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Psych Fools Itself

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I am about to make Mary Ellen Santare very, very proud.

I was watching Psych this week (a show I generally love), and noticed an error and a related continuity problem. Shawn Spencer, our resident pretend psychic, was trying to ferret out a possible killer while teaching a high school class on what he called "Phsysics," or the physics of psychics. One of the students, in order to test Shawn's psychic ability, wants to play Jeopardy. The student goes and writes something up on the blackboard behind Shawn so that Shawn cannot see it. Shawn manages to avoid having to give the question, but that does not concern me. The problem is actually in the answer the student writes on the board.

The board reads "6.002… x 10^23 atoms/molecule" The question should be "What is Avogadro's Number?" or "What is a mole?" Or, at least it would be if the student had written down Avogadro's Number correctly, which starts off "6.022…" not "6.002…;" actually, it seems as though when carried out further the number used in the show is even more inaccurate as the later digits are wrong as well. As the scene continues, different shots of Shawn occur with the number behind him. This is all well and good, except that the number on the blackboard changes. At times it is, as the student appeared to originally write it, "6.002…" and at other times, it is the correct "6.02…"

For a show that centers around the main character being absurdly good at picking up small details in order to solve mysteries, this sort of continuity error is rather ironic and certainly quite glaring (at least if you had Mary Ellen Santare as a chemistry teacher in high school).

So, why am I telling you this?

Quite simply, because I was disappointed. Sure, the people that do continuity have an incredibly difficult and thankless task. It is true that people only notice when Julia Roberts goes from eating a croissant to a pancake, and never the myriad of details that are perfect. Yet, a show like Psych, a show that lives and dies on the basis of all the little things needs to be held to a higher standard.

Mysteries are only as good and only as clever as the people that make them. When I watch a mystery and notice little things that don't make sense, I have to be able to trust that the writers and producers have made things not make sense on purpose — that there is a reason for the inconsistencies. To watch a mystery and have something be inconsistent due to an error in filmmaking hurts the storytelling far more than Julia Roberts eating a pancake instead of a croissant. It pulls the audience away from what is important and frustrates everyone in the audience that is trying to figure out the ultimate question of whodunit.

Where then does this leave Shawn Spencer, his pal Burton Guster, and myself? That remains to be seen. I am going to continue to watch, the show is still quite funny, often clever, and always well-acted, but I am going to be a little more wary too. For at least a little while, I'm going to be just that much more skeptical about Shawn and his "abilities."

And for that, I thank you, Mrs. Santare.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.
  • http://uis.blogspot.com Aakash

    Wow. I was only partly paying attention to that episode Friday night – but even if I had, I don’t think I would have caught that.

    I don’t think most people caught it either, but perhaps I should have, since I regularly commemorate “Mole Day” (Hi, Mr. Szabo! ;-)

    Then again, I’m a PoliSci major.

  • http://draven99.blogspot.com Chris Beaumont

    Changing number aside, the initial incorrect writing of the number could have been on purpose. A little jab at the doubter indicating that he wasn’t quite as smart as he thinks he was.

    What he wrote did not mean anything to me, all that was really required there was something that anyone not familiar with the mole would be just as a confused as Shawn.

    BTW, I really enjoy this show, and think it is a good partner show to Monk.

  • Matt

    In an ironic twist, you also psyched yourself out! Avogadro’s number is 6.022×10^23 atoms/MOLE not atoms/molecule.
    Sorry this post is 5 years too late. I just started watching Psych on DVD recently. I caught the error then Google searched it to see if anyone else had noticed.