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Reviewed by Will Harris
t’s so much easier to convince the viewing audience to watch a TV series when it follows the same approximate formula from week to week, but let’s be honest: the people who make TV series often get a little bored when they have no choice but to follow the same recipe to make their product week after week after week. In the case of “In Plain Sight” creator David Maples, you can tell he’s trying to offer up a little bit of both. The result is a show that’s never less than entertaining, but it must be said that it isn’t until the end of the season that it really gels into something special.
Here’s the basic storyline: Mary Shannon (Mary McCormack) is a Deputy United States Marshal who’s based in Albuquerque, New Mexico and assigned to the Federal Witness Protection Program. Every episode begins by introducing us to the witness of the week, and from there, Mary and her partner, Marshall Mann (Fred Weller), interact with the witness in some capacity or other, whether it’s getting them started in the program, taking on their case as a result of an impending trial for someone they’re testifying against, or what have you.
Although the original promotion for “In Plain Sight” seemed to paint it as a vaguely comedic show (hey, look, his name’s Marshall and he is a Marshal!) which was as much about Mary’s personal life – she has trouble with relationships, she’s got a wacky mom named Jinx (Lesley Ann Warren), and her sister Brandi (Nichole Hiltz) is a real pain in the ass – as it was about the Witness Protection Program. The problem is that Mary’s work life tends to be way more intriguing than her personal life.
It’s not that the show doesn’t try to keep us interested in the Shannon family: we know that Mary’s dad had a nasty gambling addiction and left the family long ago, Brandi’s got a seriously checkered past that still haunts her on a regular basis, and Jinx is an aspiring actress who’s never made it but isn’t against continuing to try. As far as Mary herself, she’s kinda sorta in a relationship with Raphael (Cristian de la Fuente), but she doesn’t want to admit it; as a result, things get understandably uncomfortable when he decides to propose. These are all relatively interesting storylines, but for whatever reason, they just don’t seem nearly as compelling as the lives of the various witnesses. The best example of this comes via “Iris Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” where an African-American family is forced to relocate after their daughter is caught up in a gang-related shooting. The father is a doctor who can no longer maintain his high-profile practice and is forced to work within the income bracket he worked for years to escape, while the mother, who had earned the right to retire, is told that their income will no longer allow her that luxury. There are other fascinating tales, however, including one witness who manages to wrangle a deal where he gets both his wife and his mistress into the program, while another episode posits, “What happens if two members of the program accidentally hook up via a dating service?”
In the last two episodes of the season, “Stan by Me” and “A Fine Meth,” everything gels perfectly across the board. Although the plotlines surrounding Mary’s personal life may have seemed relatively inconsequential, everything ends up tying together and coming to a head in a big, big way at season’s end, resulting in a finale – directed by John Badham, no less – that will leave you psyched to see where everyone in the Shannon family will be going next.
At its best, “In Plain Sight” shares the feel of “The Rockford Files,” and when you think about it, that series didn’t really hit its stride until its second season, when you felt like you knew what kind of guy Jim Rockford was and who his associates were. Based on the way Season One of “In Plain Sight” ended, there’s every reason to believe that it could end up as the same kind of TV classic.
Special Features: Well, you can’t say they didn’t do their part to flesh out the “In Plain Sight” viewing experience given the number of deleted scenes that have been included throughout the three discs of the set. Unfortunately, that’s the only bonus material here, which is surprising, given that the show’s second season is getting ready to premiere. You’d think they would’ve at least gotten the cast to sit down for a few minutes and chat about the experience of working on Season One, if only because they would’ve inevitably closed by saying, “And I can’t wait to start work on Season Two!”