The series is back on USA Network on Sunday, starting with a Vincent D'Onofrio episode. On April 26, Jeff Goldblum, above, makes his first appearance as detective Zach Nichols, the newest partner of Wheeler (Julianne Nicholson).
And while it may tick off some of you who keep rewatching your "Sex and the City" DVDs, I prefer Goldblum to the yet-again-departed Chris Noth. More after the jump.
Back when "Criminal Intent" began, it was basically a how-catch-'em. We'd see who the criminal was, then watch Goren (D'Onofrio) as he pulled a full Columbo -- or Sherlock Holmes -- on the perp. It was intriguing because Goren managed to be both smart and basically unlikable (very much the guy who assumes he's the smartest kid in the room), because the villains were often well cast and because Kathryn Erbe, as Eames, was so good at playing mixed feelings about her partner.
The show has greatly changed. It opts more often for a whodunnit format, Goren is a mess (I regularly get letters from people complaining about what a slob he is), we've seen all his moves before, and even on a half-time schedule D'Onofrio often looks as if he's just reaching into his Archive of Revealing Gestures instead of portraying a full character. And that's pretty much where we are as the new season begins. It's not a terrible show, but it is so locked into formula that -- well, even Eames seems quite bored at this point. Nor is the plot all that interesting; how many times have the "L&O" series done decadent, politically connected families with powerful matriarchs? And in this case, the resolution was less than plausible.
Which makes Goldblum's arrival in the April 26 episode refreshing just because he's not going through the motions. In fact, he not only makes a startlingly cheerful entrance, he does so in such a way as to throw Wheeler off balance not once but twice. We get a little of Nichols' background in the premiere: He used to be partners with Ross (Eric Bogosian), he was a great detective, and he has been on leave for seven years. (According to the USA Network's online bio of Nichols, he left the police force to discover the meaning of life "after September, 11th 2001." So we may learn more about that down the road.)
We also see that he has a considerable skill set but without Goren's arrogance; he's more willing to admit he is confused, if only briefly. And Goldblum is one of those actors who makes you believe you can see him thinking; that worked when he starred in "Raines," and it works again here.
Of course, he is still operating within the "CI" formula, which requires that he sort out the unsortable and, like Goren, provide a nifty resolution in which he outtalks the villains as easily as Capt. Kirk could outtalk any alien life form. But the formula was a little less cumbersome in his episode because we're seeing someone new, and more or less interesting, and his presence makes Ross and Wheeler operate in a different way than they did with Mike Logan. And Logan -- Noth's character -- never worked in the "CI" system because, well, Logan just wasn't as smart as Goren. So the cases for him had to be a little different, the solutions somewhat more mundane. Nichols may allow for some trickier plotting. In any case, I expect to watch him now and then -- maybe even skipping the new Goren episodes while waiting for his.