As we approach season nine of Law & Order: Criminal Intent the fans are abuzz with trepidation and in some cases even outright hostility at the upcoming departures of Kathryn Erbe (Detective Alexandra Eames), Vincent D’Onofrio (Detective Robert ‘Bobby’ Goren), and Eric Bogosian (Captain Danny Ross) from the series. Cast changes are nothing new in the Law & Order franchise but the pairing of D’Onofrio and Erbe seems to have landed a special place in the hearts of the fans. This is likely due to the fact that the two have been there since the beginning which has allowed their characters to grow and develop the likes of which we haven’t seen since Jerry Orbach’s portrayal of Detective Lennie Briscoe in the original Law & Order series.
Taking the driver’s seat after the two-part season nine premiere will be Jeff Goldblum as quirky Detective Zach Nichols. Goldblum is returning for his second season, this time partnered with Saffron Burrows as Detective Serena Stevens. Well, Jeff certainly has some big shoes to fill and last week I had the opportunity to speak with him about the upcoming season of LOCI during a conference call. I specifically told him about the concerns of the fans and asked him if he had any reassurances he could give the viewers and here’s what he had to say:
"First I’ll say to them, I totally understand you’re upset. Those were as fantastic a bunch of characters as I’d ever seen. And fantastic actors as we’ve ever had individually or together. I’ll be watching for all of them wherever they go. As for what we’re doing, I’m doing my best and I’m enjoying it to no end. And I think the writers, who are terrific, have written different characters but fascinating characters, at least to me."
"I would recommend as part of this grief counseling of the loss of the old show and the old characters, I would recommend that they consider appreciating Saffron Burrows and Serena Stevens, her character. Saffron is such a uniquely beautiful actor inside and out. And wildly intelligent. She’s passionate and she’s been a movie star that I’ve been very interested in for a long time. We did a movie together called Fay Grim in Berlin some years ago with Parker Posey that Hal Hartley directed. And I’ve loved her in The Guitar and The Bank Job and Troy. So I would encourage people to really get into her and appreciate her."
"And then, let me encourage them to get into Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. And seeing her every week. She is spectacular, as talented, deeply, richly talented an actor as there is. And they’ve written for her just the beginnings already of a character that is very—that is not only unique, but multidimensional and colorful and complicated. So I would, as a fan, I would tune in to see those two. That’s for sure."
In addition to the introduction of Detective Serena Stevens the premiere also showcases guest appearances by Amy Landecker who we recently saw in the Oscar-nominated film A Serious Man, and David Zayas who plays Sergeant Angel Batista in the Showtime series Dexter. Ms. Landecker’s character, Wendy Stark, is slated to appear in two more LOCI episodes this season and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio will be stepping in as the Major Case Squad captain in place of Bogosian’s Ross and will be the first female captain in the series.
The two-part premiere, "Loyalty," is a roller coaster ride of emotions that keeps you guessing. While the case itself is convoluted and not particularly engaging, it’s the domino effect it sets off amongst the characters that grabs you and doesn’t let go. Indeed loyalties are questioned and tested and though the ending is not what the fans want I think they will at least be able to take comfort in the final acts of these beloved characters.
But as with any good drama we must endure a good deal of heartbreak before we get there. Goren’s typical unorthodox and oft times heavy-handed investigative techniques lead to the death of one of the three departing characters. It is rare that a television show has made me cry but this was one of those times. The actors do a superb job of portraying intense grief at the loss of their colleague and the subsequent frustrations as the FBI throws wrench after wrench into their investigation.
One of the things I think we’ve come to love over the years is the tenacity of the Major Case Squad members and this premiere is no exception to that. They work tirelessly and to the detriment of themselves to bring justice to light and in doing so hard choices are made, choices that will forever change the face of LOCI.
At one point during the second part of the premiere Eames says to Goren, “You’re the best. You always will be.” And while I agree with that sentiment I also agree with Mr. Goldblum that we should give the new cast a chance. These changes aren’t their fault and it was very obvious to me from the interview that Jeff has a great passion for the show. At one point he referenced one of my favorite quotes from author E.L. Doctorow:
"It’s kind of like making a journey on a dark highway road in a car with only your headlights ahead of you and you can’t see, but you can see the road in front of you and you can make the whole trip that way. I like that idea."
I like that idea too, Jeff, and I’m willing to make that journey and I hope you, whoever you are reading this, decide to take that journey as well.
Part one of the Law & Order: Criminal Intent season nine premiere airs on Tuesday, March 30 at 10pm EST on USA Network and part two on Tuesday, April 6 at 10pm EST also on the USA Network.