Judge Jim Thomas isn't hiding in plain sight. It's just that no one is looking for him.
Mary: What is that?
This court thoroughly enjoyed the first two seasons of USA's In Plain Sight, but noted in its review of Season Two that dark clouds were on the horizon in the form of a USA coup that ousted series creator David Maples and co-executive producer Paul Stupin and retooled the series in an attempt to create a kinder, gentler show. The evidence shows that the show was indeed changed. Thanks for nothing.
Facts of the Case
U.S. Marshall Mary Shannon (Mary McCormack, The West Wing) works in the Albuquerque office of the Federal Witness Security Program (WITSEC). Mary has problems with her family, her boyfriend…with people in general, actually. Her partner and best friend, Marshall Mann (Fred Weller), acts as a calming, yet annoying influence. As Season Three opens, Mary is dealing with a lot: Her engagement to her boyfriend Raph (Cristián de la Fuente, CSI: Miami) continues to confuse her, her mother Jinx (Lesley Ann Warren, Victor/Victoria) moves out, and her sister Brandi (Nichole Hiltz, The Riches) leaves on extended visit East (the last time that happened, Brandi came back with a suitcase of crystal meth that caused all manner of grief). Oh, yeah, and Mary got shot in the Season Two finale.
In Plain Sight: Season Three has all thirteen episodes on three discs:
• "Father Goes West"—Just discharged from the hospital, Mary jumps right back to work, investigating the possibility that one of her witnesses has resumed his life of crime. Meanwhile, Marshall sets out to identify Mary's shooter. Guest starring Donnie Wahlberg (Saw II).
• "When Mary Met Marshall"—A break-in threatens the security of the first witnesses Mary and Marshall handled together, prompting flashbacks to the day Mary joined WitSec. Guest starring Allison Janney (The West Wing).
• "Coma Chameleon"—An ATF agent wakes up after a three-year coma and discovers he's been placed in witness protection. Raphael's Aunt Rita arrives to discuss Mary & Raph's wedding. Guest starring Allison Janney and Rita Moreno (West Side Story).
• "Whistle Stop"—Mary and Marshall help FBI Agent Mike Faber (Steven Weber, Wings) convince his informant in a money laundering case to enter WitSec. Meanwhile, Stan has to deal with an ex-boxer/witness suffering from pugilistic dementia.
• "Fish or Cut Betta"—When Dominic (Louis Lombardi, 24), a former hit man with a love of explosives, falls in love for the first time, Mary fears that he won't handle rejection well.
• "No Clemency for Old Men"—When a hardened bank robber (Fred Ward, The Right Stuff) is paroled after decades in prison, Mary must help him adjust to life on the outside.
• "Love's Faber Lost"—FBI Agent Faber returns to Mary's life when he gives her a new witness: Natalie, a key witness and co-conspirator in a nationwide mortgage fraud scheme operated by the Russian mob.
• "Son of Mann"—Seth Mann, a legendary U.S. Marshal who also happens to be Marshall's father, comes to Albuquerque. Brandi returns with a suspicious story and a surprise guest.
• "Death Becomes Her"—A woman from an organized crime family witnesses her beloved niece repeating all of her mistakes. Guest starring Laura San Giacomo (Pretty Woman).
• "Her Days are Numbered"—A witness with Asperger's Syndrome confounds Mary, particularly when the witness refuses to testify against her only "friend," the key conspirator in a numbers case. Meanwhile Marshall and Stan work with a witness whose temporary visa is about to expire.
• "The Born Identity"—As Mary's newest witness struggles to conform to the rules of WitSec, Mary agrees to help him search for his birth parents. Also, Stan and new office recruit Charlie get a tip about a most wanted fugitive from a talkative witness.
• "WITSEC Stepmother"—Mary plays stepmom to a rebellious 16-year-old witness whose separated parents are too self-involved to deal with their daughter. Meanwhile, Marshall accompanies a witness to a very strained family reunion.
• "A Priest Walks into a Bar"—Gabriel Andrews (Joe Spano, NCIS), a priest who witnessed a murder, is all too eager to leave the priesthood when he joins Witsec, but is hesitant to cut his ties with the victim's family. Stan struggles with telling a deceased witness's daughter the truth about her delinquent father.
The changes made to the show placed more focus on Mary's cases and less on her family—reducing Jinx to a recurring role. Basically, In Plain Sight was recast along the lines of USA's other shows—less dark, more upbeat. Frankly, the result is a big step back. Mary's rough edges have been sanded down too much; in the last two seasons, someone calling her "kitten" would have been put through a wall. That edginess, which was a critical component of her character in the earlier seasons, has been reduced to a quirk. Complex characterization has gone out the window, the plots are more formulaic and/or predictable, and with few exceptions, the emotional intensity, as well as the sense of omnipresent danger, is pretty much gone, to the extent that at times the show feels like a somewhat dark workplace comedy. Part of the problem is so much time is spent early in the season moving various characters out of the picture—Jinx, Raph, Brandi, Bobby D, Eleanor…you get the picture. The departure of all of those characters leaves a void that is never filled. In the writers' defense, they hadn't planned to write Brandi out for most of the season—but then Nichole Hiltz went and got preggers on them. Even giving the new writing staff some leeway to get their sea legs, too many episodes have strong premises that are undermined by weak writing—a key failing in the season finale. Both the A and B plot have great potential, but neither are allowed to breathe, wasting a good performance from Joe Spano. Another example is "Death Becomes Her," which has a strong opening sequence (which works best for fans of The Sopranos), but a closing voiceover that doesn't quite reconcile with what we actually see. There are a several witnesses from the earlier seasons that seem to have a better rapport with Mary than Mia, but for the sake of sentimentality, we get a voiceover about how Mia was the only witness that Mary ever befriended.
Technically, the set is a bit of an improvement over the previous seasons. They mention in the commentary that they got a new camera and a new cinematographer, and the video really shines. Audio is also solid; with strong use of the surround channels. The incidental music itself is good, but they have moved away from music with a southwestern flavor, making the overall effect a bit more generic. Extras are not so hot. The deleted scenes are good but not great. Mary McCormack and Fred Weller provide commentary tracks for the premiere and finale; they're chatty but never really get into the nuts and bolts of the production. Two interviews with the two leads are essentially abbreviated fluff pieces.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Acting remains a major strength of the show. McCormack and Weller play off one another well, and particularly in the season premiere, you can see that Marshall's goofy manner masks a dedication to his job and his partner every bit as strong as Mary's. I love watching Paul Ben-Ruben (The Wire) as Stan, Marshall and Mary's boss—I just wish the writers wouldn't saddle him with lame subplots for the sake of giving him something to do. The leads get capable support from several guest stars. Steven Weber is always a joy to watch (he was one of the best things about Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip); he has good chemistry with McCormack even if Faber's relationship with Mary is more than just a little forced. Allison Janney does good work in a two-episode arc, but the part is small enough that it smells of stunt casting. The performances of the guest stars isn't as consistently high as it was in the first two seasons, but it's still good enough to make some relatively pedestrian stories work. Hands down, the highlight is the season is Fred Ward as an ex-con trying to adjust to life on the outside after decades in prison. He hits every note just right—the confusion, self-doubt, regret.
The season is salvaged, to an extent, by the performances: McCormack and Weller do their best with what they've been given, and that, coupled with the copious goodwill purchased in the first two seasons, kept my interest. Sort of.
Dear USA: In Plain Sight caught the court's attention because of its edge and intensity. If I want fluff like White Collar or Royal Pains, I know where to find them. In the meantime, please stop trying to turn In Plain Sight into some kind of Stepford Show.
Guilty of being a shadow of its former self.
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