Just ‘Plain’ bad 

Damn, those are big lips, Mary McCormack! Seriously. They weren’t always that big, were they? Certainly not back in your Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star salad days. What gives? Oh, wait, I get it … maybe. Are they for your hot new character? The one who looks like a girl, but walks, talks, fights and — most importantly — has empty, meaningless sex like a boy?

A male stereotype, I mean.

Yeah, I can see why you’d collagen the hell out of those smackers, Mar. Adds to the psycho-sexual and interpersonal confusion/frustration. Smart thinking. Now if your performances could communicate confusion/frustration, we’d be onto something.

USA is a network of characters. It’s in their charter. “Characters Welcome,” it says, right there on the station-identification screen. After a half-decade of success as a station of lovable neurotics — Tony Shaloub’s eponymous Monk; Psych’s bi-racial crime-fighting odd couple of Dulé Hill and James Roday; the idiosyncratic spies of Burn Notice, etc. — they’ve thrown a curveball in the character of Mary Shannon, a neurotic who is quite the opposite of lovable.

Shannon (played poorly by McCormack) is troubled, see. A U.S. Marshall charged with keeping federal witnesses alive, her professional life is shrouded in career-imposed secrecy. It’s a convenient parallel for her personal life, shrouded in secrecy of the self-imposed kind. There’s something wrong about Mary. She has a perfectly adorable professional baseball player doting all over her, but she can’t let him in. Instead, she sleeps with random dudes. The trouble may stem from her tramp of a mom, or her leech of a sister. Who knows?

The characters are as opaque as black boxes the FAA forgot how to unlock. Mary’s a charred, burned-out wreck of a person, with zero clues as to how the plane went down. USA clearly wanted to get edgy with In Plain Sight, but the result is dull.

In the June 27 episode, Mar-Mar had a bit of an epiphany about her promiscuity. “Should I sleep with someone,” she asked via voice-over, “just because I’m isolated and long for human contact so much my skin actually aches?” I appreciate her telling us: a) she realizes she’s isolated, and b) she longs for human contact. Nothing in the writing or in her performance thus far has hinted at either.

The show’s clearly stumbling toward some sort of emotional depth, but it feels like a blind grope. The writers haven’t figured a way of writing in the emotional complexity they want, and McCormack certainly hasn’t been able to wring it out of her performance. So we get voice-overs. Rad. •

SEE ALSO

The Closer Kyra Sedgwick’s Deputy Chief Brenda Johnson is still the most compelling, nuanced character in cop shows. (TNT, Mondays, 8pm)

Generation Kill Mostly over, the seven-part HBO miniseries on the 2003 invasion of Iraq tells the story of the kind of re-sensitization to death that happened when a generation of young men brought up on video games and “gangster rap” saw real killing. (HBO, Sundays, 8 pm)

Swingtown A Chicago suburb in the early ’70s forms the backdrop for partner-swapping and erotic awakening. (CBS, Fridays, 9 pm)


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