Recent improvements to the USA Network TV series In Plain Sight show the value of character depth and likeability, both commercially and aesthetically.
In our critique of the new USA Network crime drama In Plain Sight, I pointed out that the show, although entertaining and interesting in its consderation of the various characters’ choices, had a signficant aesthetic and commercial weakness in the unattractive nature of its central character, federal marshall Mary Shannon (Mary McCormack). Although she continuously tries to do the right thing in both her job and her personal life—a very attractive quality—Mary spent most of her screen time in the first couple of episodes complaining about things. That, of course, is a rather unappealing trait.
As I noted in my critique, however, USA Network’s fiction series have a good history of correcting mistakes such as this. Fortunately, In Plain Sight is living up to that reputation, as the most recent episodes have improved things in several ways.
One, although she still frowns far too often to be attractive to most people, McCormack and the filmmakers have softened her personality a little, showing the emotional vulnerabilty behind the spiky surface, thus both explaining her irritability and helping us to understand it and thus accept it.
Two, the continued emphasis on Mary’s strong impulse toward moral goodness is laudable and deepens our understanding of her personality and the weight that her personal and professional responsibilities lay on her.
Three, Mary’s personal integrity is beginning to affect some of the people in her personal life in a very positive way, as her irresponsible mother, Jinx, and sister, Brandi, are starting to show some stirrings of conscience in regard to their cavalier mistreatment of others, especially of Mary herself. This is something for which Mary is greatly to be appreciated.
Four, her partner, Marshall Mann (Fred Weller), is such a good person and effective officer and so openly goodnatured that viewers can enjoy being in his company when Mary is being her morose self.
Five, Mary has increasingly made gestuers of affection toward characters whose problems overshadow her own, showing a good perspective on her situation and a sympathetic nature. In addition, she is starting to be a little less relentless in her complaining and irritability.
The greater depth of the character makes the program both more enjoyable and more insightful. The show still has a way to go if it is to establish an appeal similar to other USA Network programs such as Monk, Psych, and Burn Notice, but it has made much progress in its first few weeks and stands a much better chance of succeeding than initially seemed likely.