Silvio Berlusconi

"In Plain Sight" -- USA's new series about the witness-protection program -- suffers in part from unfortunate timing. After an impressive recent string of cable dramas -- including two popular crime shows with strong female leads, TNT's "Saving Grace" and "The Closer" -- this light-hearted female copshow feels stale and nondescript, while falling short in the combination of drama and whimsy that ignited USA's "Burn Notice."

“In Plain Sight” — USA’s new series about the witness-protection program — suffers in part from unfortunate timing. After an impressive recent string of cable dramas — including two popular crime shows with strong female leads, TNT’s “Saving Grace” and “The Closer” — this light-hearted female copshow feels stale and nondescript, while falling short in the combination of drama and whimsy that ignited USA’s “Burn Notice.” Mary McCormack is equally unimpressive as the flawed, narration-heavy lead, and if “Sight” pulls its own disappearing act, given the evidence, the investigation should be brief.

There’s no polite way to say it: McCormack plays half her scenes in a hoarse whisper, as if she’s channeling David Caruso. Almost unrelentingly surly, she bickers constantly with her partner (Frederick Weller) and exists in a constant state of exasperation with her flighty sister (Nichole Hiltz) and ditsy mother (Lesley Ann Warren, doubling up on her hot-mom duty in “Desperate Housewives”).

Those elements remain the garnish in an otherwise straightforward procedural, with McCormack’s Mary Shannon taking charge of a different character thrown into the program every week. These plots are mostly predictable, from the mob family in the extended, 76-minute single-sponsor premiere to the child witness in the second episode. The third hour improves matters somewhat, featuring “The Wire’s” Wendell Pierce as the patriarch of a suburban family reluctantly thrust into danger.

As written by David Maples, the opener throws in a little bit of everything tonally, including fleeting images of a grisly corpse and having Mary fake an orgasm over the phone to fool a suspect. Much of the dialogue sounds warmed over from copshows past, from “You’re the branch that puts criminals back on the streets” to “How can someone who burns so hot be so cold?”

Balancing comedy and drama within this sort of framework requires a delicate touch, and precious little about “In Plain Sight” achieves that equilibrium. Weller does manage a few nice moments working with small bits like his character’s comical facility for languages, but no one else pops — handicapped either by cliched writing or overlooked in the series’ focus on its pretty-gal-can-be-tough protagonist. (The series does gain some promotional heft from “Dancing With the Stars” finalist Cristian De La Fuente, albeit in a relatively small supporting role.)

McCormack has done fine work elsewhere (the last few seasons of “The West Wing” comes to mind), but unfortunately, there’s not much that’s memorable about Mary.

In Plain Sight

USA, Sun. June 1, 10 p.m.

Production

Filmed in New Mexico by Pirates Cove Entertainment in association with Universal Media Studios. Executive producers, David Maples, Paul Stupin; producers, Mark Piznarski, Randi Richmond; co-producer, Drew Matich; director, Piznarski; writer, Maples.

Crew

Camera, Nancy Schreiber; production designer, Anthony Rivero Stabley; editor, Chris Peppe; music, W.G. Snuffy Walden; casting, Robert J. Ulrich, Eric Dawson, Carol Kritzer, Shawn Dawson. 76 MIN.

Cast

Mary Shannon - Mary McCormack Marshall Mann - Frederick Weller Brandi - Nichole Hiltz Bobby D - Todd Williams Jinx - Lesley Ann Warren Raphael - Cristian De La Fuente Stan McQueen - Paul Ben-Victor
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