Just when you thought that every conceivable branch of law enforcement already had its own TV drama, along comes In Plain Sight (USA, Sundays, 10 p.m.), which follows the exploits of U.S. Marshals in charge of administering the Witness Protection Program. Specifically, it follows one marshal, Mary Shannon (Mary McCormack), who is part cop and part den mother for the assortment of former criminals and innocent bystanders given new identities and placed under her protection in Albuquerque.
Like pretty much every original drama on USA (Monk, Psych, Burn Notice), Sight is a character-driven procedural, with cases-of-the-week providing a framework for focusing on Mary and her predictably messed up personal life. The show also owes a great debt to TNT’s two tough-lady-cop dramas, The Closer and Saving Grace; in particular Mary is similar to Holly Hunter’s Grace in that she’s work-obsessed and emotionally closed off, and while she’s very confident in her skills as a marshal, she’s not the uber-effective cop that so many TV crime fighters are.
Sight doesn’t differ enough from its cable-TV siblings to really stand out, and without compelling characters, the show flounders. The cases that Mary tackles are unremarkable, and although the pilot finds her trying to solve a murder, subsequent episodes don’t have much in the way of whodunits; instead they focus on the logistics of keeping people protected or convincing them to stay in the program. There isn’t a whole lot of tension in these stories, and so the responsibility of carrying the show falls on Mary’s personal life, with her annoying wacky mom (Lesley Ann Warren), trampy screw-up sister (Nichole Hiltz) and seriously bland boyfriend (Christian de la Fuente).
McCormack tries hard to give Mary a quirky, brassy personality, but she’s no Kyra Sedgwick or Holly Hunter, and the effort really shows. The attempts at humor are weak, and especially disappointing given the way that USA’s other procedurals effectively incorporate jokes into their crime stories. Here, the height of hilarity is the fact that Mary’s sarcastic partner (there’s always a sarcastic partner, isn’t there?) is named Marshall, as in Marshal Marshall. The limp comedy is then balanced out by some terribly maudlin sentiment; when there’s no crime to solve, Mary busies herself offering emotional support to her fragile charges.
One thing that Sight does do well is capture its underused setting, taking full advantage of the city’s cultural and racial mix and not merely using it as an anonymous backdrop. As Saving Grace has done for Oklahoma City, Sight proves that cops don’t just operate in New York and LA, and that the way they do business is informed by the locale in which they do it. (Albuquerque’s also a seemingly hot setting these days, with AMC’s Breaking Bad also set there; credit the generous New Mexico tax breaks.)
Procedural fans looking for something new this summer probably won’t mind Sight’s mediocrity, and it does at least make an effort to shed some light on an area of police work that’s underrepresented in TV and movies—and generally depicted from the criminal’s perspective if it’s showcased at all. The more these similar shows fill the cable airwaves, though, the harder each one will have to work to distinguish itself. And in that respect, In Plain Sight clearly falls short.
The bottom line: **