TV is double-stuffed with stunningly hot, hard-ass, wisecracking women these days. They’re lawyers (The Good Wife), cops (The Closer, Castle, Saving Grace), nurses (HawthoRNe, Mercy, Nurse Jackie), paramedics (Trauma), and all sorts of “agent” (Robin Tunney on The Mentalist, Cote de Pablo on NCIS, Anna Torv on Fringe). They take down their enemies with iron might, wrangle their underlings without pity, and bully their superiors in the name of what’s right. Most of them scissor kick as high as they can stand, talk some nasty legal speak, or wield a swift syringe, scalpel, and defibrillator. They’re a dab hand under stress, yet have maintained enough soulfulness to still weep around abused children, stray cats, and the elderly. They’re like the perfect Cadbury Creme Egg: smooth and tough on the outside, but sweet and gooey in the middle. And by God, are they boring.
So, it’s by this standard that In Plain Sight‘s witness-protection specialist U.S. Marshal Mary Shannon (Mary McCormack) should be judged. She’s gorgeous, even after getting shot through the gut in last season’s finale. (It stands to reason that, if you’re going to believe someone can survive a stomach wound like that, you’ll also buy that she’ll put on makeup before checking out of the hospital, which is when we first see her again). She’s great at her job: In the premiere of season three, Mary hunts her shooter, investigates a truck heist, and protects a high profile mob witness (guest star Donnie Wahlberg). She’s got a dedicated partner, an underappreciated fiancé, a needy mother, a shifty sister, and huge daddy issues. Yet Mary handles it all a-okay. Sure, she may rough up the odd perpetrator for the hell of it, or yell at an unsuspecting waitresses, but we’re supposed to love that about her, right?
Sadly, of course, we do like Mary, if only because McCormack and everyone around her are such pros. It’s impressive how good acting can pull the wool right over your eyes. McCormack, whose pretty face is in a permanent scowl even while having sex, conveys her inner sweetness not as Mary’s saving grace, but as her secret compulsion. Former Dancing with the Stars contestant Cristián de la Fuente is so honest and goodhearted as her beau, that we overlook Mary’s foibles simply because he does. (Plus, isn’t it gratifying when an actor goes from being a punchline on The Soup to a commendable supporting actor?) Lesley Ann Warren and Nichole Hiltz are perfectly, and satisfyingly, draining as the mother/sister pair with good hearts but empty pockets. They feed off of Mary’s good will, but at least offer her a full nest to come home to after a tough day of saving the world. Finally, Frederick Weller (cousin of Peter, and always underappreciated on film) is In Plain Sight‘s pinch hitter. His character, Mary’s partner Marshall, is like the Mentalist—just take away all the debonair bullshit and leave the esoteric knowledge, probing intelligence, and snarky wit. “You,” he tells a suspect he’s about to nail, “are like a crossword puzzle with B.O.”
If only In Plain Sight was a little better, if the plots stood out from those of their female-centric counterparts, or if Mary herself was a little different from the typical, clichéd, and totally unreal feminators flooding primetime. Perhaps, when coming up with the next strong lady law enforcer, writers should ask themselves, “Would she watch this show without imploding?” But, then again, very few of these women would go near a TV, so I guess we have an unsolvable problem there.