USA Network’s latest in a successful slate of summertime programs is In Plain Sight (premiering 6/1/08 and airing Sundays, 10 PM). The series stars Mary McCormack as Mary Shannon, a federal marshal for the Federal Witness Protection Program. The show takes place primarily in the Albuquerque/Santa Fe area, where Shannon is based. McCormack is a fine actress whose most visible role is still that of Alison Stern, the wife to Howard Stern in the 1997 film, Private Parts. Since then, she has appeared in a number of indie movies, as well as excellent supporting roles in such television series like Murder One, The West Wing, ER, K-Street and the exceptional 2004 USA Network mini-series, Traffic. It’s great to see McCormack the lead in a series that blends comedy, drama and mystery; she makes the show worth checking out.
In Plain Sight joins the ranks of TNT’s The Closer and Saving Grace as another series about a strong female lead who must juggle the strenuous requirements of her law enforcement job with the daily struggles of her daily life. McCormack’s Shannon character is much closer to Kyra Sedgwick’s quirky Deputy Chief Johnson than the human train wreck Holly Hunter portrays in Saving Grace. In Plain Sight does a good job of mixing the serious with the light comedy, much in the way Burn Notice, USA’s hit series from last summer, does very well. That said, this new series isn’t reinventing the procedural drama, nor do I think they’re trying to. The unique setup of the Witness Protection Program allows for secondary characters (i.e. each weeks guest stars) to represent each episode’s main storyline. These characters come in, tell their story, and are gone by hour’s end. Meanwhile, the supporting cast of people in Shannon’s life serves as the background stories that connect each episode together. Like I said, this is a tried and true formula. So it’s up to the writers to come up with compelling stories and interesting characters to keep us coming back on a weekly basis. For the most part, they succeed. By the third episode, the series began to show the actors gelling and everything coming together. In truth, it will be the likeability of the characters that will bring you back each week, and the producers rounded up a fine group of actors to do just that.
The supporting characters include Shannon’s partner, Marshall (Frederick Weller), a young, cocky pretty boy who, despite a caseload of his own, is always quick to help our Shannon. Weller does a lot of posturing throughout the early episodes; however, the banter between his Marshall and McCormack’s Shannon is fun to watch. Stan McQueen (Paul Ben-Victor) plays their chief inspector. I didn’t get a real sense of his character, although he spent the first few episodes exasperated by Shannon and her methods. On the home front, there is Shannon’s live in mother, Jinx, played by the wonderfully loopy Lesley Ann-Warren (who doesn’t get enough juicy roles, these days); Shannon’s on-again/off-again boyfriend, Raphael, portrayed by recent Dancing with the Stars contestant Cristian de la Fuente, and her floozy sister, Brandi, (Nicole Hiltz) who has dropped into town unexpectedly for an extended visit. Brandi has a no-good boyfriend who is destined to bring big trouble into the life of Shannon and her family.
Like almost every cop show before it, In Plain Sight begins as pretty stock characters, each defining a particular role. However, these strong actors had already begun to grow into the roles by the third episode I saw, and that should allow the writers to create storylines that suit the actors strengths. Fortunately, USA has always been patient with their series and In Plain Sight should have time to get through the growing pains; it even has potential to become required summer viewing, like The Closer and Burn Notice. However until all of the kinks are worked out, there will be Mary McCormack to fall back on. To each scene, she brings a touch of gravitas, sensitivity, and charm. For the rest of the summer, it will be a pleasure to watch her dig into this role every Sunday night.