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TELEVISION REVIEW

'Psych' is a little too kooky

``Medium" fans, be strong. ``Ghost Whisperer" lovers, brace yourselves. And James Van Praagh , please leave the room. And take your voices with you.

Reason is the hero of the new USA series ``Psych," where the sensory stomps on the extrasensory every week for a few silly laughs. On this comic mystery series, going into the light is strictly a tonal issue that has nothing to do with life, death, and the heavenly glow. The story of a fake psychic who solves crimes with the help of his photographic memory, ``Psych" premieres tonight at 10.

Our quirky hero is an unemployed slacker named Shawn (James Roday ). As a kid, Shawn's cop father (Corbin Bernsen ) trained him to scrutinize his surroundings, and he has grown into a memorization freak with a nose for criminal logic. In tonight's special 90-minute episode, we see him dupe the Santa Barbara police into paying him for his ``otherworldly" advice. To fully convince them he's channeling information from beyond, he frequently erupts into screwball twitches and crazy eye-twinkles.

This being the cozy world of USA, Shawn always ends up working with the same two detectives, Carlton Lassiter ( Timothy Omundson ) and Juliet O'Hara (Maggie Lawson ), who suspect Shawn is a fraud. They resent the fact that Shawn always beats them to the solution of the crime, although Juliet seems to be secretly smitten with him.

USA seems to have built ``Psych" solely to follow ``Monk" on its Friday lineup. Another mystery series rigged up around a post- ``Columbo" neurotic, it feels more like a programming move than a creative endeavor. The mystery plots are as flimsy as those on ``Monk," but Roday doesn't have a quarter of the presence of Tony Shalhoub . The hammy younger actor isn't quite as cute as he thinks he is, and he belongs on a louder comedy series , a laugh-track sitcom in which his clowning might fit in more naturally. He's all prefab eccentricity.

The sweet surprise on ``Psych" is Dule Hill as Shawn's reticent best friend, Gus. Hill makes more sense as a comic actor than I expected from his dutiful work on ``The West Wing," and his prissiness in the face of Shawn's bold lies can be amusing. He's irritated by his friend's kookiness, and we can identify with him.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com.

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