Psych: The Movie, when it was released in 2017, was clearly a love letter for the avid Psych-Os missing fake psychic Shawn Spencer (James Roday), his platonic life partner Burton Guster (Dulé Hill), and the rest of the Santa Barbara Police Department after the series wrapped in 2014. From a David Bowie-loving villain to a #TeamGrimmie T-shirt, it was the best kind of fan service. Psych 2: Lassie Come Home, then, is undoubtedly a love letter from the cast and crew of Psych to one of their own: actor Timothy Omundson and his grouchy yet heroic alter ego, detective Carlton Lassiter, both undergoing recovery for a stroke. Psych 2, which premieres July 15 on Peacock, is a surprisingly poignant example of art imitating life while still ushering a crew of beloved characters through personal and professional life changes.
Because of the timing of Omundson’s stroke prior to shooting the first movie, Roday and series creator Steve Franks quickly rewrote that script to build in reasons for Lassiter’s absence: transplanting the mystery from Santa Barbara to San Francisco, and bringing in Lassiter for a late-stage pep talk for his former partner Juliet O’Hara (Maggie Lawson). The scene was staged in such a way as to not necessarily acknowledge that anything had changed in the character’s life. But three years later, with Omundson still relearning how to walk, the writers (Franks, Roday, and Andy Berman) leaned in to the actor’s real-life situation and constructed an entire Hitchcockian whodunnit around his recovery:
Someone shot Lassie! Recuperating in Santa Barbara, the usually sharp detective, his senses dulled by pain and meds, nonetheless notices a series of strange happenings in and around his recovery clinic: catatonic patients walking the halls, bleeding strangers lurking on the grounds at night… possibly even ghosts. With potentially supernatural happenings afoot, clearly this is a case for a fake psychic and his many-nicknamed-associate. And when it comes to Lassie, Shawn and Gus are more than happy to return to their old stomping grounds, slurp some Jamba Juice, and unravel this eerie case.
But here’s the rub: What if it’s all in Lassie’s head?
In addition to meeting Omundson where he’s at, the Hitchcockian plot smartly turns the series’ original premise on its ear: Instead of Shawn being the one that people struggle between debunking and believing—no one moreso than Lassiter—now it’s Lassie as the unreliable narrator. While Shawn’s lies ballooned to so precarious a point that he could lose all credibility if punctured, Lassiter arguably has more to lose should his peers decide that he’s “crazy”: Not only could be he forcibly retired from his job, but he’d lose the respect of the police department and (he believes) wife Marlowe (Kristy Swanson) and their daughter Lily.
You can hear the genuine warmth and affection that everyone involved has for Omundson. In the scene when Juliet tells Lassiter, “You are the strongest person I know, and I am watching you get stronger every single day, and I love you, and I don’t know what I would do without you,” it’s also clearly Maggie Lawson talking to Omundson, and probably even also the series engaging its fans, especially now.
These highly emotional stakes ground a mystery that often veers into the ludicrous, even for Psych. There are hospital hijinks involving dismembered hands and foot tickling; another bonkers Mary Lightly (Jimmi Simpson) hallucination that outdoes its Psych: The Movie predecessor; a shootout at a Viking-themed ice bar; and exhaustive travel back-and-forth between Santa Barbara and San Francisco. At the hospital, Richard Schiff plays a suspiciously uptight doctor, while Sarah Chalke is a beam of sunshine as basically a more put-together version of Elliot from Scrubs, with a smile for Lassiter and an eye for Gus.
The one major downside of the Psych movies is that they lack the tight structure of a 42-minute TV case. There’s still all the same crime-solving plot beats, but you trade that briskness for a bevy of witty references, as if the characters and the stars would rather spend ninety minutes catching up on the last three years of pop culture. To be fair, they are great; where else would you see The Force Awakens and This Is Us get equal play? (And they’re both stories where fathers come to tragic ends! It all fits.) But the joke-spackling can’t entirely disguise the holes in the narrative.
Shawn and Gus’ penchant for puerile humor also grates a bit in this installment, especially when one of the movie’s central themes is manning up and getting more serious. The aforementioned foot-tickling scene felt out of place even for these two. When it’s just the two of them being handsy and inappropriate, it’s comedy gold; when they bring in a play partner, it just gets uncomfortable.
But it’s not all rehashing old bits, as Shawn muses to Gus in an especially meta moment; Psych 2 also offers small but pivotal moments of growth for the major characters. One of the movie’s biggest treats is watching Jules be the one to sneak around Shawn’s back investigating the identity of Lassiter’s shooter, instead of their usual status quo in which she’s the straight man to his risk-taker. Even more fun is that she gets a temporary partner in Gus’ girlfriend Selene (Jazmyn Simon), who initially races down to SoCal to investigate Gus’ potential love interest but winds up joining the hunt for a missing bullet and a shadowy motive.
Even the supporting cast who get only a few scenes are standouts, from Chief Karen Vick (Kirsten Nelson) staring down a life-changing job interview to Woody (Kurt Fuller) in a disguise that’s just this side of offensive to Henry Spencer (Corbin Bernsen) continuing his absurd Boomer hipster ways while also managing to have an actually heartfelt conversation with Shawn about fatherhood.
Absent fathers loom over Lassie Come Home, from Shawn in a sitcom-y plot involving a pregnancy test to Carlton’s meds-induced hallucinations of the Lassiter family patriarch (Joel McHale), a ghostly manifestation of the detective’s self-censure about manliness and what recovery looks like. Psych 2 never sugarcoats Lassiter’s recovery, adeptly balancing hope and pessimism, hero worship and regret.
The mystery resolves in an uneven fashion, with a few too many red herrings and new characters and settings that you could tell it was fun to set up, if nothing else. But let’s be real, we weren’t here for the who or why of Lassiter getting shot; the movie’s heart is in what he does next. That resolution is handled so thoughtfully, in a simple moment that resonates for both Lassiter and Omundson, and every (not-a-dry) eye watching.
Psych had already proven with its first movie that it could grow and change with its fanbase, but this latest installment commits to putting each character on a new path, even if it’s just taking one step. Here’s hoping we’ll get to keep revisiting Shawn and Gus à la the BBC’s Sherlock and Watson every few years—for a new mystery, sure, but really just because everyone feels like family.
Psych 2: Lassie Come Home premieres July 15 on Peacock.
Special thanks to our audio partners at Soundstripe. All music in our Psych 2 video interview is licensed from Soundstripe.com, which provides stock music for creators, with plans starting at $11.25 / month. For 10% off, use coupon code “DENOFGEEK10” at checkout.