Created by Dick Wolf
Featuring Vincent D’Onofrio, Kathryn Erbe, Jamey Sheridan and Courtney B. Vance
In television box set reviewing, the worst offenders are those who saddle good series with bland releases. These are their stories.
The gimmick that separates Criminal Intent from its L&O brethren is a focus on the criminals and victims, fleshing out their characters and showing their actions. The show becomes less about solving the mystery and more about watching the perpetrators squirm, resist and even break down against the force of the truth. Or at least as much of it that can be done in single individual episodes.
I personally enjoy procedural series. It’s fun to follow the good guys do the leg work to figure out how to defeat the bad guys within the rules that said bad guys blatantly ignore (i.e. The Law). Criminal Intent in particular does a great job with Detective Robert Goren (D’Onofrio) analyzing the motives and motivations behind the villains and breaking them down legally and mentally. The variety of murders and murderers in the episodic structure keeps this process fresh, although some episodes are fresher than others.
Season four does manage to break out some continuity relevance. First off, it brings back Goren’s nemesis Nicole Wallace (Olivia d’Abo) in an exciting continuation of their back-and-forth bits. This episode, “Great Barrier,” is actually a gimmick episode that upon initial airing gave audiences two endings to choose from: one with Nicole’s death and one more open ended. Thankfully audiences chose correctly even though Nicole’s final demise in season seven is not too satisfying either.
Secondly, season four sees the return of Chris Noth to the L&O franchise. Noth, fresh off his Sex in the City run, reprises his character Detective Mike Logan from the original Law & Order for a one-episode story “Stress Position” about corrupt prison guards. An interesting episode in its own right – showing the criminals being the ones actually in the same system as the police and the victims actually be the labeled criminals – it sets up Noth’s return in the following fifth season as a main detective in the show’s impeding revolving line up. And I enjoy any time a series can recognize its history with meaningful intent and story without seeming tacked on and forced merely to placate fans, just as this episode does.
This season also breaks out some other neat and superb guest spots from Neil Patrick Harris as a timid man lashing out literally (“Want”) and Darrell Hammond as a slimy office supervisor whose manipulations drive his underlings to suicide and murder (“No Exit”).
Of course, the problem with the episodic structure is also generally its strength. With no real thematic string, there’s no immediate need to watch the next episode. While several episodes are stand out, others are simply background noise for multi-tasking (and let’s face it, that’s what all those L&O marathons on USA are good for).
The show is in 1.78:1 widescreen. L&O series don’t typically have any flash or fancy visuals, just steady filming. This is no exception.
English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio sound is clear and understandable, including the famous clang sound.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The five-disc collection comes in three thin cases kept in an open-sided box. The only special feature in the entire set is the alternate ending to the viewer’s choice Nicole Wallace-centric episode “Great Barrier,” which as I said earlier is a good thing that the audience choice went to the one that eventually won.
And that’s it. No behind-the-scenes features. No documentaries. No commentaries. No interviews with the cast, crew or guest stars. No DVD-ROM capabilities to download the clang sound ringtone. There’s nothing in this set to justify fans from buying it after watching it on TV other than simply having any of the episodes.
The fun thing about procedural shows like L&O: Criminal Intent are that they’re great for ambiance. While several episodes in this collection are stand out and worth watching, others are good for simply sticking in the DVD for background noise for multi-tasking. But for the incredible lack of features, you could just wait for yet another L&O spinoff series marathon on USA.
Overall (Not an Average) 6/10
The Series 8/10
The Video 5/10
The Audio 5/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 2/10
Overall (Not an Average) 6/10