This story contains mild spoilers for Psych 2: Lassie Come Home.
When Psych ended its run on USA in 2014, it didn't really "end."
Creator Steve Franks was already talking about the many movies he planned to make back then, and there was never a sense that the Psych office had closed for good, even as Shawn (James Roday Rodriguez), Gus (Dulé Hill), and Juliet (Maggie Lawson) followed Chief Vick (Kirsten Nelson) to San Francisco while Detective Carlton Lassiter (Timothy Omundson) stayed behind in Santa Barbara. There was always talk of continuing the show, and for the fans, it felt like a promise. A when, not an if.
Finally, Psych: The Movie was announced in early 2017, with plans for the entire main cast to reprise their roles. Then, in late April, just before shooting was to begin in May, Timothy Omundson suffered a major stroke.
"It was a terrible time," Franks recalls to E! News. "It was so exciting, because [executive producer Chris Henze] and I were up there [in Vancouver]. Chris and I had come up to start prepping, and we were prepping the movie, and it was all great, and we were all excited to be back, and it was this wonderful feeling, and during the middle of the prep, that's when Tim had his stroke. And at that point, it was like, is he going to survive? Should we all go home right now?"
It soon became clear that Omundson would not only survive, but he might even be able to participate in the movie in some way. But he definitely couldn't do what the original script was calling for, so the entire thing had to be rewritten. Lassiter ended up appearing in a cameo via a video chat with Juliet.
"Steve and [James Roday Rodriguez] holed up in Vancouver…I think they rewrote the entire thing in 70 hours," Omundson tells us. "The way they wrote that cameo in the first movie, which was really their tremendous effort to make sure that I could get in the movie and get a paycheck…it was actually shot in my guest house, in my backyard here. I wouldn't have even been able to go to a set in town, I was so restricted, physically."
Franks confirms that the crew worked hard just to make sure Omundson had a paycheck and health insurance.
"Because of all of us are pragmatists, we were thinking, we just wanted Tim to have his insurance from SAG for doing the movie, so it was like, how do we do it with Tim?" he says. "We knew within our shooting schedule, we weren't going to be able to do it, so I'm like, what if we, six months from now, can reconvene at the very last possible moment before the movie airs, and however far along on his recovery, we'll shoot a scene with Tim, whether it's on the phone…we were even like, if it's just his voice, that's fine. It didn't matter. We just wanted him to get his check for the movie, and that's been sort of the mantra of Psych anyway. We were just all keeping everybody afloat."
They eventually shot the scene at Omundson's house, and found their star eager to do as much as he could.
"As soon as we finished it, Tim was like, what more can we do? What more can we do? And I said, well, we can do another one of these movies, and it's going to be about you. And that was the goal," Franks says.
After the first movie premiered in December 2017, USA (before the movie moved to Peacock) asked for two more movies, and said they could be shot back-to-back, "Pirates of the Caribbean-style." Franks wrote two movies—one involving John Cena that picks up at the end of the first movie, and one about Lassiter recovering from a stroke. After actually reviewing the budget for the two movies, it became just one movie, and the team had to choose. They obviously chose the Lassiter movie, but had to find out how much Omundson could actually do.
"That's what was so crazy about it. We would go over and we would see him, and we'd pitch him ideas and of course, Tim is so great. He's like, I love it. I love everything. And I'm like, OK, is this too much? Tell us where to stop, because obviously, we know this was going to be the first time he's been on a set, it's the first time he's been out of the country. He has to fly all the way to Vancouver, he has to sit through customs and get a work permit. And then he's gonna have to be in a hotel, so it was a lot of conversations and checking in with him, with his wife, with his people, and I never wanted to push him beyond where he was comfortable, and Tim always wanted to go beyond where he was comfortable, so we had to balance out, you know, we probably have Tim for this many days, so how much of the story can we drive with him in it? How much of the story can we tell without seeing him on screen, and let the guys do it?"
Omundson ended up on set for four days, and Franks says that the trick, not only to figuring out how to connect this movie to the last, but to telling Lassiter's recovery-room investigation story all comes down to a rescue dog named Morrissey who caused everybody a bit of grief in Psych: The Movie.
"When we did the first movie, there was a point of like, do I know how to write these characters anymore? That lasted like four hours, and it's like you come up with one bit and it answers the whole thing. With this movie, were trying to figure out what was going to come next, and I realized I want to carry something over from the last movie, so the last movie meant something. We knew [Gus' girlfriend Selene] was going to carry over, but as soon as I figured out that I wanted Shawn and Gus to show up in Lassie's room with Morrissey, the dog from the first one, like entire first 20 minutes of the movie just fell into place, because I love that dog. And I love the idea of that fight that's paying off in such a ridiculous way."
The dog then became the saving grace once again as the team was figuring out how much action could happen with Lassiter in a recovery room.
"Once again, the dog was the godsend for us, because the dog could discover things that we would never even need to investigate, and it worked out pretty nice."
Omundson visited the set the day before he started shooting, and was treated to a very special Psych tradition as the entire cast and crew gathered in the foyer of the house that served as the recovery center.
"There's this funny thing we do with the actors on the last day of their shoot, we sing ‘Happy Birthday' to them," Franks says. "We never explained why. Just when you're done, we sing ‘Happy Birthday,' and it's this really sort of postmodern, weird thing that turns out to be really sweet. And because we've done it so many times, and there's so many good singers in the crew, it sounds fantastic. So he walked in, we all sang ‘Happy Birthday,' and Tim's wife, tears welling up in her eyes. Tim's got tears welling. I'm tearing up, everybody in that room is just sobbing by the end of it. And we know for some reason it's like, this is all gonna be fine."
In the movie, Lassiter was shot by an unknown assailant or multiple unknown assailants, and then suffered a stroke in the aftermath, confining him to a bed in a recovery center while he deals with pretty much exactly what Omundson was dealing with in real life. His former colleagues—Shawn, Gus, Juliet, and Chief Vick—all rally around him, attempting to solve the mystery of his shooting on their own. It adds an unexpected amount of reality to the often absurd storytelling of the show, and makes for an interesting character study of Lassiter, a guy who's usually not so good with vulnerability. As Franks and the writers had to figure out how to write that version of Lassiter, Omundson had to figure out how to play him. He says it was "trippy" to put his real life into his character in such a way.
"Lassiter always was intensely capable and macho and Clint Eastwood-like, in his head, so to suddenly be stuck in that spot was interesting," Omundson says. "I hope people like and respond to it. And I want them to know when they're watching it, they're watching the reality of someone who's gone through any kind of health scare like I have gone through. Obviously people have their own degrees of health issues, but I'm just grateful that I had an outlet to express some of those worries and fears."
The script helped a lot, too.
"It was really just about relaxing and letting the script do its job, because it was exactly what I was going through," he explains. "I just had to get out of my own way and not act, just be. It was a great exercise and produced better acting and quieter acting, in a way."
Franks says it was "both the best thing and the worst thing" to incorporate Omundson's real recovery into the story.
"You couldn't have him do all the Lassiter things that he does, but we knew early on that we were just going to accept the stroke and his recovery, and we were going to honor that, and we were going to incorporate all of the ups and downs of that into the piece. The funny thing is, we're not writing Tim as yelling at them and annoyed with them, and yet Tim still managed to bring all of that back into it as we went along."
It ended up being a strangely perfect story to tell.
"What you want to do with your characters is give them as many obstacles as you can, and I don't think there's any greater obstacle than the real-life situation that happened to Tim," Franks says. "So it was both wonderful and a little heartbreaking that we put this character in this position, and the amazing thing that happens at the very end is that Tim seemed to come through it the same way that Lassiter did. It was almost a perfect parallel. He came from being on the set and not knowing how this was going to work to realizing, I've got this, I can do this, and just completely powered up and reinvigorated for the work ahead. So it was really like it was a gift to us, in a weird way, in addition to getting to make some of the most ridiculous television around it that we're accustomed to."
"Ridiculous" is what makes Psych...Psych. It's a story about two adult men who sort of refuse to grow up, surrounded by grown ups who eventually learn to lower their guard a little bit and join in on the fun. This time around, things had to get a little more serious than anyone is used to, but the two aspects of the story—the real and the utterly absurd—work together both on screen and off, especially for Omundson.
"It comes with a ton of challenges to physically walk on a set, and my mind is not as sharp in dialogue, and I know there's certain things that I need to improve to get back to where I was vocally and cognitively, but luckily the one thing that I didn't lose was my sense of humor. I was still cracking jokes right from the get go, which helped in my recovery a lot."
"In tragedy, there's humor naturally," Franks says. "But Psych has never been about making anybody the victim of the joke, and so it was always about honoring and respecting that, but we also wanted to realize there's a ton of stuff that the guys are gonna bring to it and just having them in the place with all these serious people, especially with Dr. Herschel (Richard Schiff)…all they do is ruin everything he's trying to do. So it was more about the uptight people and it was more about the situation that surrounds it and how they are handcuffed by their own limitations."
The movie is also very much about Shawn and Gus and their attempts to grow up, and as Franks describes it, "the passage of time."
"It's about how Shawn is, as slowly as possible, becoming an adult, and how going into the next stages of life is turning these guys upside down. Lassiter, in a big way, and Shawn in the smallest way, and they're equally effecting them."
And then there are moments like the tickling scene.
At one point, Shawn and Gus believe a man (played by Kadeem Hardison) is faking being in a vegetative state, and so Gus starts tickling him, while Shawn circles them, taunting the poor tickling victim. The tickling goes on for a bit longer than you might think it should, which only makes it weirder and funnier.
"In the script, it's a paragraph. It's a testament to Dule Hill. He dove into that in such a way that the moment he licks his hand, nobody knew that was gonna happen, and it was unbelievable. And it just kept getting crazier and crazier, because James was shooting his circle behind Kadeem, and I don't know how Kadeem kept it together. James had something new every time he went around."
They soon realized that Hardison was "the most ticklish person I've ever met in my life," so a stand in foot had to be used for the actual tickling.
"It was a guy who's been with us since the beginning of the show, and he's like listen, I do a lot of Taekwondo. My mind is trained. It was so ridiculous."
(And yes, there are tickling bloopers, featuring Hardison losing it as Roday Rodriquez starts referencing episodes of A Different World.)
"The reason we have things like that, and Jimmi Simpson as Shawn's baby, is we knew we were going to deal with some pretty heavy stuff, and we weren't going to shy away from it, and we were going to hit all that stuff head on, so we thought, OK, well if we're going to do that, then we're going to take the other parts of it equally in the other direction. So we made it as crazy and as freewheeling as we could possibly get away with."
Psych 2 was shot over a year ago, and it was the first thing Omundson did as he got back to work. He shot a few episodes of This Is Us afterwards, but Psych 2 was his first time back on a set, and he says it's strange to watch now, so much further into his recovery.
"I wish I could do the movie again," he says. "We shot it a year ago, so my recovery was still pretty fresh, and I really notice how my voice was weak in this movie and had lost a lot of its nuance and range, but it's much improved since then. So it's difficult to watch. There's an emotional moment with Maggie and I was like, I could do that do so much better now."
But in watching the scene, you might not think it could be any better.
"It was an incredibly special day and scene, because I had been having trouble with learning dialogue at the time, so when we got to that scene, Steve just said, when we get to this scene, just have you two talk to each other," he recalls. "So it really is just Maggie and I talking to each other, obviously informed by the history of our working together as characters."
"Along those lines, there's some emotional stuff in this movie that was what I was really feeling towards my emotional state of being unsure, and just the fear of what my life was going to be like," he continues." I'm incredibly lucky that Steve and James threw me the ball and [let me] run with it."
If Franks has his way, there will be at least four more movies, so there will be plenty of other chances for Omundson to run with it some more. But for now, what we've got is one hell of a weird and special movie that was fully worth the wait for it.
Psych 2: Lassie Come Home is now streaming on Peacock.
E! and Peacock are both part of the NBC Universal family.