’s “Psych” sings and dances its way into that pantheon of shows with a two-hour outing Sunday at 9. It’s a thoroughly entertaining effort, beginning with the snappy “Under Santa Barbara Skies,” which brings to mind “Belle,” the first song from Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” and culminating in co-star Dule Hill’s reggae-themed “Jamaican Inspector.”

The episode also includes two notable guest stars: Ally Sheedy reprises her role as serial killer Mr. Yang and musical theater vet Anthony Rapp (“Rent”) guest stars as a mad playwright who goes by the single-letter moniker Z.

“Psych” follows faux psychic detective Shawn (James Roday) and partner Gus (Hill) as they help the Santa Barbara Police Department solve criminal cases. While a musical episode is a major undertaking for any series, it was perhaps a more comfortable fit for “Psych,” which frequently features Roday and Hill singing in “Psych”-Out segments during the end credits of some episodes.

It was the pair’s singing during the pilot more than seven years ago that first planted the seed for a musical episode in series creator Steve Franks’ head.

“James and Dule would not stop singing between takes,” Franks said in a phone interview last month. Hill confirmed that account.

“It’s amazing what can happen when the camera’s off,” Hill said. “Roday and I enjoyed singing old ‘80s songs. It was cold in Vancouver (where “Psych” is filmed) and we were bored between shots so we started singing songs and making up our own songs.”

One of those tunes was added over the end credits of the pilot presentation to USA executives.

“They loved it so much they ended up putting (us singing) into the show a few times each season throughout,” Hill said.

Franks, who wrote and sings the show’s theme song, is in a rock band, Friendly Indians. He said the opportunity “to be playing my guitar and doing my job at the same time was too awesome of a tempting offer to pass up.”

Most of the cast was game, although Corbin Bernsen refuses to sing in the episode when his character is given the chance to contribute to a tune.

“You know, Corbin Bernsen told me he could talk-sing, which I took as, ‘I don’t want to sing,’” Franks said. “Then when the script came out, he seemed disappointed so I think I failed Corbin and we might have to do another musical just so we can have him sing.”

Agreeing to sing was an easy yes for Hill, who grew up in musical theater, including appearances in several Broadway shows.

“We were all pretty game for it,” he said. “The overwhelming part was the time constraints. We didn’t have any time to go and rehearse things ahead of time or learn the songs and dances. ... It was a big undertaking for all of us. Thankfully, it worked.”

The cast recorded their songs first and then sang on set to playback of their recordings.

“So you’re kind of doing a ‘Psych’ episode but all of a sudden you’re going into song and dance,” he said. “Between set-ups we were learning the choreography for the next day of work.”

Franks said he had talked up a musical episode to USA executives over a five-year period.

“I think by the time we got serious about doing it, they thought we were still bluffing,” he said.

In the past “Psych” has done episodes that pay homage to “Twin Peaks” and the 1980s movie flop “Clue.” So a musical is not out of character.

Of course, budgetary considerations may also have given USA execs pause. But Franks said while this two-hour musical costs more than two regular episodes of the series, “Psych” did not go over budget for the season.

Some gags were rethought -- Franks opted for a pull-down anatomy chart in place of a model stomach that would have cost $8,000 to build -- and producers got lucky that the sun was shining in White Rock, B.C., which plays Santa Barbara on the show for the episode’s opening musical number, “Under Santa Barbara Skies.”

“I knew I wanted a song that was going to introduce the town and world,” Franks said. “That seems to be the go-to thing. I was always thinking of Disney’s animated revival period, the time of ‘Aladdin,’ ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘The Lion King.’ I also wanted this episode to be self-contained so if you’ve never seen an episode of ‘Psych,’ this song will explain everything you need to know.”

(Follow Scripps Howard News Service TV writer Rob Owen on Twitter or Facebook under RobOwenTV. E-mail him at rowenpost-gazette.com.)

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