TV Review: Strong Actresses Carry ‘Fairly Legal,’ ‘In Plain Sight’

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CHICAGO – Two of USA’s hits return tonight with the second-season premiere of “Fairly Legal” and the fifth-and-final-season premiere of “In Plain Sight.” Both shows work largely because of the talent brought to them by their lead actresses, a welcome change of pace for a network that can often feel a little bit testosterone-heavy (“Psych,” “White Collar,” “Burn Notice” — all driven by their male protagonists). Sadly, the writing could still use some work on both dramas but no one can deny the charismatic skill of the women at their centers. TV Rating: 3.0/5.0
TV Rating: 3.0/5.0

There was a brief moment there in season two when I thought “In Plain Sight” might actually develop into USA’s best post-“Monk” show. That wasn’t meant to be. The show spun its wheels a few too many times dramatically and never found a way to play up to the strengths of its super-talented star, Mary McCormack. This great actress makes what is actually very difficult look easy. She’s underrated here, perfectly balancing the human elements of her complex character and the mystery-of-the-week aspect of the show. The supporting cast has long been fun but was never developed in the way to make this show more than a diversion. I’m interesting in seeing how the final season plays out, but “In Plain Sight” must be considered a disappointment in light of how strong it started and the skill of its star.

Fairly Legal
Fairly Legal
Photo credit: USA

In the final season of “In Plain Sight,” Mary (McCormack) is forced to balance motherhood, her job, and the mental issues that come with shooting someone as you’re going into labor. In the premiere, Brandi (Nicole Hiltz) and Peter (Josh Malina) are nowhere to be found but they’ll certainly surface before long. The premiere focuses on the return of Mary to work and concerns that Marshall (Frederick Weller) has as to whether or not she can handle the emotional trauma. How will Mary’s arc end? Will she find love? Closure? Happiness as a mother or even just as a daughter and sister? I truly hope that the writers of “In Plain Sight” allow McCormack the juicy dramatic material we all know she handle and that this rocky series ends on a high note.

Speaking of rocky, I’m really not sure what I think of “Fairly Legal.” I know this — star Sarah Shahi is easily the best thing about it. I know this too — the writing isn’t so good. Shahi is beautiful and charming but the scripts for “Legal” are often cliched and forced. This year, they’re trying to give Shahi a more competent counterpart in a trial attorney named Ben Grogan (Ryan Johnson), which allows Shahi to have some “Moonlighting”-esque fun with a new partner but the rest of the supporting cast (Virginia Williams, Michael Trucco, Baron Vaughn) still feel underwritten and often uninteresting. Shahi rules. The show still doesn’t.

Maybe the “Fairly Legal” team will figure out how to build as strong a show around their lead as the best of USA by the time that this series is, like “In Plain Sight,” in its final season. Let’s hope it happens a little sooner than that.

“In Plain Sight” and “Fairly Legal” return to USA on March 16th, 2012 starting at 7pm CST. content director Brian Tallerico

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