Law & Order: Criminal Intent keeps going and going…


“Why are you a cop?”
“Because I like it, and I’m good at it, and that kid is a killer.”

Returning for its eighth ((!)) season this Sunday, April 19 at 9/8c, Law & Order: Criminal Intent doesn’t have the cachet of its sister or the mothership, but it keeps trudging along at a high level of competency. Originally built around the mesmerizing performance of Vincent D’Onofrio, the workload on him proved to be too great, so an ingenius solution was devised. L&O vet Chris Noth was brought in to take lead on alternate episodes, halving D’Onofrio’s burden.

That worked successfully for three seasons, swapping cases back and forth between brainy and intuitive Det. Goren and mesomorphic Det. Logan. But Mr. Big was ready to move on (again) and Dick Wolf and his EPs Walon Green, Ed Zuckerman, and John David Coles decided to go another way with Jeff Goldblum.

Giving one of his more reserved performances in recent memory, Goldblum plays Det. Zach Nichols as quirky but believable. In fact, I find the reaction of his partner, Det. Megan Wheeler (Julianne Nicholson), less credulous. Sure the new guy, returning from a self-imposed seven-year exile after 9/11, is quirky and seems to meander when talking to witnesses, but maybe the fact her own captain vouches for Nichols’ ability should mean something? I’m not sure if the problem is with Nicholson’s performance or the script, but her anxiety and protestations come off as rote. Goldblum is gold.

I have to admit I haven’t watched much L&O for a few years now. I’ve never enjoyed SVU, finding Mariska Hargitay grating on her best days, and drifted away from original recipe when Jerry Orbach passed away. As for CI, I stopped watching around season three or four. It wasn’t that the quality of the show had declined in any way, just that I had finally reached a saturation point on the whole franchise after so many years of being a fan.

Both the season premiere – a Goren episode – and the second episode introducing Det. Nichols are solid, entertaining hours with just enough twists to keep interest from flagging during the few moments D’Onofrio or Goldblum are off screen. As for when they are on screen, in those moments plot no longer matters. L&O:CI is the most heavily character-dependent of the three L&O shows, relying on intense performances from the leads. Their styles are different but complementary: D’Onofrio prefers to underplay most of the time in order to maximize the impact when he begins chewing scenery whereas Goldblum tends to vary amplitude less, rather finding that subtle variation between a questioning and an accusatory tone.

Despite their differences, there is some similarity between them. As Alan Sepinwall said in his preview, Jeff Goldblum was “already a legendarily twitchy performer before D’Onofrio’s career even got off the ground.” But the contrasts are far greater and lend the alternating episodes an interesting rhythm.

The season premiere, “Playing Dead” will be on this Sunday. Goldblum’s first episode, “Rock Star” will air on Sunday, April 26.