Shawn Spencer is always moving on to the next fun thing and has never held a job for more than six months. He also has an incredible eye for detail and a near photographic memory, a skill drilled into him since he was young by his overbearing cop father. It's this ability that enables him to solve crimes just by watching the stories on the news. But as he goes in to pick up his reward check for one such helpful tip, he's hauled into questioning by Detective Lassiter for being in on the crime. No one could have that kind of information and not be on the inside. Backed into a corner, accused of being a partner in the crime, Shawn talks his way out of incarceration by claiming he got the information psychically. Since there's no way to disprove his claim, the police have to let him go.
On his way out, he's stopped by Interim Chief Vick. She asks him for help on a high profile kidnapping case. Camden McCallum, Jr., the sole male heir to the McCallum textile fortune, has been kidnapped. The investigation is stalled. They need a miracle and she'll take one in the form of a psychic.
Shawn realizes a new career has just fallen into his lap. He goes to see his best friend Gus, a pharmaceutical representative, and drags him into the adventure. Gus is reluctant but intrigued enough to take the afternoon off to help investigate the McCallum case.
Camden used to be a wild party boy. For some reason, about 18 months ago, he goes straight. Shawn figures he wouldn't just change his ways without something happening to make him. Camden was at a park when he disappeared along with his dog, which he never did anything without. Shawn quickly figures out that Camden kidnapped himself. Exactly 18 months ago, his father threatened to cut him off if he didn't clean up his act. Around the same time, Camden stopped hanging out with his close friend, Malcolm Orso. It turns out, Camden and Malcolm have been planning this from the beginning for the ransom money.
Shawn and Gus head to the Orso family cabin, where they believe Camden and Malcolm are hiding out. From across the lake, they spot Camden's dog and know they have the right place. Now Shawn must go to the cops and have a "psychic vision" that leads them back to the cabin.
Once they've returned and the police enter the place, they find both Camden and Malcolm dead in an apparent murder suicide. But from Shawn's quick glance around the room, he's not convinced. There's more to this case then it appears. Especially since Mr. McCallum now has a cut on his wrist, the rumor being he tried to kill himself. A story Shawn will never buy.
Shawn goes to see Henry, his estranged father, for advice. Henry says Shawn's powers of observation have become soft and he's trusting someone he shouldn't be. That leads him to suspect Camden's sister, Katarina. It turns out, she had nothing to do with it, but the bag she was carrying did - it once contained the ransom money. One of the McCallums did try to pay a ransom, but what went wrong?
It turns out, Mr. McCallum went to pay the ransom and recognized Malcolm Orso's car on the way to the drop. McCallum realizes the whole thing is a scam, and goes to the Orso cabin to find Camden waiting there. Their argument turns heated and Camden falls, slamming his head on the table, killing him instantly. Malcolm walks in and McCallum has no choice but to shoot him and cover his tracks, making it look like a suicide. On his way out, Malcolm's angry dog bites him on the wrist and that is why it's been bandaged.
When the police get to the McCallum house, Shawn proves his theory is true by having a "vision" of consumine, a dog bite medication in McCallum's medicine cabinet (that Gus saw and recognized earlier when he went to the bathroom). Shawn and Gus have solved their first case, which, of course, is more than enough reason for them to open up an office for their new detective agency, "Psych."