Jeff Goldblum’s wild-eyed, mad genius mode — think “Jurassic Park” — turns out to be a perfect fit for the Sherlock Holmes/Columbo variant on “Law & Order’s” procedural template, “Criminal Intent.” Replacing Chris Noth in trading off with Vincent D’Onofrio as the Major Case Squad’s other intellectual investigator, Goldblum’s Zach Nichols has all the necessary attributes — brainy, eccentric and willing to bend rules to trip up a perp. “CI” generally remains the least consistently interesting of the “Law” trio, but introducing another new face should breathe a bit of life into its familiar cat-and-mouse format.
Because “Criminal Intent” doesn’t hide who the killer is, the USA show often amounts to 40 minutes of gamesmanship between the criminal and his dogged pursuer, while throwing viewers off-balance with various dips and twists.
Paired with Det. Wheeler (Julianne Nicholson, alternating with Kathryn Erbe in the sidekick role), Nichols is described by the squad’s Capt. Ross (Eric Bogosian) as brilliant and quirky, and immediately lives up to that billing investigating his first case, in which young musicians start turning up dead — with one of them apparently so eager for fame he’ll literally kill for it.
Goldblum’s deft touch with rapid-fire delivery makes him a particularly good choice for the show’s cerebral brand of crime drama, although as a consequence, that approach tends to leave the secondary detective with even less to occupy her in most episodes than the flagship hour’s assistant DAs.
The one shame for Goldblum admirers is that the “Law” franchise is inherently confining from a performer’s perspective, inasmuch as the law enforcers’ emotional lives dribble out sparingly as they go about the task of doing justice. So after starring in a pair of NBC dramas that gave him considerably more room to spread his lanky wings — the pilot “War Stories” and short-lived copshow “Raines” — the actor is somewhat limited by the program’s fairly rigid parameters.
Then again, as they say in the rock world, a gig’s a gig. And to borrow a line from an earlier Goldblum movie, for those that enjoy seeing him work, be content. Be very content.