Behind the Screens with Joshua Maloni
Lines are drawn on television sets.
TV shows often segregate the leads and the supports. In most cases, the former exist to drive a series, while the latter serve as, well, wallpaper.
But "Psych" is different.
For starters, its "B Team" is grade-A quality.
Timothy Omundson (Det. Carlton Lassiter) and Maggie Lawson (Det. Juliet O'Hara) are no less important - or relevant to the show - than their more famous co-stars.
Omundson's dry humor and keen observations are just plain funny. And yet, his character holds Shawn (James Roday) and Gus (Dulé Hill) in check. His "straight guy" routine keeps them honest, allowing "Psych's" writers to "go there" with their jokes (without jumping any sharks).
Lawson's heart is palpable. Her character's desire to support - or just understand - Shawn has produced some of the show's most moving moments. She grounds the show, and gives it a more balanced set of emotions.
Fortunately, "Psych's" writers get this, and have weaved the actors into more and more storylines. In fact, two of the show's first three episodes this season (including tonight's) have the words "Juliet" and "Lassie" in the title, and the characters front and center.
BFFs Omundson and Lawson chatted about their relationship - on screen and off - and gave a few clues to "Psych's" highly anticipated musical and "Clue"-inspired episodes.
BTS: How much fun was the "Psych slumber party" (the USA Network's recent midnight - 6 a.m. mini-marathon)?
Maggie Lawson: I had such a blast with that, because I thought it was such a unique way to build up the excitement. It's been such a long time since we've been on because - I don't even remember when season six ended! It was a nice way to get pumped for the new season, and then to also go back and see some of the old episodes.
We have the greatest fans. For those few hours it was really, really nice to interact and play with them live. It was cool.
Timothy Omundson: It was a much, much bigger deal than I thought it was going to be. It was really fantastic to see the thing. My daughter had some friends over and they were all in pajamas and they were all very excited. It was the first time that my oldest is of age to kind of really watch the show and get into it. It was really fun for them. There was a bunch of episodes they hadn't seen. It was great.
BTS: Your show takes a long break in between seasons. How does that time help you come back rested and recharged ... or to work other jobs?
Omundson: We've been off, for like, what, two years we've been off the air?
Lawson: It feels like it.
Omundson: For me, it's huge, having a wife and two kids and a dog down in Los Angeles, and of course we don't shoot here. It's invaluable. I can't imagine - we take the six months to do the show. I can't imagine being gone for a day longer. It's pretty tough on everybody. ... Not me, because I get to go play TV star. But it's much harder for them. I get home and then just try and be 'Super Dad' as much as I can. And if I get a job, it's great.
And I grow a huge beard.
Lawson: He does. ... I think it's great. Even though we've been off the air for a long while, our schedule, as far as shooting, stays the same. In our time off, it's always really nice to recharge and do a little work. But ... I go into withdrawals about this time every year. It's like, "OK, when do we get to go back and play again?" We have such a good time.
And you know, you're in another country ("Psych" shoots in Vancouver). We're all we have there. We work together, but we also play together. We're our best friends and our family while we're up there. In a way, it's like a weird adjustment.
Omundson: As much as I like my family, about month five of the break I'm like, "OK, I'm done making lunches. ..."
Lawson: I'm like, wait, "Where's Tim?" Tim and I will text and be like, "What is happening? I feel like I haven't seen you." We rarely go more than maybe a week or two without actually seeing each other. It feels so weird. I see you everyday; I know what's happening. ... It's a little crazy.
Omundson: It's such an intense relationship for all of us up there, and experience. Even the crew. I may not see Maggie everyday, although most times I do, but I definitely see the crew every day. And I've known these people - I've worked with them every day, six months out of the year for eight years. And then suddenly you're transported back to Mars. It's like, "Oh. ..."
It's a strange adjustment.
Lawson: We're blessed. Granted, the move up and the move back is always hard, but at the same time there is great peace in knowing that the six months that we're there - we're just there to work. All of the home stresses and stuff sort of have to stay home until we get this six months (done). As you said, it's very, very intense. We are just working for six months. In a way, that's kind of a relief, because that's all we can do. But at the same time, there is an intensity to it. We come back and we're like, "Wait, where do I live? Where it my life?"
Omundson: There's a certain joy to being on set and getting a call, you know, "The water heater's exploded." You're like, "OK. ... I'm in the middle of the scene."
BTS: There's been one big change on this show. Everyone started out struggling with love. Now it seems each character has found a partner and is happy. What do you think of this new direction?
Lawson: I think it's wonderful. I think it just shows, you know, I feel like how far we've all come, our characters and also the show, and sort of how we've grown. I love that, while we are a procedural and there is a case every week, that we have really gotten into their lives - like our personal lives - and I think, as actors and for our characters, it's been a nice way to grow.
I don't think we did it too soon. I think we really got to know everybody before we all started pairing off, and I think it's such a nice shift in the show. It sort of changes the dynamic a lot. For us, it's really, really fun to work with.
Tim, you and your relationship, that was one of my most favorite and unexpected turns on the show. That's the other thing that I think is so cool about it. "Wait, Lassiter is the softie?" It's like, "Wait, what?" I think you as an actor ... the last couple of years, because Lassie was so tough, and so hard, and then you see him, I mean very subtly, over every single season - whatever's been going on - soften a bit. And that's the writers, and that's Tim. And now we have this sort of, like, mushy, lovable - you're like a tough shell with like a mushy inside.
Omundson: Which he always was, it's just more of the mush comes out. It's really, I think, a testament to our writers, to get these relationships balanced in a certain way where they still work for the show - nothing's overbearing, no character goes totally out of left field - although Lassiter, in certain ways does. But it still works. That's a really delicate balance, because a lot of times you throw in a relationship on an established show like this, and it just throws everything out of whack. And this, I think, has been a really amazing job with everybody making it work for our show - to the point where anybody who's been watching the show for years doesn't need to go, "Wait, what the hell just happened? There with so and so?" No. These relationships really complement who these characters are, and that's because of our crack team of writers.
BTS: Your characters have become an integral part of each episode - each storyline. Tell us about working with the writers and how that's developed.
Omundson: It just sort of happened. It's a testament, honestly ... to the work that Maggie and I have done. We are very close in real life. And so, I think, that relationship comes through in Lassiter and O'Hara, and I think the writers see that, and it's natural and it's developed. We've also become really close with James and Dulé, and I think it's natural that these characters would crawl forward a little bit more than you normally get in a show like this.
Lawson: I feel like I struck gold with this partner that I have on the show. I feel like, from the very first day ... it was instant. There was something. We got along; we got each other. As you said, (the writers) know how close we are. They know how to write for us, because we are so close in real life. And we absolutely have each other's back on the show, I think first and foremost.
I feel like there was a natural thing that just sort of happened with us. It was like, "Oh, wow, I get you."
Omundson: These writers, they've all been around for a long time on our show. We know them really well. I know these guys, and occasional gals, better than any group of writers I've ever gotten to work with, and so that also translates onto the screen.
They are 1,700 miles away, but they come up and we socialize. And we see each other on hiatus. And we've developed friendships with a lot of these people. It just makes the writing that much richer.
And Maggie and I are fantastic. ... Let's not forget that.
BTS: And what about the fans? The fans have been adamant that your characters become more involved in each episode. How does that make you feel?
Omundson: There's nothing better.
Lawson: It's the greatest feeling.
Omundson: That's why we do this. To have that kind of response, to say, "We want to see more of this," is why we do it. And, frankly, you don't always get that.
BTS: OK, tell us about the musical episode.
Lawson: Oh, wow. Tim is such a good singer.
Omundson: Maggie is like a Disney heroine. Everybody on our cast blew it away. This episode is unlike anything you will ever see on our show - and, dare I say, from any other show. I was so taken with it, and so taken aback just by the sheer talent everyone pulled out. It's going to delight.
Lawson: It's so different. (Creator Steve Franks) did such an incredible job.
Omundson: I think it's the greatest thing he's ever written. Personally.
Lawson: And all of the music - it's mind-blowing.
Omundson: And we see some old friends come back.
Lawson: It's very, very special. We had a really good time doing it. It was completely different from anything we've done on the show. For us it was like, yeah, we all sing and we have fun, and we do our "Psych-outs," but this was no joke. There were dance numbers, where Tim and ...
Omundson: I have some very unusual dance partners. There's a tango involved.
For me, I'm really proud of this episode. It's going to go down as one of, I think, my proudest moments of my career. Just the fun and the execution - what actually appears.
I have a thing where I am always disappointed in everything I see myself in. Always. The musical? I'm like, "Well, that disappointment factor is a little low on this one."
Being in Hollywood, and recording in Frank Sinatra's old recording studio, laying down these tracks - that was quite a moment in my career."
Lawson: "This is happening. I'm in this. This is not a dream right now. This is happening." That was wild.
That was our 100th episode that we were shooting. ... There are no words to describe what that experience was like. It was so insane. It was so great.
BTS: This is the season we get the long-awaited "Clue"-inspired episode. What can you tell us about that one?
Omundson: It's an amazing script. Everybody pulled it out for that one.
"Psych" is, I think, an anomaly in television in that, every season, I think the writing gets better. Every single season. I'll go to, like, season five and go, "I can't believe we did that," and season six, I'm like, "I can't believe we did that." And seven, seven I think is the best thing we've done.
These writers and directors and these actors keep raising the bar every year. And it doesn't normally happen - certainly on (a show) that's been on for as long as we have. I'm tickled.
BTS: Obviously, the two of you are close in real life. What challenges you about your work together on screen?
Omundson: It's not even a challenge. You do this many episodes with someone - let alone someone you like - it's easy. Not that it's easy. I work very, very hard for my paycheck. ... No I don't. ... It just becomes easier. It's second nature and you get a second-hand. It's like when James directs us, we have a shorthand. It's just so intuitive now, the work, especially with Maggie and I, because most of our scenes - I'd say, what 75 percent of the scenes on the show we've done together - it's just easy.
The challenge for me is just not laughing.
Lawson: Yes, that is a challenge for Tim.
Omundson: That is my greatest challenge on this show is not laughing, because I so enjoy watching what these other actors are doing.
Lawson: That's exactly how I feel. It's so funny because it's like, you know when you get so close with people, and when one person cracks and starts laughing? I can't keep it together when I see Tim start laughing. It's like your family. When you're sitting at the dinner table and everyone is trying to be serious and be straight. And one person goes, and then everyone goes. Every day is like that. As you said, it's easy. It's almost like a rhythm.
But I feel like even in the early days it was this easy. I don't feel like there was ever a time that was like, "Hell, we've just got to get our groove." It was like, wow, we found it on day one and it's still going.
We just naturally - we complete each other's sentences at this point. ... And Tim, it's fun because Tim always has like a really great pitch or a great suggestion for the scene. And he knows me; he knows (that) I'm going to be game for almost anything silly, crazy - whatever we want to do. And we play - and they let us play. They've given us freedom and space to play - they being the producers and writers; our network. I mean everybody. All the way. All the way up, they have given us freedom to find all of that.
Omundson: We're all just a group of lucky sons of bitches, frankly.
"Psych" airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on USA. Find the show online at http://www.usanetwork.com/series/psych/.