Review: In Plain Sight 1×1

Remember how bad the 80s were

In Plain Sight

In the US: Sundays, 10/9c, USA Network

In the UK: They’re all in hiding

Awful. Just awful.

What? You want more from that in a review?

Sigh. Okay. Here we go then.

Although at first sight the USA Network has a clear theme – it’s the “network of characters” – that’s not quite what it is. It’s the network of 80s shows. These weren’t shows made in the 80s, mind. These are shows that fit the show templates of the 80s.

For the most part, we’re talking private detective shows – quite good ones at that. So, for example, we have Monk, the private detective who works for the police department and has OCD. We have Burn Notice, featuring the private detective who’s an ex-spy. And we have Psych, the private detectives who also work for the police department and pretend to be psychics.

Typical story in any of these: helpless person comes to private detective, private detective investigates, finds clues, solves crime use his special “character” skills. The end.

Psych is in fact the purest of these retro 80s shows, since not only does it use the old script templates of the 80s, it references all the shows explicitly (I’m still guffawing at Gus’s Airwolf jacket) and even has the same actors (Corbin Bernsen, for example).

As we can see the USA Network knows its audience: old enough to remember the 80s and its tele fondly; wishing they made tele like in the good old days.

Thing is, most 80s US TV was a bit pants. If we polish off our old Betamaxes of Riptide, Simon and Simon, Tucker’s Witch, Jake and The Fatman, et al, we’d see how poorly they stand up compared to the far more sophisticated and intelligent fare (with exceptions) that modern US TV has to offer.

Except we don’t have to, because here’s In Plain Sight, starring Mary McCormack. It’s an 80s police/action show lovingly recreated in every detail using modern television techniques. And it’s rubbish.


In Plain Sight is an all-new crime drama from USA Network starring Mary McCormack as Mary Shannon, a U.S. Marshal attached to the highly secretive Federal Witness Protection Program (WITSEC). While Mary loves her job, she knows better than anyone that it’s not easy leading a double life—especially since getting shot at on a regular basis is all in a day’s work.

Mary Shannon, who is based in the greater Albuquerque/Santa Fe area, protects and manages relocated Federal Witnesses who come from all over the country. The witnesses under her care can be anything from career criminals, congenital liars, thieves and murderers to those who have had the misfortune of witnessing or falling victim to a crime. For the innocents, testifying means leaving behind everything and everyone they know, cutting off all contact, changing identities and relocating to the unfamiliar southwest to build a new life as the reward for their good deed. But no matter what walk of life—or what side of the law—these people come from, they all have one thing in common: Someone wants them dead.

Luckily, Mary doesn’t have to bear the burden of this huge responsibility alone. Along with her partner, Marshall Mann (Fred Weller) who couldn’t be more her polar opposite, Mary helps her witnesses establish new lives—with varying degrees of success or satisfaction on the witnesses’ part—while protecting them from a myriad of threats ranging from people seeking revenge or trying to thwart the course of justice to the traumas of everyday life. While Mary and Marshall spend a good portion of their time bantering and disagreeing about most things, they make a great team that always gets the job done.

Even with all the risk and stress inherent in Mary’s job, she sometimes finds it easier to be working than dealing with her personal life, which is already complicated by the fact that her family and friends can’t know the true nature of her work for the safety of everyone involved. Keeping a false front isn’t exactly a cakewalk when her co-dependant mother, Jinx (Lesley Ann Warren) and equally co-dependant younger sister, Brandi (Nichole Hiltz), are living under her roof. Jinx has never held down a job and is rarely ever seen without a drink in her hand. Brandi is slightly more ambitious. Unfortunately, the driving ambition that brought her to Albuquerque was the desire to sell a suitcase full of crystal meth for her mysterious boyfriend, Chuck. But Mary’s on-again off-again boyfriend, Raphael Ramirez (Cristián de la Fuente), gets the rawest deal of all because after Mary’s job and family, there’s not too much left of her to go around—or at least, that’s the trump card Mary relies on whenever Raph tries to get too close.

Is it any good?

No. No, no, no, no, no. Now I liked Mary McCormack in Murder One. I liked her in The West Wing. But no matter how good an actor or actress is, if the script sucks like a Dyson wired up to the Dungeness nuclear power station, the show’s still going to be rubbish.

As you can tell from the overly long description of the show I nicked from the USA Network web site, derivative is not the word. McCormack is a tough cop witness protector. No scratch that. She might as well be a cop because she investigates crimes. What is this, CSI? There are police detectives who investigate crimes. Even I know that.

So McCormack is someone they really wish could investigate crimes the limitations of the format should prevent her from looking at. She has a tough, no nonsense Captain who wants her to play by the rules, but she does this trick with a mobile phone to pretend she can’t hear him. She has a rocky family life. She treats her boyfriend badly. Her car’s rubbish. But she really cares about the victims and is prepared to bend the rules to help them.

Stop me if you heard this two decades ago. They did the mobile phone trick with radios back in Blue Thunder in 1982. That’s nearly 30 years ago now.

We mustn’t, of course, forget that people watched re-runs in the 80s, too, so we also have Mission: Impossible regular Lesley Ann Warren to jolly things along too with some truly appalling acting. I loved Mission: Impossible: tea times on BBC2, hey? Remember?

We’ve got the plots, so we also need the clunky dialogue. You won’t be disappointed, I promise. It clunks along with people trying to be clever but failing hopelessly. We have the police needling witness protection (“Aren’t you the branch of law enforcement that puts criminals back on the street?” – a few moments after McCormack has explained to us in clunky voice over that they’re not). We have… Oh just rent The A-Team. You could overlay it on the episode and upload it to YouTube to create a comedy sensation as George Peppard’s voice comes out of Mary McCormack’s mouth.

In its defence – and it’s a very slight defence – since it’s set in Santa Fe, there are some Latinos in this and not all of them are criminals. How forward thinking. There’s the massively under-used Paul Ben-Victor as the Captain, who isn’t quite as old school as all that. The writers try to introduce a little variety here and there, with a few quirks for the supporting characters and a little bit of elasticity in terms of nudity, swearing, etc, that you couldn’t get away with in the 80s. At least, not on boys action shows because girls are silly.

But on the whole, if you’re going to get an 80s action fix, you’re better off just buying the originals – at least they have the excuse they didn’t know any better at the time.

Here’s a YouTube trailer of inordinate badness to show you what I mean.