Universal // 2009 // 639 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Jim Thomas // March 9th, 2010
"Since 1970, the Federal Witness Protection Program has relocated thousands of witnesses, some criminal, some not, to neighborhoods all across the country. Every one of those individuals shares a unique attribute distinguishing them from the rest of the general population, and that is...Somebody wants them dead."
As the first season of In Plain Sight drew to a close, WITSEC Marshall Mary Shannon (Mary McCormack, The West Wing) found herself abducted by drug dealers associated with her ne'er do well sister Brandi (Nichole Hiltz). Once she escaped from that physical danger, Mary had to endure an emotional gauntlet by confronting both Brandi and her mother Jinx (Lesley Ann Warren, Victor/Victoria). The second season does a superb job of following up on the physical, emotional, and legal repercussions of Mary's ordeal. While the season stumbles at the finish line, the evidence shows that Universal has done us a great service in releasing In Plain Sight: Season Two from protective custody.
In the aftermath of her abduction, Mary struggles to recover some semblance of balance in her life. That proves easier said than done, given that her mother Jinx has just been arrested for DUI, her younger sister Brandi is trying to leave her past behind, and Mary's boyfriend Raph (Cristián de la Fuente, CSI: Miami) wants to make their relationship more permanent. As if that weren't bad enough, Mary is also confronted with a new nemesis in the form of new office manager Eleanor Prince (Holly Maples), who simply refuses to take any of Mary's crap. Alongside her partner, Marshall Mann (Fred Weller) and her boss, Stan McQueen (Paul Ben-Victor, Daredevil), Mary charges straight ahead, protecting her WITSEC charges as though she were protecting her own family.
Midway through the season, events occur that may eventually lead Mary to her father, a bank robber who abandoned the family shortly after Brandi was born. Then Raph's mother shows up with a goat to marinate, and things just get weird. (It all makes sense. Trust me.)
You get all fifteen episodes:
* "Gilted Lily": When a witness turns up dead, Mary ditches administrative leave to solve the case, somewhat hampered by PTSD.
* "In My Humboldt Opinion": A pot-growing witness has severe social anxiety -- so severe that he cannot testify unless he is high. Jinx gets arrested for DUI.
* "A Stand-Up Triple": A cougar witness (Cynthia Watros, Lost) continually leaves her kids home alone while she hits the town. Mary tries to look out for the kids' welfare while trying to keep Jinx out of jail.
* "Rubble with a Cause": When a huge building collapses on a witness, Mary rushes in to protect him from an assassin and a prying reporter. Embarrassed for impersonating Jinx at an AA meeting, Brandi tries to apologize to the guy running the meetings (Josh Malina, Sports Night).
* "Aguna Matatala": An Orthodox Jewish witness finds himself being stalked by a mysterious man (Richard Schiff, The Lost World: Jurassic Park 2).
* "One Night Stan": When Stan's first witness turns up dead with Stan's badge amongst the bones, Mary and Marshall dig into a twenty-year-old case.
* "Duplicate Bridge": A tragic bridge accident forces the bridge's designer into hiding, but Marshall and Mary must prevent him from trying to reach out to the victims' family and clear his name.
* "A Frond in Need": Mary places an ex-con informant in a job in a flower shop. When the store owner turns up dead, Mary and Marshall must find out if their charge is behind the murder.
* "Who's Bugging Mary?": FBI Agent O'Connor threatens to destroy Mary's career when he arrests Brandi for drug trafficking and murder.
* "Miles to Go": A new witness demands visitation rights with his son as part of his testimony deal. Complications develop when neither the mother nor the child can be found.
* "Jailbait": The barely legal daughter of Mary's witness finds herself in a dangerous romance just as Raph's mother visits to prepare an engagement feast for the surprised and confused Mary.
* "Training Video": While Mary "collaborates" on the new Witness Protection Advisors' training video, Marshall transports a former mobster (Martin Landau, Ed Wood) to his son's funeral.
* "Let's Get It Ahn": The fingerprints of a counterfeiter (Sherilyn Fenn, Twin Peaks) in the program are found at the scene of a murder, forcing Mary and Marshall to discover the actual murderer before someone else is killed.
* "Once a Ponzi Time": A Wall Street investor gives away his earnings after revealing his boss' elaborate Ponzi scheme, but when he suddenly asks for the money back, Mary and Marshall become suspicious about his motives.
* "Don't Cry for Me, Albuquerque": Mary is forced to watch over a Latin American political activist whose plans may put everyone in danger.
"Gilted Lily," "Aguna Matatala," "One Night Stan," "Duplicate Bridge," "Who's Bugging Mary?," "Miles to Go," and "Training Video" are especially recommended.
The first season of In Plain Sight finished with two of the most harrowing shows I've ever seen. Historically, finales such as these are as much a curse as a blessing, because the show often fails to follow up in the next season. Thankfully, In Plain Sight: Season Two refuses to shy away from the emotional mushroom clouds of the prior season; the events of those two episodes resonate throughout the entire season. Not only is Mary profoundly changed, but both Brandi and Jinx get caught up in the shock wave. While the Shannons struggle with their various demons, FBI Special Agent Robert O'Connor (Will McCormack, Syriana, also Mary McCormack's brother) continues investigating, leading to a high-stakes showdown in "Who's Bugging Mary?" This sort of narrative and emotional depth is all too rare in today's television, even in the better series. Mary McCormack in particular shines as Mary struggles with her PTSD.
The episodes vary between mysteries and character pieces. While the mysteries are engaging, it's the characters that make the show work, and the show makes the most of its guest stars. Particular standouts are Martin Landau as an ex-mobster who, after thirty years in witness protection, decides to leave the program to attend his son's funeral. Not only does he capture Joe's fear over confronting his family as well as the people he testified against, but you get an unexpected glimpse of the wily mobster he once was. Molly Maples shines as Eleanor Prince; her running feud with Mary gets played for both laughs and serious emotion, and Eleanor's presence improves the office dynamics considerably. Richard Schiff has a twinkle in his eye in an amusing turn as a manhunting rabbi, and David Denman (The Office) turns in a moving performance in "Miles to Go."
Video is solid; the show has a lot of contrasting light schemes, lots of shadows, and the video reproduces it well. Audio is also solid; particularly in the WitSec office, the sound field has broad imaging, with characters speaking from way off camera. The extras have been beefed up a bit from season one. You still get some good deleted scenes from several episodes -- I still maintain that they should do some extended episodes with the material. There's a good commentary track with series creator David Maples and co-executive producer Paul Stupin on "In My Humboldt Opinion"; the two bring a lot of good background information to the table, and just seem to be having fun. The two tracks with stars Mary McCormack and Frederick Weller are a bit disappointing, though; they make some quick comments here and there, but they never really discuss anything, and there's a lot of dead time.
When Season One was brought before this court, we noted that the season failed to effectively use Frederick Weller and Paul Ben-Victor. This season, Ben-Victor gets his chances to shine and makes the most of them. Weller, though, still needs a few moments in the spotlight. Most troubling is a suggestion that Marshall is beginning to harbor romantic feelings for Mary; I cannot even begin to express what a bad idea that would be. Not only is the best-friend chemistry between the two characters pitch-perfect, but Mary's mental health (such as it is) depends on being able to tell Marshall anything; that dynamic would be destroyed by a romance (One word: Gizzie).
I'm torn about Josh Malina; the character is interesting enough, but Malina himself just doesn't seem particularly different than he was as Will Bailey in The West Wing.
The season finale is, for lack of a better word, off. The episode was intended to be a two-part season finale, but USA decided to split the storyline between Season Two and Season Three. There's certainly a compelling story there, and it has some wonderful moments, particularly when Stan goes off on an officious CIA agent, but the changes made to turn Part One into a season finale completely hosed the episode's pacing.
In Plain Sight: Season Two has a deft balance of police and family drama that aspires to greatness; sadly, USA has decided to lower the bar considerably. Due in part to the conflict over the season finale, series creator David Maples and co-executive producer Paul Stupin have been pushed aside as showrunners; in addition, the series has been retooled to place more focus on Mary's cases and less on her family -- so much so that Jinx will be reduced to a recurring character (which is simply wrong on so many levels). It's hard to view the move as anything but stupid, particularly considering that they have performed a similar retooling of Law and Order: Criminal Intent. The rationale was that the two shows were "too dark"; the court can only assume that retooled L&O show will be renamed Law and Order: Loitering With Intent.
The retooling takes away the very thing that made the show so special. I'll be watching, but I'll be nervous.
"Here's the part you should be really focusing on: Come trial time, this case brings me ball-punching distance to you." -- Mary Shannon, exercising her diplomatic skills with the New Mexico Attorney General.
Yeah, like I'm gonna rule her guilty.
If USA goes and screws this show up, however, they just may find themselves in witness protection. Irony: It's what's for dinner.
Review content copyright © 2010 Jim Thomas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 639 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Episode Commentaries
* Official Site
* Wikipedia: In Plain Sight