Monday, February 14, 2005

Law & Order: Criminal Intent

I have another confession to make: I'm not that hot on the Law & Order franchise shows. I don't think I've watched the original Law & Order on a regular basis since before Jill Hennessy left the show. If I see one or two episodes in a year I'm exceeding my usual contact with it. As for the spin-off Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, I can honestly tell you that I saw the pilot and that's it. And that's more episodes than I've seen of the summer reality series sometimes known as Law & Order: Crime & Punishment (which based on what I've read on IMDB probably shouldn't be included). Why then am I writing about Law & Order: Criminal Intent? Simple; I watch that one, and I watch it for one reason, Vincent D'Onofrio's performance as Detective Bobby Goren.

For me he is the show. Don't get me wrong the other regular performers on this show are excellent, particularly Kathryn Erbe as Goren's long suffering partner Detective Eames, but they all play supporting roles feeding into D'Onofrio. His detective Goren is by turns annoying, disturbing, and brilliant. There are little touches that he adds which make you realise that his sanity and his genius are held in a delicately balance. From time to time he stutters - not in a blatant "Porky Pig" style, but just as though he has a little difficulty getting his word out - that makes you think that his brain is racing too fast for his mouth to keep up. His mind is always poking into different areas. He's rarely physical but always active even when he's sitting down. As an interrogator he bores relentlessly at his target, as if it would be a personal affront if he didn't break him. When D'Onofrio is in a scene, and he's in a great many scenes, he dominates it.

Earlier I mentioned Kathryn Erbe's Detective Eames. She's essential to his functioning as a detective. She is friend, foil, doubter, and defender. She is Watson to his Holmes, and the anchor for his mania. Her practicality matches and meshes with his impracticality. In an odd way she even be considered Mindy to his Mork. She completes him.

Sunday night's episode introduced a new component into the mix in the form of Chris Noth's Detective Mike Logan. In November 2004 D'Onofrio fainted several times on the set of Law & Order: Criminal Intent. This led the gossip column of that bastion of the Raving Right (the Right Wing equivalent of the Loony Left, and yes I think both exist) the New York Post to claim that D'Onofrio's "illness" (their quotes) was a direct result of John Kerry's defeat in the 2004 election, that everyone on the set hated him, and that D'Onofrio was on the verge of being fired. (The Post article is available from their website if you are willing to pay for it. This site has the text of the article for free.) Subsequently it was found that D'Onofrio was suffering from exhaustion. It was reported by The Post in late November that Chris Noth would be replacing him permanently. In fact (as opposed to what The Post reported) it was announced that Noth's Mike Logan and D'Onofrio's Goren would alternate as leads in the show beginning with the show's fifth season. This would mark Noth's return to the franchise that he left ten years ago (in 1995). Each actor will do eleven episodes, not unlike the way that James Garner and Jack Kelly initially split the lead position on the original version of Maverick.

Based on his performance Sunday night, I suspect that episodes of Law & Order: Criminal Intent featuring Mike Logan won't perform as well in the ratings as the episodes with Bobby Goren. Chris Noth is an excellent actor but the Logan character is nowhere near as compelling as Goren. Even worse in my opinion would be any attempt to pair Logan with Eames. They don't complement each other in the way that Goren and Eames do - Logan doesn't "need" her to be an effective detective and won't be a better detective working with her. Hopefully they won't just write "Goren" scripts and stick Logan into them. They are two very different, established, characters and if they try doing something like that the series will suffer and this season's declining ratings (courtesy of Desperate Housewives) will worsen further.

As for me, I'll probably give the new entry in the Law & Order franchise, Law & Order: Trial by Jury a try when it debuts on March 3, but I offer no guarantees that I'll watch it beyond the time I need to review it.


Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

Law & Order: Criminal Intent is the one L&O franchise that I simply can't get into. I'd like to say it's because of the Goren character (who's nicknamed "Detective Twitchy" around our humble abode) but I think it's due more to the show's writing and plots, which I don't always find credible. (To illustrate: there was a rerun on Saturday night about a woman who killed herself in order to expose a series of murders committed by her anti-Semitic husband).

Law & Order: SVU (I've been known to refer to it as "SUV") is an entirely different story. I could never figure out why L&O creator Dick Wolf felt the need to resuscitate Dragnet with that crappy revival series some time back because SUV is pretty much an updated version of Dragnet itself. A common trait among television shows is that they tend to run out of steam the longer that they're on, but SUV, to me at least, just seems to get better and better. (Part of my fondness for SUV lies in the fact that it co-stars Richard Belzer as Det. John Munch, who was also on Homicide: Life on the Street--another crime drama favorite of mine.)

The program is in perpetual reruns on the USA network at 8 and 11 weeknights, and I devour those shows like salted peanuts. Oh, and I was pleased when Mariska Hargitay grabbed a Golden Globe this year--her portrayal of Det. Olivia Benson always seems to have been overlooked in the past.

TAS said...

I've seen a few episodes of "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" (I go back and forth as a regular viewer of that franchise), and D'Onofrio is certainly compelling (one might say 'hammy', but I think it's too pejorative in this context). His Goren strikes me as Columbo without the mask of awkwardness, sloth and slow-wittedness used to conceal his laser-like intellect.

I'm not surprised to find out, as I just did from reading the linked 'Post' account, that D'Onofrio is, it would seem, a world-class loon. But I am disappointed to learn that he's getting eased out (what else would you call it?), because his is a singularly interesting character. This can't be the first time an actor has demonstrated themself to be incredibly High Maintenance; I mean, they could make an effort, could they not, to prevent the show's turning into yet another by-the-numbers 'policier' by keeping him on.

Anything that makes a program unusual is a good thing.