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James Roday as Shawn
|Created by||Steve Franks|
|Portrayed by||James Roday
Josh Hayden (Young Shawn: Pilot)
Kyle Pejpar (Young Shawn: Season 1, Episode 2)
Liam James (Young Shawn: Seasons 1-5)
Skyler Gisondo (Young Shawn: Seasons 5-present)
|Family||Henry Spencer (father)
Madeleine Spencer (mother)
|Significant other(s)||Joy Guster (former fling)
Abigail Lytar (1998, 2009-2010)
Juliet O'Hara (2010-present)
|Relatives||Jack Spencer (uncle)
Henry Spencer, Sr. (paternal grandfather)
Emma Spencer (paternal grandmother)
Shawn Spencer is a fictional character on the American television dramedy and comedy Psych played by American actor James Roday. Taking advantage of his eidetic memory, he poses as a psychic and works as a private detective who often consults with the Santa Barbara Police Department. He began dating Abigail Lytar, played by Rachael Leigh Cook, in the season 3 finale. They broke up in the season 4 finale when Abigail declared that she did not want to live a life of danger. Shawn is now in a relationship with SBPD detective Juliet O'Hara, played by Maggie Lawson.
Shawn is a breech baby, born in February 1977, and comes from a family of police officers. His parents separated in 1992, and later divorced; his mother, Madeleine (a psychologist), eventually returned and explained that she left to pursue a job opportunity. His father, Henry Spencer, schooled Shawn in detective work from as early as age 7, aiding the development of his extraordinary powers of observation and deduction. At the age of 15, he achieved a perfect score of 100 on the detective's exam. This is drawn loosely from the childhood of series creator Steve Franks, who was also born into a family of police officers and whose father "was training [Franks] in his own way to follow his footsteps." Franks' father would ask him how many people were wearing hats in a restaurant, a tactic employed in the show's pilot episode by Shawn's father.
Shawn's relationship with his father is complicated and at times highly strained: Shawn's dad has even admitted that the only "constant" in Shawn's life was his childhood best friend, Gus, who has stuck by him loyally. Though often it may seem that Henry is intentionally aggravating or imposing his will on his grown son, it is usually revealed that his motives are genuine. For example, tipping off the meter maid to ticket Shawn's motorcycle which is parked too close to a hydrant outside his apartment. The impounding as a result was Henry's ultimate goal, as Shawn had gotten into an accident some time ago. When push comes to shove, Shawn's father is always there to back him up, whether it be providing advice on a case Shawn is stuck on or tracking down Shawn's kidnappers (both of which occur in multiple episodes), Henry is there. For years, Shawn blamed his father for leaving his mother and ending their marriage but in the third season opener, his mother reveals that she was the one who left Henry. Shawn thus realizes his father never told the truth as he didn't want to ruin the image Shawn had of his mother as near perfect and sees Henry in a new light.
Despite his obvious talent, Shawn has no interest in entering the police force, and after graduating from Leland Bosseigh High School in Santa Barbara, California, in 1995, takes up a string of random jobs selected strictly for his own enjoyment. He is shown to be a crack shot, hitting all of Detective Barry's bullet holes in a target with little experience and, at a later episode, disabling a suspect's truck during a chase while he was hanging from the hood of Lassiter's car. In his spare time, he entertains himself by calling in tips to the police hotline based on observations he has made on crime scenes shown in television news footage. After one such tip, the Santa Barbara police become suspicious of Shawn, whose information is so good that they believe it could only have come from an inside source. Desperate to avoid jail time, Shawn lies, explaining that he obtained the information in a psychic vision. Although initially skeptical, the department is impressed when he uses his "psychic" abilities to deduce that McNab was engaged to be married, that the secretary was "haunted" by her dead grandmother, that Lassiter was in a relationship with his partner (who only appears in the pilot episode and is immediately replaced in the next episode by his current partner Juliet), and to solve a vandalism case. They hire Shawn as a consultant. Burton Guster, Shawn's best friend from childhood hesitantly allows Shawn to recruit him, while Gus has pursued his career in pharmaceutical sales and they open their own psychic detective agency, "Psych".
Although Shawn and Gus often have disagreements, they have been friends since early childhood and actor James Roday describes the pair's bond as "unbreakable. It's one of those friendships that make people who don't have one ask, 'Why does Gus put up with Shawn?' It's not about putting up with one another. It's about knowing each other so well that things that might annoy someone from the outside don't annoy you anymore." Shawn knows exactly how to manipulate Gus, and often frustrates his friend with his antics, but has come to rely on him more in their case work as the series has progressed. Roday believes that Shawn has "evolved a lot" as a partner, moving away from "dragging Gus around by the collar against his will from case to case to case" toward a more equal partnership. He states that under Gus's influence, Shawn has "wisened up a little bit" and is learning to display a little more discretion at times. Shawn's growing maturity is especially notable in Season 3, Episode 16 "An Evening with Mr. Yang" the first of what would become a running plot concerning a serial killer who individually targets Shawn. In order to convince Shawn to play his game, Mr. Yang (who actually turns out to be female) kidnaps Shawn's mother. Shawn has trouble coping with the pressure of finding his mother and continues with his crazy antics but is unable to make any progress on the case. He opens up to Gus and viewers are able to witness a more mature version of Shawn rising to the situation. Shawn tells Gus that he needs his help, showing humility and maturity, and for the rest of the episode Gus, the normally calm one, becomes the crazy one so that Shawn is able to focus on the task at hand. At the end of the episode, after Shawn's mother has been found and Yang arrested, Juliet approaches Shawn informing him of how impressed she was by his maturity and says that she would like to go on a date with him. Shawn has been constantly hitting on Juliet for the past 4 seasons and every time Jules has refused to return his attentions. Shawn had at this point rather given up on Juliet and has moved on to Abigail, his high school sweetheart whom he is about to go on a date with at that very moment. Juliet says she understands, gives him a loving kiss on the cheek, and walks away. But after Abigail breaks up with him, saying she does not want to live a life of danger, he starts hitting on Juliet again, eventually falling in love with her. Shawn's seemingly random stream of consciousness often belies the far-reaching logical connections that his observational skills allow him to make. He explains the multiple-personality-afflicted Robert Dunn's condition to Gus by referencing The Flying Nun, which starred Sally Field, who played the similarly-affected title character in Sybil. He also hybridizes movie quotes voiced by James Earl Jones in two separate films (The Lion King and The Empire Strikes Back) when addressing a mountain lion: "Simba, I am your father." Running jokes on the show center around Shawn's love of Jerk Chicken and pineapples (even though he has a "distaste" for pointy objects), which he will often bring as a gift to people he is meeting for the first time; his frequent desire for Kit-Kat bars (source:Episode 6, Season 3: There Might Be Blood) his inability to set his cell phone to vibrate, even when spying or infiltrating the homes of suspects; his fondness for Val Kilmer; his love of Curt Smith and Tears for Fears; his comments on other people's hair; his difficulty in pronouncing certain words (such as "chassis"); mispronouncing or misquoting phrases (e.g. "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Marzipan", "Abercrombie and Fletch") and after being corrected, claiming "I've heard it both ways" (this is usually intentional); his use of other people's property in his psychic "visions" (i.e. using O'Hara's scarf to cover his eyes, ripping out the paper tray of the printer belonging to Chief Vick, Gus's head); and, of course, the pseudonyms he makes up for Gus each time he questions a person of interest, often a reference to an obscure '80s movie, a combination of two or more celebrities' names, or something he created on the spot.
Shawn was introduced in the serial killer Mr. Yang's book on page 11. He is described as "a thick-tufted boy genius who ice skates through life on polished blades of snarky eloquence." Shawn is friends with the Santa Barbara Coroner, given they share a similar sense of humor. Shawn bribes the coroner with gifts in exchange for information on cases Shawn has not been officially hired to take.
In "Shawn Interrupted", a psychiatrist comments that Shawn has a narcissistic personality disorder, but this is up for debate, as Shawn always shares credit with others. In S5 E2 "Feet, Don't Kill Me Now", after Shawn solves the case, Juliet says "Well played, Shawn," and Shawn responds with "Well played everybody!" In S4 E15, "The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Episode," Shawn very openly encourages Lassiter to go with his gut. Shawn very clearly wants Lassiter to solve the case. In S5 E10, "Extradition II," Shawn repeatedly encourages Mackintosh to take the initiative so that he will get credit for his work and get a promotion. In S5 E15, "Dead Bear Walking," Shawn actually solves the case, but rather than take credit for it, he gives a hint about "the fence" to Lassiter and lets Lassiter solve the crime and get credit for it.
Also, Shawn very obviously cares for the victims and wants to see justice. This is clear in every season finale, where he has a personal connection to the victims.
Because Shawn isn't an official detective, he often has to resort to stealing, withholding evidence, obstruction of justice, tampering with evidence and witnesses, breaking and entering and numerous other crimes in order to solve a crime. Despite his high intelligence, Shawn does appear to have a poor grasp of history and other fields (assigned to write about a U.S. President, he wrote a paper on the fictional character from the movie "Dave" who he thought was real). He is also chided by Henry for not knowing all the details of a case beforehand (in one episode, Shawn is about to accuse an innocent man of murder before Henry stops him and reveals a detail Shawn would know from the case file he didn't read). Often, Shawn will accept a case without fully checking out the client or the details itself yet brush it off.
In "Let's Doo Wop It Again", he said "It's more fun to keep things from Lassie" [Lassiter], which eventually resulted in Gus's friends getting kidnapped, and in "True Grits", he asked Officer McNab to withhold evidence from Juliet (McNab refused). He also told Juliet that 'Santa Barbara would be Detroit' if it weren't for him.
- Psych, Episode 3.04: "The Greatest Adventure in the History of Basic Cable." Original airdate: August 8, 2008.
- Psych, Episode 4.05: "Shawn Has the Yips." Original airdate: September 11, 2009
- Psych, Episode 5.04: "Chivalry Is Not Dead But Someone Is." Original airdate: August 5, 2010
- Psych, Episode 3.01: "Ghosts." Original airdate: July 18, 2008.
- Psych, Episode 2.11: "There's Something About Mira." Original airdate: January 11, 2008.
- Goldman, Eric (June 30, 2006). Reading Minds with the Stars of PSYCH. IGN. Retrieved on 2007-12-23.
- Psych, Episode 3.02: "Murder? ... Anyone? ... Anyone? ... Bueller?" Original airdate: July 25, 2008.
- Donnelly, G.J. (February 9, 2007). Meet the Faker: James Roday Takes Our Psych Exam. TV Guide. Retrieved on 2007-12-23.
- Roday, James. Video Interview: Shawn's Evolution. USA Network. Retrieved on 2007-12-23.
- Roday, James. Video Interview: Grown Up?. USA Network. Retrieved on 2007-12-23.