This is something a little bit different, but I thought I might have a go at it.
I mentioned in a previous Blog Post that I have recently discovered the TV show Psych and I wanted to touch on something that I’ve noticed about the episodes. Something that I really appreciate.
Now, if you aren’t familiar with the show, Psych follows the life of Shawn Spencer, and his best friend Burton Guster, better known as Gus. Shawn has an eidetic memory, which means that he can remember just about anything that he sees or hears.
Through a ridiculous turn of events, Shawn becomes a Psychic detective for the Santa Barbara Police Department and basically cons his way in and out of crime scenes, pretending to be psychic while he solves crimes.
This show is incredibly formulaic. Each episode generally features:
- A flashback to when Shawn was a kid and his father teaches him something about police work.
- Gus getting a new ridiculous nickname.
- “You know dat’s right.”
- Gus hitting on girls and giving them a business card with his “personal number on the back.”
- Detective Lassiter getting upset.
- Romantic/awkward tension between Juliet and Shawn.
- Going to Shawn’s dad for advice.
- Some ridiculous reveal at the end.
- Fist bumps.
- 80’s References.
- Gus gagging/fainting/or otherwise being squeamish around blood.
For the most part, each episode is extremely easy to follow, the crimes are inventive, and it’s more of a comedy than a thriller.
But something I’ve noticed is that depending on the theme of the episode, the way that it is filmed changes.
For instance, there is an episode that takes place at an abandoned (supposedly haunted) summer camp. They use a dark filter over the footage, with diagonal angles for the shots, and jerky cuts. They film it the way that horror movies are filmed. And it works perfectly, creating suspense that usually isn’t present in other episodes. The formula still stands, but the format changes.
Compare that to an episode that follows a daredevil. For this one, they use wide shots, close-ups, slow motion, the whole nine yards. In the end, it looks like an action movie.
My favorite is when it comes to an episode with a killer obsessed with Hitchcock movies. The episode itself is peppered with references and the technique and framing could be considered an ode to his films. A shot that comes to mind is one where the detectives are running up the stairs of a clock tower. The camera is positioned above, making the staircase look almost like an endless spiral. It looks like it came straight out of a Hitchcock movie. And in the end, they don’t catch the killer. You don’t know who he is and he remains a mystery throughout. The anticipation in not knowing creates suspense that continues into the next season.
If there is a western theme, they shoot it like a western. If it’s a historic episode, film it like a historic documentary. They change their tactics to fit each episode.
Why does any of this matter? Well, Psych could have just been a formulaic comedy with pop culture references and witty dialog. And it is. But it also has layers and artistry that you might not notice upon first glance. Each episode was crafted in such a way to be a piece of art, to showcase a type of film, and to try something new. It did as advertised and then went one step further because it could.
Something that’s bothered me about the publishing world is that they say you should do one thing and do it well. An author should have one genre, be typecast. Once you find your genre, your niche, you need to stay there. When someone says the name Stephen King, you immediately think horror. But what if I told you that he’s written historical fiction, thrillers, memoirs, sports books, dystopian novels, and even westerns!
I get it, part of the reason why he is seen as the Horror King is because he writes a lot of it and that’s what people know him as. Publishing is an industry, and if you’re going to market something, it’s best to market it as one thing. They place labels of genre, style, and age range on books and authors and try to sell them.
The beauty of Psych is that the fundamental style is ever-present. It’s a clever, ridiculous, who-dunnit, and it’s great as is. But they place filters over the episodes and use techniques to elevate it higher. Although I wouldn’t say it is the highest art-form, it does display the fact that you can do something well and experiment at the same time.
Why can’t an author be known for their compelling characters and multi-faceting storylines? So what if those characters are in a fantasy setting or a historical one? Why is it that an actor can go from one genre to another and it’s marketable, but authors can’t?
I suppose this has turned into more of a rant than I expected. I just know that I have so many ideas that are bursting out of me and they won’t all fit into one box. I just want to tell stories, however they need to be told. Is that too much to ask?