Series Premiere: In Plain Sight – “Pilot” & “Hoosier Daddy”

“Pilot” & “Hoosier Daddy”

June 1st/8th, 2008

Dave over at the /Filmcast (Download the Episode or Subscribe in iTunes), which I was lucky enough to be a part of this week as a last-minute discussion fill-in, has often pestered me about not catching up on shows like The Wire, or The Shield, in favour of watching lighter fare. While I would tend to agree, and will eventually complete both shows, I think there is certainly a place for a show like In Plain Sight, and the network that airs it and its similar programming.

The USA Network has been on a roll as of late, with critics and viewers alike. Only recently, they were the network that aired Monk and Law & Order reruns, with the additions of the charming Psych, the engaging Burn Notice and first run episodes of Criminal Intent, it’s a network on the rise in terms of providing engaging characters within a procedural setting (well, I don’t care for Criminal Intent, but let’s forgive them for that).

With the introduction of In Plain Sight, I honestly question whether the well will ever end. I enjoy the series, and there’s a couple of strong comparisons that make it a great addition to the barren lands of summer television. With “Characters Wanted” as the network tag line, you have all of the elements here: a tough as nails female U.S. Marshal who oversees witness protection, her wacky and distracting family, her messed up personal interactions with those around her, inner emotion hidden by a cold exterior, etc.

The result is a series that seems a smart pairing with something like Burn Notice, especially considering the work of Mary McCormack in the lead role, although there’s a few growing pains that pop up in the first pair of episodes.

The premise of the show is fairly simple in a logline, but in reality it has a few complications – the show is about U.S. Marshals who are in charge of the Witness Protection program, keeping them safe and getting them settled in new lives. However, of course, there’s only so much drama in these situations, and there’s no mystery; since there’s no procedural elements in the Marshal stories (Where it plays more like an action thriller along the lines of Karen Sisco), it requires them to step out into murder mystery territory on occasion.

The pilot was one such occasion, while the second episode stuck to following the personality of the witness of the week – both approaches worked largely due to Mary McCormack’s ability to pull off this character. Mary (Also the character’s name) is at times a bit too blatantly rough around the edges, and the voiceover narration is just as distracting but far less necessary when compared to Burn Notice, but for the most part she skirts the line between tough cop and charming sort. I think she falls a bit too far on the tough side, if only because I can’t for a second imagine that she would be in a tryst-filled relationship with Christian de la Fuente. McCormack hasn’t warmed to that side of the character, quite yet.

She’s got the rest down, though – her hard-edged interrogation is nicely balanced with some charm, and some of the narration is more than funny enough to be worth its weight. I was especially a fan of her work in the roadhouse in the Pilot, where you could tell that Mark Piznarski (The namesake of Veronica Mars’ Piz, and a director on that show and here) was in charge – there was a line where the reading was straight from the School of Bell, as she exited a bathroom hoping that the man she had pumped information from would call. That’s the kind of beat that McCormack pulled off well.

And the second episode showed another side, her caring side – as she meets a young witness who seems tormented, her fight for him shows that she is compassionate and really is willing to care about witnesses (Which was present, but masked by the detective work, in the pilot). The character in terms of her job is really on the right track, and it makes watching some generic plot lines interesting.

The problem, really, is that the rest of her life isn’t interesting. While her partner Marshall and the various government/FBI folks involved are quite good, her family and personal lives are just boring. She has an uninteresting sister with a trunk full of cocaine, a drunk mother whose own storyline in the second episode ended up being a total waste of time (played by Lesley Ann Warren, last seen by me as Susan’s mother on Desperate Housewives), the aforementioned off quasi-boyfriend, and just a whole lot of awkwardness otherwise.

The point, of course, is to show that she has flaws too, and it’s her family – but whereas Burn Notice uses Michael’s family sparingly (And doesn’t allow them to have their own purely tangential storylines), here they are given a lot to do and it feels more like a distraction than anything else. What made Burn Notice work so well last summer was its ability to draw us in to the predicament of this one man, and then to branch out from that: here, the branching works fine but I don’t necessary see Mary’s predicament as being powerful enough to sustain the show’s premise without some tweaking.

And I think the producers probably know this – there are signs of growing pains in the pilot and the second episode, and it feels like they’re focusing on getting the characters nailed down before they start upending everything else. With not much else on, and a compelling performance from McCormack, I’m more than willing to be patient and let the series develop a groove. And considering USA’s penchant for these types of shows, I can see it happening fairly easily.

Cultural Observations

  • I thought the handling of the young witness in the second episode was well done – the kid wasn’t so much precocious as he was defensive, and that he eventually was revealed to be traumatized to the point of tragedy was a more sober note than I was expecting from “Easily disgruntled marshal meets young child.” The show had a real compassion about it as a whole here, which was nice to see.
  • I’m curious to see where they go with the suitcase full of Cocaine, although a phone call in the second episode appears to indicate that she is hiding the drugs for a friend of hers, or at least trafficking them for said male partner. Why in the world said person would be willing to do so when they know her sister is in law enforcement, however, kind of boggles my mind. Either way, I’m more curious than interested, so hopefully the show moves on this point sooner rather than later.

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