The highs and lows of "Law and Order: Criminal Intent" on USA.
If you, like me, bit your fingernails anxiously awaiting the debut of Law and Order: Criminal Intent on USA, then the first thing you heard, as you sat on the edge of your couch, waiting to see what was to befall your beloved orphan of NBC, was the revamped theme. And you felt a sinking feeling inside, as the opening strains of the familiar L&O came on, seemingly played on the same cheap synthesizer that played the theme to Miami Vice.
A thousand horrors crossed your mind, as the butchered theme played. Would the show suck as badly as the new theme? Would the gorgeous, on location New York photography that has been the trademark of the entire L&O franchise be replaced by the cheap, overly lit look of other USA productions? Would the “doink-doink” or whatever the hell that noise is be there? Would the stories suck?
To the point, would Law and Order: Criminal Intent die on USA instead of NBC, the victim of declining ratings and poor production?
If you are looking for the answer here, I’m afraid I can’t help you. The jury is hopelessly deadlocked.
The problem is not the photography, which thankfully, looks great. The doink-doink is gone, but I don’t miss it, anyway. And I’ll get over the theme, with the help of my mute button. That leaves but two elements: the characters and the stories. And that’s where the jury is hung.
What set L&O:CI apart, not only from the other L&O shows, but to the 1000 other crime shows on TV, was the writing. Even when the stories were implausible, and even the most ardent lover of L&O:CI would admit that they sometimes were, they were somehow more intricate and clever than the stories on other crime shows. And the characters, even if you see very little of their personal lives, were always finely-drawn; even the most incidental character on an episode of L&O:CI seems real.
When the show moved from NBC to USA, from A-list to B-list, if you will, the stories were the element of the show that I feared would suffer most. What I have found, however, after viewing the first four episodes of the season, is that the stories are only suffering if you are Chris Noth.
I was not disappointed by the first episode. If you missed it, the episode’s crime was tied to the death of Detective Alexandra Eames’ husband, who was also a cop, years before. It was an exceptionally well-written episode that actually gave Kathryn Erbe, who heretofore has been relegated to playing foil to Vincent D’Onofrio’s Detective Robert Goren, something to do besides, well, be Goren’s foil.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that “Amends” was one of the best episodes of the entire series. While the perp was identifiable half-way through the show, it didn’t matter because the story was so good, and D’Onofrio and Erbe were fantastic.
The second episode with the Goren and Eames characters was equally as good; in fact, the incidental characters were even better written than those on “Amends,” which stuck more closely to Eames and Goren. If you want to know anymore about this episode, titled “Smile,” look it up on IMDB, because that’s not what I’m here for.
What I am here for is to rant – is USA trying to either a) get rid of two extra salaries by eliminating Chris Noth and his partner of the week or b) trying to woo D’Onofrio and Erbe by achieving A?
If you are new to L&O:CI or confused thus far, here’s a little background: a couple seasons ago, Chris Noth’s Detective Mike Logan character, late of the original L&O, was introduced to CI to relieve D’Onofrio of what I can only assume is the unbearable burden of playing a savant like Goren. Since then the show has rotated between Goren and Eames and Logan and whomever his partner of the moment is (he’s had a new one almost every season).
So the first episode featured Goren and Eames, and the second, “Seeds,” featured Detective Mike Logan and his partner of the moment. No biggy, right? Only this season, Logan has been saddled with has got to be the most annoying character to ever grace any of the L&O shows (including the venerable Benson and Stabler from SVU), and Noth some of the worst stories in the history of any of the L&O shows.
I don’t know if Logan’s new partner, Det. Falacci, played with all the subtlety of fingernails on chalkboard by Alicia Witt, is a victim of writers who despise this character or Witt herself. All I know is this: Falacci looks and behaves like an obnoxious 17 year old. She squawks. She is supposed to be some kind of genius, a “closer” so we’re told, but we’ve yet to see her skill at anything more than pissing off every other character she comes in contact with.
As if having to cover your ears every time Falacci opens her egregious mouth wasn’t enough, the two episodes featuring Logan and the harpy have not been nearly as well written as the two that have aired with Goren and Eames.
We have tawdry sexual crimes that ostensibly should have gone to the goons at SVU. The perps are so poorly drawn that we have no idea what their motivation is. But then the stories make no sense, either, i.e. “Seeds,” in which the entire crime hinged on a motive that was either too contrived or improbable, I haven’t decided which, and was so convoluted that I can’t even begin to outline it here. Good thing we have Eric Bogosian as the squad captain doing little recaps every few minutes on the episodes with Logan and Falacci, or we’d be up the creek.
Speaking of “Seeds,” it also afforded (affronted? You decide.) viewers a sure-to-become-a-classic scene in which a victim’s son/suspect refers to redheaded Falacci as “firecrotch.” Ah, the eloquence.
What’s so insulting about all this is that Chris Noth’s Logan is as good as he ever was on the original L&O. Logan’s character had finally come into his own last season. He was given stories that brought out the mixture of recklessness and honor that made this character so fascinating on the original version. What’s even more contrary is that the photography on the shows featuring Logan and Falacci is superb, and were Falacci not such a hag, then even the uneven at best writing of these episodes would be a little less obvious. So what gives?
Could it be that Dick Wolf and Co. are counting on Noth’s turn as Mr. Big in the upcoming Sex and the City movie will make him Mr. Big Star, and that he will then leave the show? Could it be that USA is positing Falacci as a more female, more irritating Monk until Logan’s last partner, played by Julianne Nicholson, returns from maternity leave? Could it be that D’Onofrio, despite his increasingly uncanny resemblance to Orson Welles, has decided that playing Bobby Goren is not so wearisome after all, and wants the show all to himself again?
I don’t know. Maybe that’s a story for the flagging mothership, the original Law and Order, if and when it ever returns to NBC’s schedule – which of the nefarious perps is poisoning Law and Order: Criminal Intent?