Psych has never been a very typical TV show.
Sure, on paper, it looks like your usual hour-long detective procedural. In fact, on paper, it looks almost exactly like another hour-long detective procedural about a fake psychic crime solver that airs on CBS sometimes, but it's really more like an eight-year-long love letter to pop culture of all kinds. Over eight seasons, Psych has paid tribute to hundreds of TV shows, movies, books, plays, comics, musical artists, games, wrestlers...and rides? "We've basically done a variation of every ride at Universal Studios," said writer and creator Steve Franks. "So now we're just waiting for Psych: The Ride."
Sometimes, their tributes are successful. Sometimes, they are strange. Usually, they are both. Here, just ahead of the series finale, we've compiled a list of the fifteen weird-yet-awesome-est tribute episodes that Psych has ever done. So, don't be a gooey chocolate chip cookie and continue on for the most deliciously flavorful list of them all!
15. Lassie Jerky (season 7)
Psych's tribute to found footage horror movies was definitely not the tale of a nice pleasant walk in the forest. Poor Lassie (Timothy Omundson) got caught in a bear trap, fell in a river, and basically lost his mind while on the hunt for Bigfoot or a murderer or something. There were campfire songs ("Eternal Flame" is always my first choice, too), there was suspected cannibalism, there was a lot of falling down. There was even a crime syndicate! Any episode that features Gus (Dule Hill) happening upon the body (or bodies) is sure to be a rousing good time, regardless of potential motion sickness.
14. The Polarizing Express (season 5)
When Psych did an "It's a Wonderful Life" episode featuring Tony Cox as a guardian angel guiding Shawn (James Roday) through a nightmare world in which he had never come back to Santa Barbara, it was exactly as strange and depressing as it sounds, but in a good way, we guess? Gus was both a brown snowman and a put upon husband in a 90's multi-cam sitcom, while Henry (Corbin Bernsen) was fat, smelly, and covered in flies as he mourned his ex-wife's new marriage to a Moroccan prince. Lassiter was chief of police, running the station like a dictatorial prison state, and Jules (Maggie Lawson) was a cop in Miami with hair that would make Charlie's Angels jealous. Shawn's imagination is a frightening place, and this one glimpse into his psyche was all we ever really needed.
13. Dual Spires (season 5)
Twin Peaks was a weird show, and "Dual Spires" was an appropriately weird episode that sent Shawn and Gus to a tiny California town for a cinnamon festival—and a murder. A Twin Peaks-ified theme song set the stage for some silent window shades, a damn fine beverage, some smooth jazz, and an overflow of former Twin Peaks residents, including Dana Ashbrook, Sherilyn Fenn, Sheryl Lee, Robyn Lively, Ray Wise, Lenny von Dohlen, and the Log Lady herself, Catherine E. Coulson. If this paragraph makes no sense to you, neither will this episode, but there's still a lot of joy in watching a group of people reunite after twenty years under the guidance of one of the ultimate Twin Peaks fanboys: star James Roday.
12. 100 Clues (season 7)
For its 100th ep, Psych paid homage to the quintessential whodunit movie—1985's Clue—with an hour that opened with an invitation by singing telegram to a secret party at a fancy mansion. It was a another strange but well-executed tribute, complete with the three alternate endings and a plethora of guest stars, including Christopher Lloyd, Martin Mull, Lesley Ann Warren, Curt Smith, and Garret Morris. The theme song was even redone to feature the actors' faces on cards from the board game. Shawn, of course, brought out his best Tim Curry, and it was clear that everyone was having a fantastic time. "100 Clues" also brought us both the Chocolate Dance and the Secret Party Dance, and for that we are eternally grateful.
11. Nightmare on State Street (season 8)
Poor Gus was having bad dreams, so Psych went on a bit of a horror movie bender. Even after a couple of views, it is not entirely clear what was and was not actually happening. Was Bruce Campbell even real? Who knows? It was fun and a bit scary and also kind of sad to watch Gus be terrorized by his nightmares and all of his issues with the perpetual man-child that is Shawn Spencer. It was super fun to watch creator Steve Franks and the rest of the writers and producers dress up like zombies and shuffle through a field. Plus, Curt Smith was there, playing himself once again, and we couldn't have been happier.
10. Remake A.K.A. Cloudy … With A Chance Of Improvement (season 8)
In a way, this episode was Psych's tribute to itself. When we heard that Psych was, in season eight, remaking an episode from season one, we did not understand what that meant. After seeing the final product, we're still not exactly sure what it meant. The case from the season one episode, "Cloudy With a Chance of Murder," in which a school teacher is accused of murdering her meteorologist lover, was just redone, with a few changes, with new actors, most of whom have guest starred in other episodes. They even tried to tell us it was 2006 again. We're not complaining. It was a perfectly good episode, with plenty of nods to the original episode, season one in general, and the odd concept of remakes. Plus, we definitely think it's cool that Psych is the first TV show in history to remake one of its own episodes.
9. Psych: The Musical (season 7.5ish)
Psych: The Musical (a tribute to musicals, obviously) was the thing that needed to exist from episode one. It was a bit of a fantasy for creator Steve Franks, and he was fairly sure it would never happen. "The musical is probably my most favorite [of the tribute episodes], just because it was just so unlikely that we would be able to pull that off, and it's one of those things where it's the hardest thing in the world doing it. When we finished the musical and we screened it, I just sat there and said, ‘Wow. We did that.'" The Psych musical was quite the spectacle. It featured Anthony Rapp and Barry Bostwick, and brought back Ally Sheedy's Mr. Yang for one last hurrah and one glorious death scene – after which she ascended to some sort of racquetball court in the sky. There was also singing, obviously, and one magnificent, bromantic tango that titillated many a Shassie shipper's heart. It was worth the wait.
8. Shawn, Interrupted (season 6)
Two words: Molly. Ringwald. The Brat Pack queen and staple of most 80's teen movies played Nurse McElroy, the strict caretaker in Psych's homage to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, which had Shawn and Gus going undercover in a mental hospital to prove whether an accused murderer (played by One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest's Brad Dourif) was actually insane or not. Shawn actually saves the day with a Kenny G. song. What more could you even want?
7. Right Turn or Left for Dead (season 7)
This heartbreaking episode was a direct homage to the 1998 Gwyneth Paltrow movie Sliding Doors, and finds Shawn imagining two different realities – one in which Juliet had discovered that he was not really psychic, and one where she had not. In the real timeline, Jules is unable to forgive him and ends up breaking up with him. In the imagined world, she and Shawn buy Lassiter a puppy as a wedding present. Both timelines follow the same case, which is a sad tale of a disturbed woman wanting closure on her mother's death. The episode is oddly sad for Psych but beautifully done, and represents a turning point for Shawn and his childish carefree ways.
6. Lock, Stock, Some Smoking Barrels, and Burton Guster's Goblet of Fire (season 8)
The season eight premiere had Shawn and Gus heading to London for the thing we never knew we always needed: a Guy Ritchie/Harry Potter mashup. Shawn had to go undercover in an operation for Interpol, and Gus was determined to make it to Pottercon. The episode was chock-full of accents, danger, Harry Potter references, and of course, everybody's favorite art thief, Pierre Despereaux (Cary Elwes), in his final appearance. Steve Franks named this as one of his favorites, saying "[That episode] was one of the most light-hearted, fun experiences I've ever had on the show. And you know, every time Cary Elwes came on the show, we just had that much of a better time. I always felt like the Despereaux character was almost his own series." We would basically watch the crap out of that series, because we miss Despereaux (and Cary Elwes) already.
5. 1967: A Psych Odyssey (season 8)
Directed by Kirsten Nelson (Chief Vick!), this episode recreates the story of a mobster (played by Shawn), his girlfriend (played by Jules), a famous singer (played by Gus), and a dead crime reporter (played by Lassiter). Peggy Lipton guest stars as the mobster's girlfriend in present day, and everyone gets to wear awesome 60's costumes. Plus, Gus performs several catchy songs written for the episode. It was, however, sad moment in Psychdom, and marked the true beginning of the end as Chief Vick accepted a position in San Francisco, Juliet was asked to go with her, and Lassiter is named the Chief of the Santa Barbara Police Department.
4. Heeeere's Lassie (season 6)
In another one of Steve Frank's favorite tribute episodes, Psych goes all The Shining, putting Lassiter in a cursed condo and sending him off the edge. The creepy twins were there, along with the little kid playing on geometric carpet, and Lassie almost goes full Jack Nicholson before being taken down by Shawn. Plus – The Following's Valorie Curry shows up as a pregnant girl named Rosemary, and Shawn and Gus dress up as Ghostbusters. So really, everything about this episode is a true treat.
3. Tuesday the 17th (season 3)
It's an earlier episode, but one of the best. Gus tricks Shawn into going back to their old summer camp for a night, without telling him that it's been converted into a murder mystery camp. It seems like all fun and games at first, but then the fake murder camp turns into an actual murder camp, and things get legitimately scary when Shawn, Gus, and Jules end up fighting the murderer in an abandoned pool. As an homage to teen slasher movies, it's perfect. As an episode all by itself, it's also perfect.
2. Last Night Gus (season 6)
In the style of The Hangover, Shawn, Gus, Lassiter, and Woody all wake up in the Psych office in some strange and sometimes compromising positions with no memory of what happened the night before. They have to put the pieces together in order to make sure they had nothing to do with the dead body that has shown up in the morgue, and it's hilarious. Meanwhile, Shawn also has to figure out how to get out of having drunkenly suggested to Jules they should move in together, and Gus tries to remember how he managed to score with as many ladies as he apparently did while intoxicated. You haven't lived until you've seen Gus freak out over his wrecked car, or attempt to maneuver a shooting situation while drugged in his own apartment. Dule Hill is a secret master of physical comedy, and literally gets to save the day with taffy. It's the best.
1. Mr. Yin Presents (season 4)
In the second installment of Psych's epic serial killer saga, it's all about Hitchcock. Mr. Yin, counterpart to Ally Sheedy's Mr. Yang, has set up an elaborate Hitchcockian serial killer game and forces Shawn, Gus, Henry, Lassiter, and Juliet to play. He then manages to take both Juliet and Shawn's girlfriend Abigail hostage, leaving time for Shawn to save only one. Of course, they both get rescued, but Juliet's face when she sees that Lassie is her rescuer instead of Shawn is a sight that still saddens us, even though they've been together for several seasons now. It was the perfect contrivance to break up Shawn and Abigail to make way for Shawn to get together with Juliet, but it was also a well-done, creepy thrill ride of an episode. While we'll miss Psych's ridiculous comedy more than anything, the show also deserves credit for some masterful dramatic moments that still affect us, even four years later.
Honorable mention: Shawn and the Real Girl (season 6)
Shawn and Gus as contestants on what is basically The Bachelorette? Yes please!
Psych's series finale airs Wednesday, March 26, on USA.
(E! and USA are both part of the NBCUniversal family.)