Sunday, June 01, 2008

In Plain Sight Premieres Tonight

Basic cable network USA isn’t exactly known for groundbreaking programming. You’re not going to find a Sopranos or The Wire or Dexter or Weeds here. By the same token, USA doesn’t subject its audience to mindless game shows like Deal or No Deal or puerile comedy like Big Bang Theory. USA is more subtle than that.

What USA does best is take familiar TV themes, run them through a blender, toss them with contemporary spices and deliver a storyline that’s somehow nostalgic, yet fresh. Take Monk, for instance. The character is a little pinch of Inspector Clouseau, a large jigger of Columbo and a healthy portion of neurotic angst. Psych harkens back to sixties and seventies buddy shows like I Spy and Starsky and Hutch, sans the Grand Torino of the latter.

In Plain Sight (premiering on USA, Sunday 10P EST) loosely follows in that tradition. Mary Shannon (Mary McCormack) is a U.S. Marshal assigned to the Witness Protection Program, or WITSEC (Federalese for Witness Security). That premise has been mined quite a bit in recent years, usually focusing on unsavory characters that the Feds must protect, usually portrayed as an unsavory task at best. This being a USA series, though, In Plain Sight twists the formula, humanizing the entire process.

Much of the premiere episode establishes the characters that drive the series. Mary Shannon is introduced as the embodiment of Gretchen Wilson’s “Redneck Woman,” hard drinking, tough as nails, equally comfortable as a seductress or as a barroom brawler, as conditions demand. Her partner, Marshall Mann (Fred Weller) is her counterpoint, is generally cool and collected, and has the annoying trait of seeming to know just a little bit about everything. He also has a penchant for black designer suits paired with open shirts. Mary, being more practical, favors tank tops and jeans, as the duo tear around their Albuquerque home base in a purple Ford Probe that’s seen better days.

That would be enough to drive most cop shows, but Mary’s life is complicated by familial subplots—her ditzy mom Jinx (Leslie Ann Warren) and her deadbeat sister Brandi (Nichole Hiltz), both of whom have taken up “temporary” residence at Mary’s home, languidly drinking and lounging at the pool and flirting with Mary’s casual Dominican boyfriend Raphael (Christian de la Fuente).

Sure, we’ve seen these plot devices before, but they’re used here to keep what would be another otherwise dry procedural drama lively, and more importantly character-driven. There are mysteries in Mary’s past, and in her relationships with her family, and though they’re an integral part of the show, they’re woven subtly into the main story. The ongoing subplots are played as comedy, by and large, but they yield clues to Mary’s personality. Consider them a diversion to break up the action.

What really makes In Plain Sight compelling is how it turns the episodes into character studies of the people involved. Beneath all the action, the sarcastic dialogue, the comedic turns and the overt sexuality, each episode focuses on how singular events alter one’s future. It’s all about cause and results, and the circuitous routes of life.
In Plain Sight is deceptively simple, an old-fashioned, albeit retrofitted,
cop show, that melds mystery with comedy, and leaves us refreshed for the work week.
And don't forget, to enter our In Plain Sight Giveaway, for your chance to score some pretty cool swag. (Scroll down for details.)