I have really been remiss in not praising the heck out of Law & Order: Criminal Intent
to my readers. I was pretty skeptical, but I have been very, very satisfied with this season, after its really rough beginning.
To recap, sometime after season eight, the suits elected to dispense with almost all of the regular cast and hand the reins over to Jeff Goldblum, who appeared in eight episodes last year as Det. Zach Nichols. There was some vocal outcry over the firing of the much-loved Vincent D'Onofrio, Kathryn Erbe and Eric Bogosian. Episode one of the new season, setting the stage for the new state of affairs, was nevertheless pretty damn great, especially in what I'd say was D'Onofrio's last scene of real genius, arguing his way past the FBI after Captain Ross's body is discovered.
Unfortunately, part two of the story was a colossal letdown and disappointment, and the next two episodes, following D'Onofrio and Erbe's departure, were as bad and bland as Law & Order
has ever been. Honestly, episode four, "Delicate," almost made me not come back for episode five. I can only describe it as a feeble reimagining of the Parker-Hulme relationship from Heavenly Creatures
recast in a dance school. Interestingly, both of the episodes that I did not like at all were scripted by writers who almost immediately turned in far, far better stories: "Gods and Insects" and "Love Sick."
The last six episodes of Criminal Intent
have been just amazingly entertaining. It's been stark, horrifying, really intense television. Last week's episode, "Traffic," expertly revisited the old series hallmark of using a pretitle sequence that presents fractured glimpses of the characters and situations that are about to come crashing together, and did it extremely well, with a humdinger of a twist when their material witness gets shanked in prison. Last night's tale, "Disciple," was a headspinner which crossed between New York and Illinois as Nichols and Stevens' initial suspicion that somebody's trying to copycat the Son of Sam gets derailed when they learn somebody's actually copycatting a serial killer who was just executed.
Saffron Burrows is doing an excellent job as Stevens and has really sold me after my initial skepticism (I was really liking the chemistry last year with Julianne Nicholson's Det. Wheeler) but how damn amazing is Goldblum as Nichols? Last season he was fun, but his character quirks were sometimes more than a bit goofy. It's no wonder some L&O fans started wincing, as it looked exactly like he was mugging for the USA Network's "Characters Welcome" campaign. But what he's doing this year is much more subtle and dark.
Overall, this is flatly one of the best shows on television, and the last six episodes have easily been as good as the show's best years (seasons two through four, if I'm to judge). It's a shame that they opened with such a hiccup, but if the producers can keep up this level of intensity on a week-to-week basis, they deserve some serious praise for turning a flagging show around into something incredibly memorable.
(The image was copied from the really, really
detailed L&O blog All Things Law & Order
, which is certainly worth a look.)