Monday, February 14, 2005

Criminal Intent

Okay, I'll admit I wasn't inclined to like seeing Chris Noth on LOCI just because his presence is a reminder that Vincent will be leaving the series. But I found last night's episode very watchable. Logan and Goren are so different in their approaches and temperaments--their interaction was intriguing. Logan's hard-bitten persona seems to bring out the empathic depth of Goren's sensitivities. The scene in the prison corridor was just great, with Logan standing there like a wolf ready to lunge and Goren desperately reaching out, trying to find a connection to each of the subordinate guards, using his knowledge of their vulnerabilities to turn them toward the good.

My impression is that Wolf et al are bringing Noth in to replace Vincent once his commitment to the series is over. Unless something changes dramatically during Season Five, I feel Vincent will bow out and return to films. So Wolf would either have to end the series on that note, or continue it with another lead, and it seems he has chosen option two. LOCI will be very different with Mike Logan heading the investigations, but if last night was any indicator, Season Five may be worth watching, if only to see Goren and Logan working together.

Perhaps they should have brought in a strong character to balance and play off Goren earlier rather than relying on Goren to carry the dramatic load alone. Who can say? Goren (and Vincent) carried the weight of making the series the success it is. It still is essentially a one-man show. But I felt that in some way Mike Logan's presence made Goren's character stronger and stranger.An intriguing episode, to be sure.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Mike Logan

Much wailing and gnashing of teeth in the Law & Order: Criminal Intent fandom over the announcement that Chris Noth will be joining the series next season as detective Mike Logan, reprising the character he played on the original "Law & Order" series.

I know Chris Noth has his devoted fans and more power to them but I don't care much for him and probably won't be watching "his" episodes. No matter how good of a spin is put on this, I feel it is the beginning of the end, a means for Vincent to ease out of the series by taking the focus of the show off of Goren alone and making it easier for him to leave when he has fulfilled his commitment. I'm probably taking too negative a look at this, but then, I don't really think it will be the end of the world when Vincent leaves LOCI. I don't think he is enjoying television as much as he was and I suspect he has a hankering to have more time to devote to developing scripts and making movies. And if that's what he wants to do, that's fine with me.

Vincent D'Onofrio is much bigger than Bobby Goren (as enjoyable as the character is) and LOCI. The trouble is, many of Vincent's newer fans only know him from his work in LOCI and some seem totally ignorant of the large and varied film career he has had for the past two decades. I have to feel that Vincent is happier making films than doing television. He made a five-year commitment to the series and has always planned to move on after that, not get stuck in a character, even one as much his own as Goren is. He only agreed to do the series in order to work in New York and try to save his marriage. Since that didn't work, I don't know what incentive he would have to sign up for another few years. I don't think he was prepared for the type or intensity of fans he would develop in this role. While he is occasionally flattered, he is more often embarrassed by their attentions. Judging from what he has said, I think he regrets losing his anonymity, his ability to move around unnoticed and private. He will never get that back now.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

I think I am just now starting to deal with some of the feelings that the great "JT" farce engendered in me. I re-read some of my journal entries from that autumn--all the raw emotions--and for the first time allowed myself to feel angry at the manipulation I was put through.

There was some self-pity on the old Rat Patrol group among some of the members who weren't even involved with the "inner circle" but of course there was damned little sympathy for those of us who were deliberately courted, used and then discarded by the impostor. I guess it goes back to the old guard vs the newbies--most of the older members were so possessive of their fandom that they seemed to resent anyone who would join their group and feel they had something to contribute. Of course, the old hens who dominate that fandom have never been open or welcoming to others, but I suppose all fandoms have that tendency.

Actually, speaking for myself, I can admit how predictable it is every time Jules admits new members to our D'Onofrio group. They burst upon the scene all enthusiastic/ignorant about films that we all discussed the life out of years ago, and while this prompts some of the older members to chime in and match their enthusiasm, I find I have no desire to back-track to where my head was three years ago.

At least we have lost some of the posers and post-monsters who were only on the scene in the hopes that Vincent himself would be reading their posts, or staking out the chat room for days on end in the hope he would show up. I can't blame him for cutting back his contacts with the group to a handful of those he has come to trust but sadly that leaves all the newbies out in the cold. But that is his decision, not something any of us planned.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Homicide: Life on the Street

When I knew that Denny was going to be laid up for a while last November, I ordered the DVD sets of Season Three and Four of "Homicide: Life on the Street." I think it only took about a week after Denny's surgery for me to realize that I had better order Season Five (and pre-order Season Six) because we were going through episodes at an impressive clip.

So we have been enjoying the opportunity to go back and undo a great failing of ours--the fact that we didn't watch "Homicide: Life on the Street" with any kind of regularity while it was being aired. Now, thanks to the DVD releases, we are caught up through Season Six and are eagerly waiting for Season Seven's release later this year.

It is such a great series. I don't know *why* I wasn't in the habit of watching it when it was being aired (except that after mid-1995 I was working enough that I wasn't in the habit of watching any television programs with regularity.) The plus side of this is that the episodes are all new to me--with the exception of the "Subway" episode that I have on VHS tape as part of my D'Onofrio collection. Thanks to the DVD release, we can watch them in the proper narrative order which helps us to follow the long story-arcs.

And NBC cancelled this series. I have to wonder what the hell is wrong with them. They already carry the dubious distinction of being the network that cancelled "Star Trek" after three seasons. So I guess I shouldn't be surprised that they pulled the plug on "Homicide" as well. Television networks are ratings-driven, and quality rarely factors into the ratings game. So once more, the fans are left to keep the memory alive.

Anyway, my re-introduction to "Homicide" has made me reconsider the approach that Dick Wolfe has taken with the "Law & Order" series, especially his reluctance to provide much in the way of personal glimpses of the main characters' lives. This has been quoted as the "no soap-opera" approach and since Vincent endorsed it, most of the fans look upon it as a good thing. But having watched "Homicide" these last few months, I have to wonder if he is right. Frankly, "Law & Order" seems a weak after-image of "Homicide", lacking its freshness and verve. And it seems to me that it is the personal that makes "Homicide" so gripping. Without being sensational about it the writers and producers let the personal side of their characters leak into their professional lives as naturally as it does in real life. These personal asides are skillfully played. We aren't hit over the head with with Munch's abysmal martial history or Bayliss's background of abuse, but the past is there and in the appropriate places add just the right touch of humor or depth needed to make one care about the characters. That is one facet that made "Homicide" not a good television series, but a great one. Far from being "soapy" or trite or overblown, the mix of personal and professional made the characters three-dimensional and convincing.

By comparison, the "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" characters work in a vacuum, with just the odd snippet of dialogue tossed out to fuel fannish speculations. Most of the time, I'm not sure if what Goren is tossing out for us is true or if he is just "playing" the suspect. I'll admit, the mystery was intriguing for the first season. But once the series won some respectable ratings and developed an active fan base, it seemed that every twitch and nuance of Goren's was being dissected and worried over and twisted and re-interpreted ad nauseum. After a few years, it gets tiring. Would it kill Dick Wolfe to let the viewer have some simple facts (does Bobby have a brother? A sister? Does Eames have a steady beau?) and to see Bobby relaxing at home in his sweats or Eames jogging in the park? The lack of the personal doesn't add enough to the characters' mystique to counteract the bland, two-dimensionalness it also engenders. And poor Deakins and Carver--they are ghosts behind the scenes--their parts shrinking with every season until they will doubtless be gone by next year.

Of course, with Vincent taking his out after Season Five, the show pretty will die or transform into something else by 2007. If the powers-that-be would have invested in some *good* writing, they might have built something that could survive after D'onofrio's exit. As it stands now, the series is a one-man show with a definite shelf-life.

I don't think it would hurt all concerned to study what made "Homicide" such a classic series.