Wednesday, August 04, 2010

CRIMINAL Inert; Goldblum Gone

What, you thought that just because we settled the question of whether the original Law & Order was cancelled, and Law & Order: Los Angeles finally has its cast locked, that things had finally settled down in Dick Wolf's TV fiefdom?  Well, think again.  If the last few months have made anything clear, it's that things are never quiet in Law land, and per Deadline, the question marks are now hanging heavy over Law & Order: Criminal Intent, the basic cable-dwelling kid sister of the franchise.  With no word on the show's future and star Jeff Goldblum signaling his departure from the lead role of Det. Zach Nichols, it's beginning to look like the 2009-2010 season may have taken a bigger bite out of TV's most successful brand than we'd initially thought.

Unlike its two progenitors (OG Law & Order and Special Victims Unit), both of which were ensemble-based procedurals in the Dragnet mold, Criminal Intent (which began its life on NBC in fall '01) was initially conceived as a showcase for actor Vincent D'Onofrio's quirky Det. Robert Goren, with its procedural cues taken more from Columbo.  Although he shared the load with partner Kathryn Erbe, captain Jamey Sheridan and ADA Courtney B. Vance, it was D'Onofrio who commanded most of the screentime, and eventually sheer exhaustion forced the Full Metal Jacket actor to pare back his workload.  This led to the novel solution during the fifth year of having D'Onofrio (and Erbe) alternate episodes with actor Chris Noth (reprising his popular Mike Logan character from the first five seasons of the original series).

Noth in turn departed after three seasons, and he was replaced last year by Goldblum, who made a pretty good go at out-quirkying D'Onofrio with his usual deadpan "uh, uh, uh" thing.  During its just-concluded ninth season, Criminal Intent saw veteran cast members D'Onofrio, Erbe, and Eric Bogosian depart in a massive effort on the part of USA to bring down costs and rebrand the show around Goldblum.  In the end, the whole thing ended up a mixed bag, with only so-so ratings and a pretty precipitous decline in quality -- none of which was Goldblum's fault, by the way.  He was fine, but the writing took a nosedive into the bizarre and perverse, and the resultant transformation may simply have been a bridge too far for a show that's been through its fair share of metamorphoses over the years.

As of now, there's no definite word on whether Criminal Intent gets to come back for a celebratory tenth season victory lap next year, but if Goldblum is well and truly gone and not just posturing for a bigger paycheck, then I'd say the show's one and only lifeline is wrapped around whether the producers are successful in luring back D'Onofrio (whose Goren character was fired in the season's second ep).  If no, then I doubt they'd bother bringing in a new lead just to have him turn the lights out after eight-to-ten episodes.  Either way, with the mothership gone, Criminal Intent winding down, and Special Victims likely entering its final orbit soon, it's looking more and more like both the studio and Wolf are counting on Los Angeles to line things up for a new wave of spin-offs, perhaps this time set on the West Coast.  Only time will tell if the gamble pays off for them.

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