Friday, June 5, 2009

Something So Right

Hey pop culture denizens! While my tenure at The Daily Iowan may be over, I'll never leave the precious Arts blog. These new staffers are swiftly kicking my blogging butt all up and down the Interweb, but I'm here to at least attempt to save my reputation. While I will live up to my role as de-facto Late Night bitch later, right now, I'm here to talk about my new heroine: Mary Shannon.

Here she is (played excellently by Mary McCormack) with her fellow marshal, Marshall (given life by Frederick Weller). These two are the stars of USA's returning summer series, "In Plain Sight." Wikipedia classifies the show as a police procedural, but it is so much more than just another "Law and Order" imitation.

"In Plain Sight" (often mistyped by me as "In Palin Sight," which is a terrifying typo) focuses on U.S Marshals responsible for guarding witnesses in the federal witness protection program. So yes, while each episode focuses on a new witness and why his or her identity is in danger of being revealed (or why they have to enter the program), viewers are treated to the show's best quality: the drama in Mary Shannon's life. Her recovering alcoholic mother (acted with boozy charm by Lesley Ann Warren) and her sexpot but well-meaning slightly airheaded sister (Nichole Hiltz fills the role so seamlessly one thinks the creators wrote it with her in mind) add plenty of stress to Mary's already demanding life.

So, if you haven't yet, go buy the first season on DVD (or add it to your Netfliz queue); I'm not going to give y'all a rundown of each and every episode. But here's why Mary Shannon is my new heroine: she's the world's anti-heroine. She's no Carrie Bradshaw. In fact, during "In Plain Sight"'s pilot, Mary's boss (nebbishy and loyal Paul Ben-Victor) buys her some sexy heels as a birthday gift. Shannon, unaware the shoes are for her, proceeds to berate them (and women who wear them). No, Mary Shannon isn't sipping Cosmos and making sex puns, she's too busy kicking ass.

Yet, Mary's human, and that's really why she's my new heroine. She's a daddy's girl, who never recovered when he ran out on her family when she was a kid, and thus internalizes everything. She's tougher than leather, but only because she has to be. She has a smoking hot baseball-playing boyfriend (the seductively sincere Cristian de la Fuente) who she can't really open up to, and can't even acknowledge as her "boyfriend," and her fellow marshal Marshall is her only real friend. He takes care of her, because no one else in her life is capable, and she can't let herself be that vulnerable in front of her "boyfriend." The trust Marshall and Mary share by virtue of the amount of time they spend together and the understanding they have about the distinct challenges their jobs present makes theirs one of the show's most compelling relationships. Plus, they take witty jabs at each other and trade barbs so harsh only best friends would understand how they'd still be speaking.

Mary Shannon IS her job. She loves taking care of her witnesses. She's a contradiction: a caretaker (to everyone in her life) who isn't maternal. And that's a hard order for a female actress to fill, but McCormack does it effortlessly. Mary isn't into "cute," she doesn't coo and she doesn't learn. The straits of her life don't allow her to soften. And she has to insulate herself from the damage that surrounds her.

Audiences won't see Mary pouring her heart out on her Mac. Her sparse voiceovers give volume to Mary's pain and torment (as opposed to Meredith Grey's often melodramatic narration). There's hurt peeking out from her seemingly impenetrable exterior, but she isn't eager for a friend to cry with or a man to dry her eyes. She's closed off, sarcastic, and often mean. But she's not looking for sympathy; she just wants you to leave her the hell alone. And in the feeling friendly age where everyone's expected to justify their unsavory character traits, Mary Shannon's personality profile is inspiring.

The motto behind "Seinfeld" was "No hugging, no learning." The same is true for "In Plain Sight," it seems. While "In Plain Sight" still manages to evoke and emotionally engage, there's always enough acidity to ensure viewers their TVs didn't accidentally flip to Lifetime. Mary Shannon is the new feminist heroine, more than Meredith Grey or any of the chicks on Wisteria Lane.

Meryn, who identifies with Mary Shannon far more than she should.

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