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Five ways Psych is like Sherlock Holmes’ “The Red-Headed League”

While reading Sherlock Holmes recently, I couldn't help but be bombarded by quotes that made me think of Shawn and Gus.

Admittedly, I’ve been bitten by the Sherlock Holmes bug. As a kid, I read many of the stories but didn’t really remember them too well. I have fallen for the BBC’s Sherlock, especially after the phenomenal second series, and I’ve always loved House … so I decided to pick up some of the Sherlock Holmes stories and re-read them as an adult.

I’m greatly enjoying them and comparing the stories to the BBC adaptation of some of them has been fun, especially the Irene Adler one. However, in reading them, I’ve been getting to know Watson a little bit better … and I can’t help but think of Psych‘s Gus. So I consulted my good friend Google to see if I was the only one who had begun making the connections between Psych and Sherlock Holmes, and I wasn’t.

Several commenters over on the Psych show reviews referred to Psych as a modern-day take on Sherlock Holmes, and there’s a great article over on about Sherlock Holmes’ legacy in television, in which Psych is mentioned. But I cannot find anywhere a discussion of the delightful little details which scream Sherlock Holmes to me, complete with quotes. For the purposes of this post, I am going to limit my evidence to “The Red-Headed League,” the amusing little Conan Doyle story that started me thinking about this.

Gus is more like Watson than you think
Sure, he’s Shawn’s sidekick, just like  Watson was to Holmes. And clearly, he’s entertained by accompanying Shawn on the cases, able to add in his own talents and point of view. The fact that the writers made him a pharmaceutical salesman to Watson’s MD cannot be a mere coincidence. There’s a quote from “The Red-Headed League” that made me think so much of Gus that I laughed out loud in the middle of my son’s Lego Robotics class:

“Sarasate plays at the St. James’s Hall this afternoon,” he remarked. “What do you think, Watson? Could your patients spare you for a few hours?”
“I have nothing to do to-day. My practice is never very absorbing.”

C’mon — isn’t that EXACTLY the attitude Gus has toward his job? All I could think of is the way it is so easy for Gus to blow off his job and follow Shawn around all day. Hilarious.

Shawn likes to play, just like Sherlock
It’s not just the keen powers of observation that make Shawn resemble Sherlock Holmes. Probably Shawn would indulge in some pop culture phenomenon, like a Star Wars marathon or something, but this quote still embodies the spirit of Shawn Spencer, even though it was Holmes saying it: “And now, Doctor, we’ve done our work, so it’s time we had some play. A sandwich and a cup of coffee, and then off to violin-land, where all is sweetness and delicacy and harmony, and there are no red-headed clients to vex us with their conundrums.”

Shawn doesn’t want to lead a commonplace life
From living in a dry cleaners to riding a motorcycle and not owning a car, Shawn’s lifestyle doesn’t scream conventional. He thrives on using his powers of observation to solve problems and keep things exciting, just like Holmes, who said, “My life is spent in one long effort to escape from the commonplaces of existence. These little problems help me to do so.”

The police have a love/hate relationship with Shawn
Now, I’m not sure Lassiter would be quite as generous with his praise as the police agent I quote below from “The Red-Headed League,” but the chief would probably say something close to it (probably without admitting that Shawn was right more often than the police).  It’s often hard for Lassiter to face up to the fact that Shawn is good at what he does, but Shawn’s still around, so that says something:

“You may place considerable confidence in Mr. Holmes, sir,” said the police agent loftily. “He has his own little methods, which are, if he won’t mind my saying so, just a little too theoretical and fantastic, but he has the makings of a detective in him. It is not too much to say that once or twice, as in that business of the Sholto murder and the Agra treasure, he has been more nearly correct than the official force.”

Shawn’s got Gus’s number, just like Holmes knew Watson so well
Whether or not Gus wants to admit it, he loves the adventure that Shawn provides in his life. Without Shawn, Gus would be a bored pharmaceutical salesman … just like Watson would be a bored doctor:

“I know, my dear Watson, that you share my love of all that is bizarre and outside the conventions and humdrum routine of everyday life. You have shown your relish for it by the enthusiasm which has prompted you to chronicle, and, if you will excuse my saying so, somewhat to embellish so many of my own little adventures.”

Now, if I can get all of this evidence from just one short story, imagine how much Psych really is paying homage to the great Sherlock Holmes … it’s been fun to ponder, that’s for sure, and you know I’ll be looking for more when Psych returns next Wednesday, February 29 on USA Network.

Photo Credit: USA

Categories: | Features | General | Psych | TV Shows |

5 Responses to “Five ways Psych is like Sherlock Holmes’ “The Red-Headed League””

February 23, 2012 at 7:32 PM

I always thought of Shawn and Gus as the modern Sherlock and Watson, but I never did a side by side comparison. However, here are 3 other supporting reasons:
1) Names: Lassiter sounds like Lestrade and ‘SHawn’ like ‘SHerlock’ –
2) Jobs: Both Gus and Watson are in the medical profession. Both Shawn and Sherlock lack one.
3) Family: Sherlock and Shawn have family in the police profession while Gus and Watson have a more (comparatively) normal family life.

February 23, 2012 at 7:53 PM

Great observations. You just brought a few of my favorite things together.

February 25, 2012 at 12:06 PM

A good number of years ago, Lloyd Rose (author of a couple of Dr Who novels and several Sherlockian pastiches, gave a talk to the Baker Street Irregulars comparing Holmes to House, Monk, and several other tv shows. Your analysis of Psych is a nice addtions to the “writings on the writings” of John Watson as presented by his literary agent: Arthur Conan Doyle

May 20, 2012 at 6:34 PM

Take this Sherlock/Sean comparison one step further, albeit beyond the confines of “The Red Headed League”, and you’ll realize that Sean Spencer has his own analogue to Mycroft Holmes – his father Henry.

June 12, 2012 at 12:16 AM

Not to mention Shawn has his own “Moriarty,” one Mr. Yang from “An Evening With Mr. Yang” who likes to play the “Game”(that one’s even mentioned in the show) and Shawn/Sherlock can’t or won’t hold any civilian job.
(I’ve only seen the Robert Downey Jn. movies, so i’m only basing my comparisons off of that)

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