Televison Review: Law & Order Criminal Intent – Season 8

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After a lengthy hiatus, not dissimilar to the one experienced on this very blog, Law & Order: Criminal Intent finally returned to USA for its 8th season this summer. There seem to have been alot of problems behind the scenes on Criminal Intent; due to some change in the cast and crew. At the end of season 7, the current show runner, Warren Leight, left left the show to pursue new projects. Warrent Leight had taken over the show in season 6 from Law & Order regular Rene Balcer. He brought major changes to the show by beginning to pull away from the law aspects of the show and delving deeper into the personal lives of the show’s main characters (mostly Detective Goren). Being that Law & Order is watched by a large convention of prudes, this became a polarizing trait which seperated many die hard Law & Order fans from the show. With Warren’s absence, would the show continue to work deep into the mess of character development the past two seasons have uncovered or would it return to a more crime focused procedural?

Another major departure from the show came in the form of one of its main characters, Detective Mike Logan (played by Chris Noth). Mike Logan has one of the loggest running characters in the Law & Order universe, being one of the original detectives when the mothership debuted in the early nineties. (They even made a Law & Order TV movie just for him!) Criminal Intent took on an extremely confusing (and possibly illogical) format when they added another set of detectives to the show. Instead of balancing it like Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, where all the detectives would be around, but each episode on focuses primarily on one team; the show decided to strictly alternate between the two teams. One week is team 1, the next week is team 2. Rarely would a detective from team 1 be found wandering around the office during Team 2’s episode, or vice versa. Unfortunately, Logan has always gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to criminal intent. Noth enjoys the idea of playing a straight, regular guy cop and he insisted on keeping Logan grounded; instead of turning him into the supercop Goren had become. I believe that because of this, Warren Leight and co never really dove into his episodes the way they did for Robert Goren’s. But now with Noth gone, they had an opportunity to create a completely brand new character; but would the show keep another regular joe cop around or would they try and create another supercop like Detective Goren?

These two major changes led to several change ups behind the scenes. Jeff Goldblum was brought in to replace Chris Noth. They divided the show even further by bringing in TWO show runners; one for Goren’s episodes and one for Golblum’s. There were reports that Golblum’s early episodes were not working out, and this led to the dismissal/replacement of that show runner. All these changes were inevitably the cause of the delay between seasons. (When season 7 ended, I was originally promised I’d be seeing Goren again in November ’08!)

Anyway, enough with all this pointless back story! How was the season? Well first off, I’d like to say “short”. This is the first season to receive the shortened USA format of 16 episodes. That’s at least 6 episodes less than I’m used to getting. And then divide that in half (8), and that’s all I get of Detective Robert Goren… which is unacceptable. So I’m going to split this review up into two segments “Goren/Eames” and “Nichols/Wheeler”.

law-order-ci51Goren/Eames

Words can’t describe my excitement to see the return of my favorite investigative team. Unfortunately, words can’t quite describe my disappointment. The season seemed completely out of focus and even out of order. 5 episodes into the season, we were treated to an episode that seemed to start where last season ended; with Eames and Bobby both returning from taking some time off. With each episode Goren (played fantastically by the only Vincent D’onofrio) had a different attitude. In some episodes he was really sad and quiet, some episodes he was angry, and other episodes he was almost energetic (reminiscent of the Goren from the first few seasons). No reasons were really given to his attitude. I would understand him being completely out of it, due to everything he’s been through in the previous season, but it’s not mentioned. I would understand him getting over it and moving on, but again, it’s not mentioned. As for character episodes, Goren is almost completely left alone this season. We do find out that apparently he has more family around that he can visit, but I’m not sure what the point of this information was. Was this supposed to be justification for why he hasn’t killed himself yet? The extra family winds up coming off as more creepy than reassuring, and I have no idea if it’s intentional or not. When Goren randomly inserts “Hey, here’s a picture of my niece” in the middle of a conversation about a homicide, I get a little weirded out. We’re also given an ominous scene where Goren returns home and reads a letter from his “niece”. It’s a very depressing scene. He’s in a house all alone, creepy ambient music is playing, and the camera zooms in suspiciously on the letter addressed to “Mr. Goren”. I don’t know about you, but I don’t refer to my uncle as Mr. Goren. The scene was weird and creepy and I’m not entirely sure what it’s purpose was. I think to myself, maybe they’re going to address this later. Then the season ends, and I realize that they don’t.

However, with all of this complaining, that’s not to say there weren’t some great episodes. In the middle of the season we were given a fantastic episode that actually focused on Goren’s partner, Alex Eames. Another episode gave us a fantastic closing interrogation from Goren which brought back great memories of earlier seasons. All in all, this entire season felt completely uneven and unfocused. They seemed to want to ignore the characters and go back to cases; but yet they wouldn’t completely go back to cases. Other times they seemed to want to get deeper into the characters, but they wouldn’t completely delve into the characters.

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Nichols/Wheeler

Enter Jeff Godlblum to replace Chris Noth. Jeff Golblum comes in playing Detective Zach Nichols, someone who used to be partners with Captain Danny Ross, and then went on some mysterious hiatus apparently. If Robert Goren’s episodes were uneven and unfocused, then Zach Nichols’ episodes were just a complete mess. The debut episode featuring Golblum didn’t even feel like an episode of Criminal Intent, and more like an episode of NBC’s now cancelled Life. You’d go from a Goren episode, where Captian Ross acts grim as death itself, and then you transition into a Nichols episode where captain Ross walks around and shrugs his shoulders as if to say “That crazy guy! What’s he gonna do next?”. Nichols wound up one upping everyone in the conversation, busting out some crazy piano jam, and solving a crime that was a little too convoluted (when your big final summary takes over 5 minutes, your plot has gotten away from you). Unlike Goren’s episodes however, the episodes starring Goldlbum actually started to get a hold of themselves and began to even out; which unfortunately meant his episodes wound up being better. Jeff Goldblum brings another supercop to the show, offering awkward wit and sarcasm that Goren is now far too depressing to ever offer. It also seems that USA is making Goldblum the face of the show, putting him in all of their promo spots for the show. I have a growing fear that Goren is going to quickly fall to the background of the show. If this season is any indication, that wouldn’t necessarily a bad thing; but it would definately be a complete waste of a character. Unfortunately, the actress who plays Nichols’ partner (Julianne Nicholson) can’t seem to stop getting pregnant. Remember when she missed half of season 7 because they had to write around her pregnancy? Well, she got pregnant again and they didn’t feel like writing around it again; so detective Wheeler wound up getting pregnant and missing the last couple episodes of the season. Instead of bringing in some random character to fill the gaps, they instead used Detective Eames as Nichols’ fill in partner. This turned out to be much more fun and those final episodes wound up being the best of the season. I guess it would have been too much to ask for a Goren/Nichols team up…

After what I found to be two extremely incredible seasons of Criminal Intent, this season really seemed to dip for me. I hope it’s all due to the confusion of the major changes behind the scenes and that next season they can start delivering a much more consistent season. Jeff Godlblum is definately a great choice for a new main detective and is more than capable of getting a character that can be explored as deeply as Goren. Hopefully Goren can be brought back to the spotlight in the future as well, and if not, maybe he can be reverted back to his usual confident self from the first few years of the show. This is still one of my favorite crime dramas on TV, but if it delivers another season like this, I might be forced to readjust that…

Rating: 6/10

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~ by axknel on August 19, 2009.

5 Responses to “Televison Review: Law & Order Criminal Intent – Season 8”

  1. I’m convinced he(Vincent D’Onofrio) is leaving, as well he should. He’s obviously bored with working, so go be happy back on Broadway or do more movies. Of all the episodes this season, only the Goldblum ones kept my interest, but not enough to keep me watching the show, unless Erbe will be his partner. Put the boy out to pasture, he’s done!

    • I completely agree, however I’m nowhere near as brave to say such a thing. If D’Onofrio left, it would leave a giant hole in the show that I’m not yet convinced Goldblum can replace. I continue to hope that this season was just a dip due to the chaos behind the scenes and everyone can start returning to form next season…

  2. does anyone know if the show has been renewed by USA…and if so a potential schedule? thanks.

    • I scour the internet every day searching for confirmation of a new season. The last I found, I read that USA just renewed In Plain Sight for season 3 and are currently working on a deal to renew Criminal Intent. So I would guess USA wants to bring it back, but they’re going to have to do the usual Law & Order dance where the actors demand more money and the studio says “No”; and then who knows who will be coming back with the show. SVU just went through the same thing with rumors that Mariska and Chris possibly not returning due to contracts; although thankfully in that case, they did wind up signing and coming back. As soon as I find confirmation of another season, I’ll post something.

  3. […] to rest. Last season of Law & Order saw Goren all over the map when it came to presentation (See my season 8 review!) Another thing to think about is the fact that the show is now on USA instead of NBC. USA no longer […]

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