Mary McCormack’s memorable summer season In Plain Sight

Wow.  It’s not every actress that puts her pregnancy in plain sight.  Mary McCormack did just that this season on the USA series In Plain Sight, the show about two federal witness protection program marshalls officed in Albuquerque.  From the first episode of the summer season to the last we figured out Mary McCormack’s character Marshall Mary Shannon was pregnant even before she did and got to watch her reaction and choices as her character begrudgingly grew.  And over the course of the season both Marys got bigger, with no hiding behind office desks, no oversized concealing clothing, no disappearing from episodes with action sequences.  Mary McCormack was openly and unabashedly pregnant and her character was, too.

To be sure, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the traditional approach.  Even in the past few TV seasons we saw both the female leads of White Collar and Leverage carry on with their characters unaffected by the actresses’ real life pregancies.  But this was so much more fun.

Mary Shannon is about as cynical as they come.  In the opening episodes of season one it was difficult to fathom how this series could move forward with such a harshly snarky, pretty-much-always-unlikeable character.  Yet she grew on us and we went back for more each week, despite her failed relationship with her sister’s ex-boyfriend Raph, her poor decison-making sister, her cringeworthy mother, and Mary’s non-stop cranky hatred of everyone and everything.  As characters go, she’s pretty awesome.

So some proof that she is a great actress?  This is actress Mary’s third child.  With all the ranting by character Mary about stinky kids and her genuine dislike for humanity, how could the actress be so convincing?  At Emmy time someone should stand up and take notice.

And who would have thought weekly conversations about the increasing size of Mary Shannon’s breasts would be so funny, so real?  And this year, more than past seasons, the writers have created a universal aura that constantly hovers over us–partner Marshal Marshall Mann played by Fred Weller is somehow cosmicly linked to Mary Shannon.  More than partners, more than BFFs, they are soulmates of sorts–Marshall knew it early on, especially when Mary was dying at the end of the first season, but since then he moved on to a live-in girlfriend who seems to be cut from the same cloth as Marshall.  But their bond never goes away, as highlighted at the end of the season finale this week.  Finally, the bitter, grumbly Mary opens up for two sentences in the midst of all the chaos of her life, an Assault on Precinct 13-influenced shoot-out, the denial of how she feels about how she looks, and darned near missing her sister’s wedding when she is the maid of honor.  All for something unsaid to finally be said–to fall apart as a season cliffhanger.  The alliteration is not lost on us, two sides of the same coin, Mary and Marshall, would be horrible as a couple.  But their bond, however unexplainable, is believable, and makes us care about people we might not normally care about.

What can we expect for next season?  The father of the baby sticking around?  The fallout of her sister’s actions on her wedding day, after a full year of upward momentum, growth and positivity?  Mary hauling a baby around town like her failed attention to the dog she eventually pawned off on Marshall?  It is hard to imagine the writers concocting a better season of stories but for Mary McCormack’s real-life pregnancy.  And going with it, instead of denying it, now sets up even more opportunities for both Marys next season.  When other characters’ failed relationships served as Mary Shannon’s foil for past seasons, unimaginably Shannon’s baby played the foil all season long.  For pure drama fans this meant dealing with all the traditional questions every mother must face with an impending due date.  But with a no-holds-barred character on modern cable, this seems like the first time we got to live alongside a lead character of a television series sharing all the unstated negatives of carrying a kid around for the bulk of a year.  The truth of the cravings, body out of control, unwanted reactions of her peers, uninvited advice, suffocating family pressures, and the sweat could hardly have been dramatized in a funnier way, by a better actress.  Up against the likes of actresses like Kyra Sedgwick of The Closer playing equally off the wall characters, it says a lot that McCormack stormed ahead of the pack (actually slightly waddled ahead of the pack) this year.  Poking fun at real life pressures, common angst-inducing circumstances and life’s surprises proved to make a great season of a good series.

Watch for an iconic scene toward the end of this season’s finale: like Sigourney Weaver marching away from a pile of dead creatures in Aliens, or Linda Hamilton walking away from a squashed Terminator, our heroine in flak jacket forges ahead, emerging victorious, on to her next battle.

As a postscript, 100 years ago this week Lucille Ball was born.  Those who watched I Love Lucy when it first aired or in re-runs on Nick at Nite as I did, may recall that Lucy was the first actress to be openly pregnant in an ongoing series.  Although censors wouldn’t let the show say the word “pregnant”–Lucy was “expecting”–it was a first for the growing medium of television.  Since then networks have shied away from a pregnant woman playing a pregnant woman, or even a non-pregnant woman playing a leading role as a pregnant woman in an ongoing series or feature film.  Only Frances McDormand’s performance as a pregnant police officer in Fargo comes to mind.   McCormack did something ordinary this season, but in a venue and way both unusual and interesting.  We can hope for even more fun next season.  Who says there is nothing good on TV to watch?

C.J. Bunce


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