“Psych” (9 p.m., USA) enters the winter half of its fourth season with a renewed and frequently refreshing sense of silliness. Few shows are as good as this in celebrating the unabashed immaturity of the 30-something male.
For those unfamiliar with the series, James Roday plays Shawn, the son of a perfectionist (Corbin Bernsen), who inherited remarkable powers of observation and deduction. Like “Monk” he can solve crimes by observing details most people miss. But Shawn lives in a world (not unlike our TV universe and popular culture) where people have no patience for logic, evidence and reason. So he masks his abilities, posing as a psychic, finding clues and exposing bad guys via the supernatural.
For the record, “Psych” predated “The Mentalist,” a more popular CBS series about a fake psychic (Simon Baker) who renounced his mountebank huckster routine to solve crimes the old-fashioned way.
Abetted by his equally shallow sidekick Gus (Dule Hill), Shawn further masks his intelligence behind a barrage of glib one-liners — petty throwaway jokes designed to infuriate the buttoned-down police officers he assists. His patter seems even more ridiculous in tonight’s episode, when he has to interact with ramrod-straight military types after the dubious “suicide” of an Army private. Robert Patrick (“Terminator 2”) guest stars and wrestler John Cena appears as a former soldier who has crossed over to the dark side as a killer-for-hire.
The episode also offers a light-hearted lampoon of CBS favorites “NCIS” and its “Los Angeles” spin-off. At one point Shawn suggests that he’s working on a pilot for CBS, “Army Psychic.” For the record, “NCIS” airs in repeats on USA, tonight in fact (7 p.m. and 8 p.m.).
“Psych’s” season opener completes a trio of returning USA series including “White Collar” and “Burn Notice,” each pleasantly unchallenging and thoroughly entertaining comedies that break little creative ground but attract large and dependable cable followings.
A disproportionate amount of television coverage concentrates either on smart, innovative and even profound shows including “Mad Men,” “Lost” and “Damages” or spectacularly vulgar train-wreck time-wasters like “Jersey Shore.” While reading about the medium you could wrongly suspect that programmers had forgotten the middle-of-the road shows that were merely distracting, clever and entertaining. But the three shows mentioned above, and TNT’s “Leverage,” all fall into that category, as do many of CBS’s unheralded shows.
With addictive franchises like “24” and “American Idol,” the genial but not quite great “Men of a Certain Age” and cult favorites like the “Battlestar Galactica” prequel “Caprica,” this winter of television is turning into a very strong season. And I haven’t even mentioned the Winter Olympics. Or anything on premium cable. Everybody likes to quibble about TV and complain that there’s nothing on. But anyone who says that simply isn’t paying attention.
Tonight’s other highlights
• Neil Patrick Harris and Joe Jonas guest judge on “American Idol” (7 p.m., Fox).
• President Barack Obama delivers his first State of the Union Address (8 p.m., ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, CNN, CNBC, C-Span) to the House and Senate.