Law & Order: Criminal Intent: The First Year (review)

Dick Wolf’s Law & Order empire expands again with Criminal Intent, his modern-day take on Sherlock Holmes. CI swings the focus around to delve into the mind of the criminal, devoting far more time to the psychology of the law-breaking mind than do the other L&Os — but, in the tradition of Conan Doyle, the detective is as fascinating as the people he’s investigating. Vincent D’Onofrio makes Detective Robert Goren, a criminal profiler, a twitchy mélange of intense intelligence and charismatic personality — it’s almost merciless, how D’Onofrio rivets the viewer’s attention. Along with his Watson, Detective Alex Eames — played with a subtle humor by Kathryn Erbe; she and her character each know she’s in her partner’s shadow and accepts it with aplomb — Goren takes on the extra-challenging cases of the Major Case Squad, the ones with particularly devious perpetrators. Like the other L&O series, the mug book embraces the full range of seedy New York, from the spoiled offspring of wealth to new immigrants struggling to assimilate to dirty cops and corrupt politicians. But CI debuted mere weeks after 9/11, and with the entire first season laid bare here, it’s clear that the series almost immediately began to reflect the traumatized atmosphere of New York, with plots turning on the city’s economic downfall, the pervasive fear of terrorism, and religious fanaticism. But perhaps it’s the intimate focus — What deranged personality would commit such an awful crime, and why? — that lends the series its urgent, terribly relevant air.

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