TV Review: 'Monk' gets viewers 'Psych'-ed up

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'Psych'
When: 10 p.m. Friday, USA Network.
Starring: James Roday.    

Television executives try to find complementary shows to pair with established hits. For USA Network, successful comedy-mystery hour "Monk" offers a perfect springboard for something new -- or at least younger and slightly repackaged.

Some critics will complain that "Psych," the new series that follows "Monk" at 10 p.m. Friday, is too similar to its lead-in -- both shows follow oddball crime-solvers -- but, despite the inevitable comparisons, the lighthearted "Psych" charms even as it duplicates the structure and tone of "Monk."

Premiering Friday with a 90-minute opener, "Psych" follows the exploits of Shawn Spencer (James Roday), the son of a police officer (Corbin Bernsen), who taught Shawn to be super-observant. Shawn spent years resisting this talent, slacking his way through life in a series of short-lived jobs.

But in a bind, he convinces the local police force that his ability to spot details others miss, and thereby solve crimes, is derived from his psychic abilities.

"If this psychic thing is a scam, we will prosecute," warns the interim police chief (the always winning Kirsten Nelson of the short-lived CBS pilgrim comedy "Thanks").

So Shawn has that threat over his head as he embarks on his detective work as a phony psychic. He doesn't put all the pieces of the puzzle together properly on first glance, but he does at least gather the pieces. With the help of best friend, pharmaceutical sales rep Gus (Dule Hill), Shawn goes about solving crimes, rubbing his temples to help recall the clues he's seen in plain sight.

As Shawn, Roday is a winning lead. He's charmingly off-kilter, a likable schemer who avows, "The best way to convince people you're not lying to them is to tell them you are." Roday is not above silly behavior -- shaking, taking a tumble -- when Shawn has to convince the police he's having visions.

Hill, so serious for all those years as uber-professional presidential aide Charlie Young on "The West Wing," gets to cut loose as Gus, a more uptight character who's not above running from a room, screaming in fear. Those shrieking moments are a little over the top, but Hill's characters is not as eye-rollingly obvious as the by-the-book cop (Timothy Omundson) who's constantly snarling at Shawn.

That crummy cop character needs to be made more multidimensional, and perhaps he will be in future episodes. In the pilot, actress Anne Dudek plays his partner -- in crime-solving and in the bedroom -- but her character will be transferred out and a new female detective, played by Maggie Lawson ("Crumbs"), will arrive in future episodes.

The relationship between Shawn and his father, introduced in the pilot as loving but strained, will also need further refinement in subsequent episodes for Bernsen to remain relevant to the series.

Created and written by Steve Franks, "Psych" cribs many elements from "Monk." But in mixing these with the contributions of Roday and Hill, the resulting series manages not to play like a total retread.


TV editor Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Ask TV questions at www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Q&A.


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