|Consider Law & Order: Criminal Intent a study in primetime perseverance. The Law & Order spin-off has been in resurgence mode of late and some viewers are beginning to regard it as the best entry in the franchise.|
Nearing the end of its fifth season, Criminal Intent has seen a boost in both creative content and ratings and the latter haven't come easy these past two years courtesy of direct competition from ABC's Desperate Housewives. But Criminal Intent holds its own and just keeps plugging away.
To those who've acquired the taste for Criminal Intent, the rationale for the ongoing appeal is obvious: The layered legal drama remains a thought-provoking departure from the other entries in the Law & Order franchise.
Now in its 16th season, the original Law & Order soldiers on with its formula of following one criminal case from the arrest phase to final judgment in the New York legal system; Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, which arrived in 1999, still focuses on crimes of a sexual nature and is understandably a more intense and gritty affair. And Criminal Intent is a sharply different variation on the Law & Order theme.
Criminal Intent's unique style was evident from its beginning in 2001. The difference began right from the opening voiceover ("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. . ."), but became even more evident in the show's creative tack: Each episode focused on dogged procedural police workalbeit from a psychological perspectivebut equal time was devoted to following a perpetrator through the planning and execution phases. Criminal Intent was a field trip into the workings of the criminal mind.
The cops of Criminal Intent were likewise very different. The central figure was brooding Detective Robert Goren, played by film actor Vincent D'Onofrio. He was very well educated and very often employed intricate head games to obtain information from a suspect. Goren was well versed in the arts and literature and he even knew how to speak German. He was TV's new renaissance cop.
Goren's quirkiness was balanced out by his capable partner, Detective Alexandra Eames (Kathryn Erbe). She was more pragmatic, though still extremely capable and devoted to her job. When Goren braced a suspect, Eames knew exactly when to step in, and when to step off. They made a brilliant team.
And the Criminal Intent team worked well for the first four years, but at a cost. When D'Onofrio was hospitalized twice during the 2004-2005 season for physical exhaustion, Law & Order kingpin Dick Wolf made lineup changes for the current campaign: The Criminal Intent season was efficiently split in half, with D'Onofrio and Erbe signing on for 11 episodes and the remaining 11 shows would feature stories built around two new detectives assigned to the Major Cases Squad.
One of the new arrivals was already a familiar face: Detective Mike Logan, portrayed by Chris Noth, more recently of Sex and the City. The Logan character was a fixture on the first five seasons of Law & Order (he was ostensibly banished to Staten Island after punching a politician). Logan is the epitome of a wry New York cop and his return to active Law & Order duty has been a gift to fans of the franchise.
There was clearly thought given to the selection of Logan's partner: Annabella Sciorra as Detective Carolyn Barek, an established criminal profiler who hails from the mean streets of Brooklyn. Barek likely has more experience than Loganshe has two years working at the highest echelons of the FBI on her resumebut he holds the edge in street smarts. Regardless, they're a solid team.
And there again, the show is served well by its own nuances. The police pairings have alternated back and forth all season, and this very weekend brings notable examples of either team working at full capacity.
On this Saturday's rebroadcast of Criminal Intent, Logan and Barek are assigned a bizarre case in which dead prostitutes are being found after falling from the wheel wells of airplanes flying over New York. Working in tandem, the duo's profiling skills point them toward an airline employee.
On Sunday night, it's the return of Goren and Eames on a new outing of Criminal Intent. In the story setup, the body of a former school principal is hauled out of the Hudson River. It turns out the deceased was also a card shark with mob connections, which takes Goren and Eames into the world of professional gamblers.
And Criminal Intent is expected to close their season on a high note. The torch will pass back to the B-team for a two-part episode scheduled to air in mid-May. The episode will guest-star Oscar winner Whoopi Goldberg as a duplicitous foster mother to whom Logan takes an immediate dislike, and vice-versa. The rationale behind the mutual animosity won't be revealed until the final denouement, which shouldn't be a problem for longtime Criminal Intent viewers. They've come to expect the unexpected.