Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Can the 'Law & Order' franchise survive the quiet end of 'Criminal Intent'?

June 27, 2011 7:06 pm ET
by Heather Dekin
Philadelphia Movie & TV Examiner

In 1990, Law & Order started its 20 year reign on NBC as a "ripped from the headlines" show that often surprised viewers with unexpected plot twists. Creator Dick Wolf was the toast of network television. What a difference a few decades make. That show was cancelled last year and most of its spin-offs running out of steam. The latest is USA's Law & Order: Criminal Intent, which ended the series in its 10th season on a subtle note.

Law & Order: Criminal Intent followed veteran Detectives Robert Goren (Vincent D'Onofrio) and Alex Eames (Kathryn Erbe) who returned to the Major Case Squad after a season long absence. Goren was still his unpredictable self and Eames used her quiet intellect to reign him in every episode. Her transition back was seamless, while his was contingent on doing job mandated therapy to determine whether he should still keep his job. The therapist (Guest Star Julia Ormond) goes above and beyond the standard questions to really see what makes Goren tick. She pokes at his demons with a big stick to see what would happen if he was pushed too far. As Goren examined each suspect, he also started to look at his own life and whether his connection to Eames could go beyond their job. Would he be able to keep his job or will he finally go too far where not even Eames could save him?

In terms of conclusions, Criminal Intent's was a mostly satisfying one, except for leaving the status of Goren and Eames' relationship hanging. Of course, the idea of them getting together would've strayed from the L&O formula, but it still would've been a nice ending to see nonetheless. That unanswered question was a doozy to watch, but still not as irritating as the cliffhanger season finale of AMC's The Killing. What made this season work were Erbe and D'Onofrio's tight knit rapport as long suffering partners. D'Onofrio's over-the-top performance was still a joy to watch, even when it bordered on hammy. He had some of the more intense scenes at his therapist's office and some slowburn ones with Erbe. Even though her costar often overshadowed her, Erbe still held her own as the anchor of reason whenever Goren went too far. Luckily, fans were able to have a whole season to say goodbye to the show and their favorite detectives. Law & Order: Los Angeles, on the other hand, was doomed from the start. It was rushed to the airwaves last fall and left audiences hanging for four months before the plug was pulled for good.

It's a shame that the once promising franchise has lost a lot of its procedural steam. The L&O franchise has had a total of five spin-offs that spanned in different departments,coasts and even countries. Now only Law & Order: Special Victims Unit remains on NBC and even that is on shaky ground with two new leads hired to replace Christopher Meloni and the reduced participation of Mariska Hargitay. Can this once strong franchise rise again? Maybe, the popularity of Law & Order: UK will give viewers a new appreciation for the franchise and become fascinated with the British legal system. Only time will tell.

Law & Order: Criminal Intent aired its series finale on June 26th at 9 pm on USA. Check your local listings for when reruns air. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is scheduled to return this fall on NBC.

Verdict: A quiet swan song for the long running show that went out with a whimper instead of a bang.

TV Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars

More article of the last days and the Criminal Intent Finale.

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