“Law & Order: Criminal Intent”: Season Five

By Jae-Ha Kim
Amazon.com

The fifth season of Law & Order: Criminal Intent marks the appearance of Detective Mike Logan (Chris Noth). Noth originated the role in the 1990 premiere of Law & Order–the series that spawned the popular franchise. This time he’s partnered with no-nonsense detective Carolyn Barek (Anabella Sciorra). The pair are in the same unit as Detectives Robert Goren (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Alexandra Eames (Kathryn Erbe). Criminal Intent purists may resent the intrusion of a new team of detectives and seeing quirky Goren only in about half the episodes, but the addition pumps some new life into the procedural drama. While Goren is a nervous intellectual who meticulously pieces together cases, Logan is confident but reactionary. Logan’s temper has been somewhat tamed from his earlier days on the police force, but he isn’t above tuning up a perp to get him locked up. Both teams work together in a two-part episode involving missing children who may have been abducted by a very high-profile and vindictive pedophile.

The season’s most memorable episodes still are Goren-centric. The season premiere finds Goren matching wits with his nemesis, serial killer Nicole Wallace (Olivia d’Abo). The antagonizing nature of their relationship has been fascinating to watch over the years because they share some similar traits–traits that neither would like to admit they have. Other standout guest stars include Whoopi Goldberg and Malcolm McDowell. All 22 episodes–which originally aired on NBC during the 2005-2006 television season–are included in this five-disc boxed set. One of the beauties of the Law & Order franchise is you never know which characters may be replaced. By the end of the season, several of the more popular regulars will be gone.

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What ails NBC’s’L&O: Criminal Intent’: Wolf’s once-powerful Sunday drama is sagging
By Jae-Ha Kim
Media Life Magazine
April 11, 2006

Just a couple of years ago, back before NBC took its tumble and before ABC invaded Sunday night with “Desperate Housewives,” Sunday at 9 belonged to “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” and its quirky lead detective, Robert Goren.

But that was then. In the time since, “Criminal Intent” has slid, and it now places a distant third in its timeslot. But while it would be easy to blame “Housewives,” which quickly shoved its way to No. 1, the fault lies much more with happenstance and with the character of Detective Goren, played by Vincent D’Onofrio. The babes of Wisteria Lane had nothing to do with it.

As it turns out, what made “Criminal Intent” successful for so many years is the very thing that led to its demise. Unlike the other “L&Os,” and for that matter the typical Dick Wolf drama, Criminal Intent” is driven less by action than character, chiefly the character of Goren and his interactions with partner Alexandra Eames, played by Kathryn Erbe. With his hinky mannerisms and slightly off portrayal of a genius detective, D’Onofrio also differentiates the show from the slew of whodunits crawling around on every other network.

D’Onofrio built the character of Goren, and in time the show grew around him. Goren’s a know-it-all with the goods to back it up. He’s a genius who speaks German and understands the nuances of classical music as well as graduate-level mathematics. Unfortunately, he’s also as neurotic as most of the criminals they catch.

Unlike, say, Adrian Monk, Tony Shaloub’s character on “Monk,” Goren’s not afraid to get his suit dirty during an undercover assignment. Tall and almost lumbering, he can be a menacing figure to be reckoned with and the bad guys seem to sense that he’s just a couple steps away from being a psych case himself.

It was this character that pushed up ratings. Then, two years ago, in 2004, D’Onofrio was hospitalized not once but twice for exhaustion. Suddenly, Wolf had a problem.

In a classic cop saga, characters are swapped in and out — the story, the setting and the pacing being the thing — not the particular characters.

But with “Criminal Intent,” Wolf realized he didn’t have that flexibility. D’Onofrio’s character was too unique. So, wary of outright replacing him, the creator opted for an unusual solution. He lessened D’Onofrio’s workload and brought in Chris Noth, who had starred in the original “Law & Order” series in the early 1990s.

The plan: Viewers would see D’Onofrio and Erbe one week, but on the next episode their characters would be on a looooong doughnut run somewhere while Noth and Annabella Sciorra took over as Detectives Mike Logan and Carolyn Barek.         On the face of it, it was a good plan. Noth and Sciorra are fine actors and extremely attractive eye candy. Keep them on the show long enough and the sexual tension between their characters surely will be the driving force behind at least a few will-they, won’t-they? episodes.

That, of course, was not the case with Goren and Eames. Indeed, what set “CI” apart, among all the other qualities that set it apart, was knowing there was never, ever going to be any hookups between these two. Wolf knew that if they ever did fool around, it would a sure sign that the show had jumped the shark. Viewers would never forgive the show.

It’s not that Goren and Eames are a physically unattractive couple. But emotionally, Eames is too normal for her partner.         And therein lies the problem with “Criminal Intent.” It’s really two cops shows with two sets of detectives — but an ill-matched set. Logan and Barek are traditional action cops and thus out of place on the set of “CI,” seeming uninvited guests when the real cops are off somewhere. It all seems inauthentic, a work-around, so to speak, which of course is exactly the case.

Viewers saw the conflict, and many fled. In the past two years, viewers 18-49 fell more than 20 percent, while household ratings slid nearly 15 percent.

Can “Criminal Intent” be fixed? It would be nice to think so, perhaps with another pair of detectives closer in style to Goren and Eames. But the reality is that the juggling to make it work simply might not be worth it. It may be one of those shows that simply fades with its dignity intact.     

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