June 27, 2011

The Ballad of Bobby Goren: LAW & ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT


"In New York City's war on crime, the worst criminal offenders are pursued by the detectives of the Major Case Squad. These are their stories."
I've always felt that the Law & Order franchise was the television equivalent of comfort food - it might not be the most intricate cuisine, but when done right, just feels good to watch. And of all of the franchise, my favorite is Law & Order: Criminal Intent, which had its series finale televised last night.

It was never the favorite child of the franchise - Law & Order: SVU seemed to get that title, more out of the prurient nature of its storylines than anything else - but Criminal Intent had several things which - in my opinion - made it an incredibly strong show in its prime, but which had a seemingly fatal misstep.

First, there's the quality of the writing - unlike the main franchise, or even SVU, Criminal Intent seemed to have more of a psychological edge, often wavering between howdunit and whodunit as character study. It helped to have two strong actors like Vincent D'Onofrio (who I want to play me in the inevitable big-screen biography of my life) and Kathyrn Erbe,who were able to create a seemingly realistic chemistry and who consistently delivered when onscreen.

What made Criminal Intent work for me was that, much like classic Law & Order, there was a greater emphasis on character. Recently, I've been watching reruns of the latter through Netflix, and there's a great joy in watching the world-weary Lennie Briscoe made mordant remarks, or the way that an unquenchable thirst for justice would surge in Jack McCoy's body. Bobby Goren was a man of many demons. but for whom the puzzle was paramount. Very few people could understand Goren, but those who did - like his partner Eames - were able to get it. (And which is why Law & Order: Los Angeles is a relative failure - viewers like me don't really care for the guess-which-headline-determined-this-plot-writing, we care about having good characters, and with the possible exception of Alfred Molina, every character seemed a cipher, pretty much plugged in, saying their lines, and moving on.)

Thanks to various factors, for one year, the lead was co-held - and then held - by Jeff Goldblum, who quit when the show seemed in most danger. This was - in my view - a misstep. Granted, health reasons forced D'Onofrio to split the season, and it worked with Chris Noth as Mike Logan. Logan's hot-headed, go-for-the-throat style was a great contrast with Goren, especially when Logan found himself having to "play the diplomat". Goldblum's character was way too cerebral (and as a psychologically-oriented guy myself, that's telling) - his performance seemed too detached, and there was nothing to really grasp.

By the way, Jeff, Nicholas Cage called - he wants his questionable choice in acting roles back.

I know, I'm being a little too snide, but Criminal Intent just ended its run on the USA Network, and is being shown in reruns on NBC. We see, in these eight episodes, Goren struggling through some of his issues in order to keep his job. I won't spoil the finale except to say - it's really not set up as a series finale.

Hopefully, some of you will agree and take action, because I, for one, would love to see a series 11.

Thankfully, I'm not alone.

3 comments:

Pj Perez said...

While I'm one of those who, yes, loves "SVU" the most, I do enjoy "Criminal Intent" whenever I catch it, but my problem with it has always been that most every script feels like it was originally written to be a standalone crime caper, with pieces customized to accommodate the show's format/characters. Mostly.

Rogerogreen said...

CI is the L&O I watch least, possibly for the reasons Mr. Perez states. 
Oh, and I think you mean SEASON 11.

Bev Klumpenhouwer said...

So sad to see Criminal Intent ending. Goren's sarcasm and "invade you space" attitude was entertaining to say the least. This last season with writer Chris Brancato on board has made Season 10 one of the best seasons in a long time. Reminiscent of earlier seasons. I too have been writing letters with the hope that we may see a season 11. Please write your emails to  jeff.wachtel@nbcuni.co.  Vincent and Kate and Dick Wolfe have all said they would like to see the return of the show.