TV Review: Mary McCormack pushes the envelope as USA detective
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"In Plain Sight" (10 p.m. Sunday, USA) may make the Aunt Idas of the world grimace.
The plot is simple and familiar enough. The independent, lead female character should give viewers, including aging Aunt Idas, a vicarious thrill. But the writers' proclivity to take things one step too far might make Aunt Ida grimace.
Last summer it was TNT's "Saving Grace" that got Aunt Ida's hackles up. She should have liked it (it had an angel, after all), and she was fine with the rebellious streak in Holly Hunter's Grace. But Aunt Ida couldn't abide the swearing -- in front of the angel, no less! -- and she really didn't cotton to Grace having sex out of wedlock, and, even worse, enjoying it. Aunt Ida changed the channel.
"In Plain Sight" won't offend Aunt Ida as much as "Saving Grace," but it does have moments when her patience will be tested.
The always appealing Mary McCormack ("The West Wing") stars as Mary Shannon, a U.S. marshal who works in the witness protection program relocating federal witnesses, some of them criminals.
In recent popular films, male characters are more likely to show vulnerability (see "Superbad," "Forgetting Sarah Marshall"), but on TV women are being cast as characters with stereotypically male attributes (see "Saving Grace," "Damages"). That's also true of "In Plain Sight."
Mary is rough around the edges, bucks protocol, disparages her straight-arrow partner (Frederick Weller), doesn't like babies, can't sustain a relationship with bed buddy Raphael (Cristian de la Fuente, "Dancing with the Stars") and fakes an orgasm in a phone call with a bad guy (that's the scene most likely to cause Aunt Ida to check out).
"Hey, here's an idea," Mary says to a suspect. "Since I'm the one wearing the badge and you're the murder suspect, why don't we stick to me asking the questions."
Andy Sipowicz couldn't have said it any better on "NYPD Blue."
"In Plain Sight" is a lot like other USA series ("Monk," "Psych," etc.), taking elements of popular shows from the past and updating the show to the present. The pilot even includes a reference to a TV inspiration in Mary's narration.
"I really wanted to turn around and pop off one of those 'Columbo' questions. You know, the innocuous afterthought that lets the killer know I know he did it," Mary says.
Unlike "Monk," which is essentially warmed-over "Columbo" with a more interesting character in the lead, "In Plain Sight" augments its plain premise with a full cast of colorful characters.
In addition to McCormack, who capably balances Mary's grit with occasional flashes of vulnerability, the cast also includes Lesley Ann Warren as Mary's floosie mother and Nichole Hiltz as her sister with a secret.
These characters not only give the show a place to go besides the case-of-the-week, but also they offer some comic relief.
This opportunity for lighter moments, coupled with the complicated nature of Mary's character, makes "In Plain Sight" a little less vanilla. But it still may not be plain enough for Aunt Ida.
First Published May 29, 2008 12:00 am