In two movies, he used the line, “Must go faster. Must go faster.” Once it was because he was being chased by aliens; another time it was dinosaurs. He found himself in the pretend present slipping away to the past and future saving the world from T-Rex, ET. He also played a very convincing insect; not everyone can do this.
Jeff Goldblum’s series of fallible brainiac characters took the puzzling step into the Law & Order family, specifically the Criminal Intent flavor. As the aloof, subtly cocky, yet crime-fighting Detective Zach Nichols, Goldblum appeared in eight episodes of CI‘s eighth season, the final one airing back on August 9. And true to form, he couldn’t just be a regular ol’ perp collector. He also dabbled in being a psychiatrist, rock critic, hostage negotiator, slam poet, German translator, political scientist, and tea snob. His proof of Tri-Lam membership never materialized into computer viruses or teleport machines. Maybe he got all that out of his system. Or perhaps the writers concluded it just wouldn’t be believable for a New York City major case detective to be able to construct his own android, although Jeff Goldblum solving crimes is.
When I first heard the news that Goldblum would join the Law & Order pantheon of detectives, I assumed it would be 59 minutes of “no, no, we’re going about this all wrong,” followed by Det. Nichols catching the murderer in a brilliant conclusion. After all, going about it all wrong is his characters’ M.O., ergo, the wrong way is actually the correct path. (This is similar to how I learn a city’s street grid, actually; by perpetually getting lost, I understand the neighborhood.)
Sure, Nichols chased his tail a couple times, as do many of these crime shows, but in a very self-aware approach, his partner Det. Wheeler (Julianne Nicholson) and superior Captain Ross (Eric Bogosian) often hinted at Nichols’ — and the Goldblum patented collection of neurotic characters’ — thirst for defiance and need to be just slightly smarter than everybody else in the room. In the season finale episode “Revolution,” Nichols began reading though an old article in a German newspaper, going back and forth between Deutsche and English. Hey, of course a detective played by someone raised orthodox Jewish knows fluent German. Why wouldn’t he?
In this fashion, Goldblum’s character becomes slightly larger than life, almost superhuman. But holding him back from becoming a high-profile crimefighter is the fact that the detective is just so freaking egotistical.
Why isn’t the guy who helps everyone with their math homework the most popular guy in the class, apart from the acne? Because he corrects everyone’s grammar during conversation. For a nerd, that’s all too familiar. Nichols may be a sleuth, but he doesn’t fit the hard-boiled archetype, whose scotch and cigarettes are the satisfying end to “all in a day’s work.” Who knows what Nichols’ hobbies are. I like to think it’s reading hieroglyphics.
Complementing Nichols on the other eight episodes was the tandem of Det. Goren (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Det. Eames (Kathryn Erbe), a more “traditional” team of detectives that can solve a criminal psyche in just under an hour. And it worked well. To give Goldblum his own crime drama would probably be overdoing it. But in a series that had just about every other character, the nerd is finally represented in the show’s hall of protagonists, and it’s blindingly close to the truth.