James Roday and Dulé Hill are reciting the television influences from their favorite decade.
“‘Cosby,’ ‘The Facts of Life,’ ‘Family Ties,’” Hill says during a conference call with reporters. “ ‘A Different World,’ ‘Growing Pains.’”
“‘Alf,’” Roday adds. “‘Alf’ was sort of like the precursor to ‘Family Guy.’ … ‘Alf’ was getting away with some pretty good stuff because he was like a little furry alien. That’s how you beat the censors, with puppets and cartoons.”
Similar riffs on ’80s pop culture have become a staple of the duo’s USA Network series “Psych,” which returns for its third season.
The show stars Roday as Shawn Spencer, a thirtysomething crime consultant for the Santa Barbara, Calif., police department whose heightened observational skills allow him to convince others that he’s psychic. Hill is Burton Guster, Shawn’s best friend, straight-man and reluctant partner.
“It’s like we’re not really making fun of psychics,” Roday says. “We’re making fun of fake psychics. So we’ve sort of managed to give ourselves a foolproof system because for anyone to come up against us, they’d be admitting that they’re full of it themselves.”
The show’s success is largely based on what it is not. There’s nothing edgy or dark about this police procedural. There’s no gore or autopsy rooms, and the storylines are not all that complicated. That simplicity and the appeal of a cast that also includes Corbin Bernsen as Shawn’s retired cop father Henry, Maggie Lawson as Det. Juliet O’Hara and Timothy Omundson as Det. Carlton Lassiter, have made “Psych” one of the most watched programs on basic cable.
“I think there’s this spirit of our show,” Roday says. “We don’t ask that our viewers do a whole lot other than sit back, kick off their shoes and laugh at us making fools out of ourselves.”
Part of what makes “Psych” such fun, lighthearted fare is its near obsessive homage to everything ’80s.
“There’s some references that come up on this show that I have no idea what they’re talking about,” Hill says. “I mean, (Roday and series creator Steve Franks), they’re like ’80s freaks.”
Need proof? Just look at the Season 3 promo, which has Roday and Hill re-creating the “Ebony and Ivory” music video.