In Plain Sight (Sunday, 9 p.m., USA) introduces us to a new kind of TV heroine. Mary Shannon (Mary McCormack) is a tough U.S. marshal who helps relocate people in the witness-protection program. It's a bitch of a job that requires a bitch of a personality. Mary has to handle both the witnesses (often nasty criminals) and the folks who want them dead, and that puts her in a perpetual bad mood. All day long she throws out insults and punches, using sarcasm to keep her sanity.
McCormack creates a memorable character, but the script could use fine-tuning. Mary's incessant "pissiness" - to use one of her favorite words - can become grating. And her wisecracks are sometimes just old-fashioned bigotry masquerading as a gutsy challenge to political correctness. The premiere episode's villain is a Native American, giving Mary a chance to tell him that "the great white father back in Washington will go all Little Big Horn on your ass."
The episode also elicits groans when it tries to show a heart beating under Mary's hard shell. It goes all earnest on us, suggesting that she's just an old softie looking for L.U.V. "We all live in hiding," she says in a suddenly gentle voiceover. "In one way or another, each of us conceals pieces of ourselves from the rest of the world."
Pissiness, all is forgiven.
Scripps National Spelling Bee
Friday, 7 pm (ABC)
Admittedly, the kids who make the finals are amazing. But one can't help but ask a question: Why make these smart students waste their time memorizing nutty words that no one ever uses? Wouldn't it be better to apply their brainpower to, say, solving the oil or health-care crises?
To me, the whole thing is simply mastrosniffapoolicious.
MTV Movie Awards
Sunday, 7 pm (MTV)
Every year, the MTV Movie Awards shames the Oscars by honoring films that audiences actually liked. The 2008 Oscars were dominated by grim, pseudo-profound movies painstakingly engineered to win Academy Awards. By contrast, MTV's show picks cheeky, earthy, shamelessly fun flicks, bristling with energy and eccentricity. The nominees include Superbad, Knocked Up, Hairspray and Transformers, all refreshingly free of pretension. Can you imagine how much better Atonement might have been if it included a car that transformed into a giant robot?
Denise Richards: It's Complicated
Sunday, 9 pm (E!)
Denise Richards never got any respect as an actress, probably because she didn't deserve any. Now that she's too old for bosomy sexpot roles, it's time for the next phase of her career: a tawdry reality series. One wonders if Richards will seem wooden even in the role of herself.
Here, she allows the cameras to record her life as a single mother in Hollywood. You know the drill: picking up the kids from school, shopping for groceries, stealing rocker Richie Sambora from best friend Heather Locklear.
Legally Blonde the Musical: The Search for Elle Woods
Monday, 9 pm (MTV)
This reality-show competition aims to cast the lead role in a Broadway production. And the casting agent is...us! That's right, we're supposed to vote for the best singer/dancer/actress, the one who'll make Legally Blonde a critical and popular success.
Well, this is embarrassing to admit, but we Americans really don't know anything about casting a Broadway musical. Clearly, the powers-that-be have overestimated us. What are they going to ask us to do next - pick someone to run the whole frickin' country?
Tuesday, 9 pm (Bravo)
The reality series has always been a shameless promotion for fitness guru Jackie Warner's Los Angeles gym. In this week's episode, Warner asks us to watch her create a DVD she plans to sell right back to us. It's as if Ronco had produced a supposedly entertaining TV series about the making of a Veg-o-Matic infomercial.
We watch Jackie hammer out the details with her producer, practice the routines, and finally shoot the DVD. The filming goes on all day, to the point where the underlings doing the exercises become exhausted. "I can't do another pushup," one of them says.
That makes us even: I can't watch you do another one.
She's Got the Look
Wednesday, 9 pm (TV Land)
It's yet another modeling reality show, with pouts, tears and weekly eliminations. But this one has a twist: contestants over 35. And you wouldn't believe how enjoyable it is compared to, say, America's Next Top Model. That show asks us to hang out with callow young skeletons who have nothing between their pretty little ears. By contrast, most of the models on She's Got the Look seem like substantial human beings. They've been around the block with marriages, kids and careers, and that tends to make them more interesting.
It feels like spending time with your mom - that is, if your mom had the world's most perfect rear end.