Critics' Picks: Witness protectiveness program

On "In Plain Sight," Fred Weller is more than a nerdy sidekick. He's one of the show's great pleasures

Published August 4, 2009 10:18AM (EDT)

Frederick Weller in "In Plain Sight."
Frederick Weller in "In Plain Sight."

Fred Weller in "In Plain Sight" (Sundays at 10 p.m. on USA Network)

For many of us who first got hooked on USA Network's "In Plain Sight" when it made its debut last summer, the initial draw was the stupendously cool Mary McCormack as Mary Shannon, an acerbic U.S. marshal, based in Albuquerque, N.M., whose job is to help informers disappear via the witness-protection program.

But in this summer's season -- which ends Sunday -- Fred Weller, who plays opposite McCormack as her partner, Marshall Mann, has emerged, subtly but resolutely, as more than just a sidekick. Marshall is a magpie nerd whose head is filled with bits of possibly useless information that he's gathered hither and thither: Sometimes he practices his Elizabethan English on the job; when he gets a ring stuck on his finger (it happens to be an engagement ring, given to Mary by her fiancé), he makes a half-muttered reference to Ringo in "Help!"

Weller's sidelong, deadpan quips have always been one of the show's pleasures. But this season, the writers have given him even more to do, and Weller -- who, like so many TV actors, also frequently works in theater -- has thrived on the challenge. Weller balances every big feeling with a tempering counterpart: In one episode, when his character escorts an aged mob informer (played, superbly, by Martin Landau) to his son's funeral back East, he shows deep reserves of tenderness without stepping over the line into sentimentality. (It's not called the "Witness Protectiveness Program," but Weller plays Marshall as a guy who knows that a degree of emotional caretaking comes with the job.) And in a more recent episode, Marshall lets it slip, with nothing more than a single guarded, heartsick look, that he's in love with Mary. With that one look he captures the essence of the unpredictability of love, and the reality that -- alackaday! -- it's often ill-advised.

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By Stephanie Zacharek

Stephanie Zacharek is a senior writer for Salon Arts & Entertainment.

MORE FROM Stephanie Zacharek

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