When new episodes of "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" begin on USA Network on Sunday, they soon enough show that this series has completely lost its way -- and not just because Vincent D'Onofrio's Goren is looking more like Orson Welles by the day ...
Sunday's episode, "Purgatory," picks up after Goren's suspension, as he wonders if he can redeem himself with the department. This whole tortured-Goren thing has struck me as a way to keep D'Onofrio interested in playing the character, but it's taken the show away from its core premise: that of a master detective solving complicated crimes. In the show's early years, Sherlock Holmes was often brought up as a Goren prototype. And yes, Holmes had his flaws, but Sunday's episode is so burdened by the Goren story -- and a not very interesting crime involving it -- that it sags and drags. About the only good moment comes late, when Eames (Kathryn Erbe) has a few words for her partner; they're good words but, again, they belong in a different show.
There's also an odd bit of casting that threw me during "Purgatory." Dean Winters, of "Rescue Me" and "Oz" fame, plays a cop who draws Goren into his schemes. Winters also played, briefly, a detective on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit." Since the "L&O" universe has often moved characters around, I wondered if Winters was supposed to be playing his old character again -- and that his use of another name was meant to suggest that Winters' character was undercover. The bottom line is that that was a lot of overthinking, but it was still a distraction that could have been avoided with different casting.
Speaking of casting, in the June 15 episode of "CI," duly note the brief promotional appearance by Mary McCormack as her character from USA's "In Plain Sight." Utterly useless.
That episode, called "Contract," focuses on Logan (Chris Noth) and the newly returned Wheeler (Julianne Nicholson). If I'm charting the places "CI" went wrong, I have to put a big star next to the show's bringing in Logan -- Noth's character from the original "CI" -- supposedly to ease the burden D'Onofrio felt from carrying the show every week. While Logan fit nicely in the original "L&O," that never suggested he was a crime-solving brain. On "CI," his cases have felt more pedestrian, and his confrontations with perps nowhere near as engaging as Goren's.
Anyway, "Contract" is muddled, an invocation of the movie "Sweet Smell of Success" but also a reworking of the scandal where a New York Post gossip columnist was accused of extorting money from one of his gossip subjects. The cast is intriguing -- Jeff Gaspin, Illeana Douglas, Furio from "The Sopranos" -- but the story is weak and the finale absurd. "CI" has already been picked up for another season, but it's clearly running out of inspiration.