Out of Sight

By Rob Patterson

Sometimes I really fall in love with a TV series. Hence it was with great sadness that I recently mourned the end of AMC’s In Plain Sight.

The show focuses on federal Deputy Marshall Mary Shannon, who works for the Witness Protection Program in Albuquerque, N.M., played by Mary McCormack. In every episode she and her office had to deal with and protect new witnesses. At the same time there was a milieu of her life and its ongoing flow: Her relationship with her partner Marshall Mann (yes, his name and title are the same. And played by Frederick Weller), her wacky alcoholic mother and flaky sister, and the career criminal father who left the family when she was young, and her romantic relationships.

In a way it’s all fairly standard TV series formula and structure. And In Plain Sight makes no aspirations to be artistic, innovative or edgy, say, as an example, in comparison to the other contemporary show set in Albuquerque, Breaking Bad. Yet there’s something, nay a number of things, which caused me to really come to enjoy and cherish the show. And evoked melancholy as I knew it was coming to its end in its fifth season.

Certainly one factor was Shannon and the actress who played her. Whereas so many series try to play up the sexiness of the lead actresses, Shannon was almost always seen in slacks, a simple shirt or top and a jacket. Her character is sarcastic and sardonic, cynical and a bit prickly, serially disappointed by her relationships with men (obviously in part as a result of her father issues). She is devoted to and good in her job, and is the one who holds the center as her mother and sister suffer from and deal with their own issues. Yet she’s also my kinda gal. (Yes, I am aware that some may feel it’s sexist to not say “woman.” But as a man of the language, I like colloquialisms.)

Another aspect that gives the show its appeal is how it treats the old tried and true “buddy” relationship between law enforcement partners that’s an entertainment staple. As with most of them, Shannon and Mann share a genuine affection and have each other’s backs while also engaging in mutual ribbing. And there is of course an unarticulated love and attraction that has the viewer going, hey, maybe you guys should get together. And the show skillfully plays that up right through to a big moment in the final episode (no, I won’t be a spoiler).

The way that the bond between the two plays so well on TV is no doubt enhanced by the fact that McCormack and Waller became so close in real life that she made him the godfather of her first child. Her pregnancy and the baby’s birth also added yet another plot skein to the show.

The last season brings in Shannon’s estranged father whose presence is always on the periphery even when not present. The WITSEC (Federal Witness Security Program) office provides one of those alternative families a good (if albeit rare) workplace can become. And with each episode we see how crime can ensnare and affect the lives of a panorama of modern Americans. Plus the show makes Albuquerque seem like a fairly appealing place to live.

What “In Plain Sight” does well is make the case that standard TV series entertainment fare can also become something more without obviously trying. After it ended I set my DVR to start recording it again as soon as reruns begin. In part because I only tuned in and started watching regularly in the show’s second season (and I may in fact get it from Netflix or my local video rental shop because I really want to get the backstory from before I came in). But also as much if not more because it’s become like a familiar friend I will miss and savor when I see it again. And who knows? Maybe you might end up feeling the same.

Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email orca@prismnet.com.

From The Progressive Populist, August 15, 2012


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