"In cooking, as in all the arts, simplicity is a sign of perfection." - Curnonsky

Thursday, July 3, 2008

In Plain Sight: Mary Sunshine

You know that commercial that says, "The real question is, when you turn your car on, does it return the favor?" Well, over at USA Network, the question isn't whether "Characters Welcome" is their slogan, it's "Do I want to welcome these characters into my world?" In the case of their newest drama, In Plain Sight, the answer is...I don't think so.

The series presents Mary McCormack (The West Wing) as Mary Shannon, a U.S. Marshal for the Witness Protection Program, living and working in Albuquerque, New Mexico. To say that Mary is a bitch is an understatement. She's aggressive and grumpy and hard to take. As the pilot played out, Mary showed glimpses of a softer side, a need to fix the problems of others that led to her career protecting and serving those in the Witness Protection Program. However, unlike USA's other quirky character dramas, In Plain Sight doesn't have the whimsy of Monk. It may be that this pilot was just overstuffed with too much of Mary's life, but overall, there's not much in Mary Shannon's life worth watching.

In Plain Sight depicts the marshals of the Witness Protection Program as part baby sitters, part detectives, and always on the clock. Nobody will be signing up for this service based on what they saw of Mary Shannon and her partner Marshal Marshall Mann -- get it?. As played by Frederick Weller, Marshall is a laconic foil for Mary's over-the-top histrionics. He's cool and collected, and even though he reminds Mary that he's not her assistant, he's the one doing the scut work and interfacing with the boss. The boss is completely ineffectual and doesn't seem to know what's going on with the case or even how to buy a gift for Mary. It's her birthday, which apparently is more important to everyone else than it is to her. When she's forced to a surprise party thrown in her honor -- "There are 60 people in there waiting to scream surprise" -- it makes you wonder if she even has six friends, let alone 60.

As hard as it is to put up with Mary's attitude, she's a walk in the park compared to her flaky, floozy mom, Jinx, and Brandy, an obnoxious, criminal little sister. With family like these two, it's a wonder that Mary hasn't placed them in the system and relocated them where they could be someone else's headache. Mary also has a hunky Hispanic boy toy, Cristian de la Fuente, who sounds like Fernando Lamas and shows off his pecs. No dancing, at least not yet.

There was a case to be solved. The teenage son of one of Mary's mob witnesses is murdered along with a girl who seems to be an innocent in all this. Mary is pissed off because the boy was her responsibility, and her investigation involves local cops, Mexicans, Native Americans, mob witnesses and such. Yes, there's lots of local color. The script skirts around the procedural aspects of the case, and the voice over narration which is meant to help tie in all the details, isn't very helpful.

Overall, In Plain Sight isn't without some moments that work. Bobby D, the local detective played by Todd Williams, is fun. Although why he is attracted to Mary -- "Is she seeing anybody?" -- is anybody's guess. Okay, I realize Mary McCormack is beautiful, but Mary Shannon is like John Wayne on estrogen. Not a nice mix. In the end, I'm not thrilled about the prospect of spending more time with Marshall Shannon. Maybe one more episode to see if it improves, as is the case with many pilots. However, if In Plain Sight doesn't click by then, it's going into my closed case file.

Other points of interest

An occasion pop culture reference is dropped, like the Amazing Kreskin. Mary doesn't know who Kreskin is. She does, however, wish she had a Columbo question when she wants to bring down a snotty Indian, and pulls a fake Meg Ryan orgasm when trying to smoke out a mob guy on the phone. In that instance, she says her name is Nomi, as in Nomi from Showgirls. Really, I'm not kidding.

Great crack at the Witness Protection Program, Bobby D refers to them as "The branch of law enforcement that puts criminals back on the street."

Mary is supposed to be a fixer, but does the Witness Protection Program really offer breast augmentation for witnesses who want new boobs? Maybe it was just more quirky storytelling.

Living up to his name, Frankie Nuts, Mary's mob witness, tears through a morgue, unzippingbody bags to find his son.

Running gag involves Mary's purple Ford Probe, a piece of dreck car that she uses to transport witnesses and everything else she has to do.

Why is Mary wearing layers, including a jacket, when it's 112 degrees in the desert? When you live in a desert town or the tropics, dress appropriately.

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