Sunday, June 01, 2008

In Plain Sight, "Mary Sunshine": Soap on a frozen rope

Spoilers for the debut of "In Plain Sight" coming up just as soon as I put "Showgirls" and "Columbo" season 4 in my Netflix queue...

I expressed most of my general thoughts on the series in Thursday's column -- I like the grit and light touch of Mary McCormack, plus the "Karen Sisco"-ish blend of noir -- and black comedy -- so I'm going to hit a few specific things about the pilot and then open up the floor:
  • Though I discussed it in the review, I want to again praise the entire sequence at the Indian biker bar, which was a very entertaining mix of Mary being in complete control (the soap bar to the jewels in the men's room) and Mary putting her foot in her mouth (the Little Big Horn speech). The phone sex sequence was also very funny, owing as much to Fredrick Weller's disgusted reactions as Marshal as to McCormack throwing herself into the "Nomi" role.
  • With the show's premise, the guest-casting is going to be crucial, and in the episodes I've seen, it's very strong. Here, we get a pair of "Sopranos" alums (Al "Mikey Palmice" Sapienza and Katherine "Charmaine Bucco" Narducci) as our wiseguy and gal, and upcoming episodes are going to feature the likes of Wendell Pierce and Percy Daggs III.
  • On the other hand, my joy at seeing The Bunk in an upcoming episode doesn't mitigate my disappointment at seeing Paul Ben-Victor go back to the kind of broad clown role he was playing before he got cast as Spiros Vondas on "The Wire." As Mary and Marshall's boss, Ben-Victor isn't a complete buffoon -- there's a suggestion in some of the later episodes that he's deliberately ignorant, because the less he knows, the better Mary can do her job -- but in general, the doofus boss is almost as tired a cop show cliche as the disapproving black boss.
  • Also a cliche: the crime thriller hero with the drunken mom (see also "Burn Notice," for instance). But Lesley Ann Warren does a nice job as Mary's mom, Jinx. She doesn't have a lot to do in the pilot, but there's that moment where Mary tells Jinx she isn't a very good mom, and it's clear she thinks it's just a harmless joke because Jinx doesn't really care about being a good mom -- and then as soon as Mary walks away, you see that, even though Jinx was probably a lousy parent, it still hurts to hear her daughter say it to her face.
  • Not sure yet how I feel about Mary's boyfriend and her sister.
  • I love that, in the middle of Mary trying to give an inspirational speech to talk Charmaine down from killing Mikey (or whatever their names on the show were), she throws in a phrase like "festering crap bag of a husband," and I love McCormack's delivery of it.
What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

I also loved the, "Shut up or I'll shoot you" line.

While it is populated with quite a few cliche characters, the writing and delivery was good enough that I want to keep watching. Plus, I'm very interested to see how long it takes her sister to snort that suitcase full of cocaine.

afoglia said...

It was okay. Mary McCormack's acting is the reason to watch though. I grew tired of the plot, but she, and the character, we never boring.

Also, did anyone else get a strong Randall-from-Clerks vibe from Fredrick Weller's Marshal. The voice, the delivery, reminded me of Randall in any scene where Dante's complaining about life.

Agnes B said...

I was on the fence until the end of the bathroom scene. McCormack's delivery of "God, I hope he calls" won me over for the rest of the summer. Easily.

Anonymous said...

Completely agree on the Randall vibe. Unfortunately, I've found that schtick only works when the character actually is Randall.

Anonymous said...

I was less taken with McCormack's performance then you were. To me she mostly came off as uncomfortable -- it's not clear why she wears a jacket in 112 degree weather, especially since she keeps taking it off because it gets in the way of her actually doing anything (interrogating a witness, driving her car).

This is a nitpicky point (for contrast, my wife was distracted by McCormack's "carefully disheveled" hair), but if the show wants us to believe (rather than just telling us in voiceover) that she is good at her job, McCormack needs to dominate in her scenes. But in the pilot she mostly recedes -- Weller has snappier lines as her partner, de la Fuente gets the cheesier lines as her love interest, the bartender exposes her ignorance in the bar scene, and her sister plays her for a fool (using the very fake tears Mary mocked earlier) at the party. Any one of these might be fine down the line, but piling them all up front -- and having Mary solve the crime by fluke (using knowledge any Native American officer on the police force should also have access to) -- makes it difficult to understand why everyone likes her so much.

But I'm willing to stick around for a little while to see how things were adjusted post-pilot. I still hold out hope for a good character based procedural. Nevertheless, given the number of previous USA series that share some elements with this show (The Huntress, Cover Me, Karen Sisco, and Burn Notice, off the top of my head), I was expecting something good right off the bat.


Anonymous said...

"Oh my god, look at me, I'm a Cosmo drinking Manhattan whore."


R.A. Porter said...

There was a lot to like, but I sincerely hope they don't solve every problem through deus ex machina. A show like this will burn through its whole SFX budget in three episodes with those machines. Not to mention paying the guest-god each week.

Seriously, they got to run extra long with a script they had a long time to polish and that was their resolution? There were 21 Jump Streets that required more detective work.

I'm confident I'll enjoy the character aspects of this show; I'm not so sure about the procedural.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I'll say, vis a vis the plot, that the other episodes I've seen hew much closer to Mary's actual job of handling witnesses, so the writers won't have to do mystery procedural stuff each week.

That said, Mary herself is a much stronger part of the show to me than the stories are.

Mapeel said...

Makes quite a matching His and Hers set to "Burn Notice." Can't remember any other 2 shows being in such juxtaposition to each other. I prefer Jeffery Donovan . . .

Anonymous said...

I liked the show, I want to say that up front. However, I found myself bouncing between loving it and being bored. The individual scenes were pretty decent, but something was missing in tying them together a little bit, IMO. The jacket thing bothered me as well. If it was literally 112 degrees, just leave the jacket in the car. But, like I said, I liked the show and I love Mary McCormack, so I'll be watching all summer without a doubt. Its amazing to me how USA has become the network that it has. This summer, they'll be running new episodes of In Plain Sight, Monk, Psych, Burn Notice and Law and Order: Criminal Intent. Is there another network that puts up summer programming like that?

R.A. Porter said...

In defense of the jacket:

I live in Phoenix, which has comparable highs to Albuquerque. When it's 112 outside, you can't walk into a store, restaurant, or office that isn't set to 70 or below. She'd likely need her jacket a lot of places she went to avoid freezing her butt off.

Anonymous said...

I'll say, vis a vis the plot, that the other episodes I've seen hew much closer to Mary's actual job of handling witnesses

This was another bit of pilot-itis -- the show about witness protection debuted with a murder mystery. I thought the "witsec" bits had the most potential: McCormack's great withering looks at the Ukrainian witness and her mockery of Mickey Palmice and his 24 hour deadline -- telling a man who's just had his only son murdered and his grieving wife try to shoot him to "[sit down and shut up]"? Now that's cold.

r.a. porter,

I've been to Albuquerque myself, and I did think of the A/C angle. But the show never made that joke,
and I just thought McCormack never looked comfortable. I guess it jumped out to me most when she took off her jacket to "interrogate" (indoors, mind you) the suspect from NYC. Like I said, I know it is nitpicky.


R.A. Porter said...

@anon, I agree that McCormack looked uncomfortable, but I think that's because her Mary is a bit uncomfortable in her own skin. At least I hope it is.

That, or they filmed in the winter and she was freezing.

Sara Ann said...

See, "God, I hope he calls" just made me miss Kristen Bell.

My big nitpick would have to be that no WitSec officer would be able to afford the amount of plastic surgery Mary McCormack's clearly had. Though kudos to McCormack for actually acting through the duck-face; that's something very few actresses can pull off.

Also, why did they keep referring to "the feds"? They are the feds, right?

It's awfully predictable at this point, but as there's just not much else on right now (and, clearly, I'm not going outside or picking up a book or anything) I'll stick around to see how it develops.

R.A. Porter said...

@sara ann, jurisdictional battles abound. "The feds" are the FBI. No real overlap in duties, and lots of fighting over turf with the U.S. Marshal's service

Anonymous said...

did anybody else think the director (Piznarski) was having Mary M. channel Veronica Mars a bit? I loved it! When she came out of the bathroom in the biker bar and crossed her fingers "I hope he calls!" that was pure Kristen Bell and she wears the mantle very well. I think she could really be a great leading lady--hope the writing gets even sharper...there were some great lines here, but some (ie: "how can somebody who burns so hot be so cold") left something to be desired. I have high hopes!

Anonymous said...

i thought it was a little uneven and cliche like many people, but the thing that annoyed me most was her car -- the Ford Probe. The car and the week jokes about it. She needs a more authoritative car. It doens't have to be nice or cool, just more authoritative.

Anonymous said...

This summer, they'll be running new episodes of In Plain Sight, Monk, Psych, Burn Notice and Law and Order: Criminal Intent.

Cool! When do Monk, Burn Notice, and L&O:CI come back?

I kind of liked In Plain Sight, and kind of didn't. It didn't grab me right away like Burn Notice did, but I'm interested enough to give it another shot, especially with The Bunk and Wallace coming up.

Anonymous said...

I have been looking for the "i am better than you" speech at the end of season two.