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Law & Order: Criminal Intent - The First Year

Universal // Unrated // October 21, 2003
List Price: $59.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Jeffrey Robinson | posted August 27, 2004 | E-mail the Author
The Movie

Run Time: 16 Hours 11 Minutes

When I first sat down to watch Law & Order: Criminal Intent - The First Year I was pretty excited. However, after the first few episodes, I was sorely disappointed. My disappointment came from the show lacking the same appeal of the show's ancestor. Instead of a unique balance of criminal investigations and the legal proceedings that follow, we were given something else, more or less a mystery solving Sherlock Holmes detective named Robert Goren. Needless to say, I was expecting Law & Order. Eventually the purpose, and most importantly, the angle of Law & Order: Criminal Intent came to me. No longer did I find the show to be disappointing, but rather a little exciting. Still, the show had its fair share of other disappointments.

Unlike the original Law & Order series, Law & Order: Criminal Intent has a rather small cast. The reason is simple, because it's not Law & Order. The small cast of Law & Order: Criminal Intent sets the show up to have a Sherlock Holmes mystery appeal. At first this approach works well, but after a while, it doesn't seem to fit well. Detective Goren (Vincent D'Onofrio), the main focus of the show at first comes off as a brilliant young man, with a strength for solving crimes where others would fail. However after a while, Goren seems to know a little too much about everything. While probabilistically impossible for a person to be as intelligent as Goren, I suppose if you were as dedicated to law enforcement as he, anything is possible. What happens with Goren being a complete genius, it makes the rest of the cast look pretty useless. At times, you'll wonder why they even included the rest of the cast. Additionally, Goren seemed to get overly dramatic and a bit too involved in every case. While he conducts his presentation excellently, the highly dramatic overzealous appeal loses its touch after a few episodes.

Goren's partner Alexandra Eames (Kathryn Erbe) really doesn't provide much for the show. Sure she has a few seconds to shine in an episode or two, but there's just so little focus on her to really become a strong character. Their boss, captain James Deakins (Jamey Sheridan) doesn't really bring much to the show either. His role is very similar to just every other crime drama, which is to say the least, very limited. Deakins pops in and out, green lighting, briefing, and rarely, guiding his detectives. The assistant district attorney Ron Carver (Courtney Vance) shows up just about as much as Deakins. Carver doesn't really come off as a really strong ADA. Compared to the series predecessor Law & Order, Carver never gets the opportunity to make miraculous convictions like Benjamin Stone or Jack McCoy. I'm not trying to say that these actors who play these characters are horrible, but rather that their roles just don't bring very much in comparison to the overworked Goren. This narrow approach to character development seemed to put too much upon a single person. In the end, the show is left feeling a little dry, predicable, and sometimes, not very exciting.

Similarly, each episode seems to end with some dramatic dialogue with the perpetrator and Goren. In most cases, this leads to a break down, an unraveling of the crime, if you will. This effect strongly resembles the mystery master Columbo, but of course, Goren is nothing compared to the old detective.

Despite my somewhat harsh criticism of the show's limited character development and repetitive approach to mystery and crime, there are still some very entertaining episodes in the first season. One of my favorite episodes from this season includes "The Insider". In this wonderfully thrilling episode, the FBI and NYPD must work together. Of course both sides have slight issues working with each other. Both sides seem to step on a few too many of each other's toes. The episode also includes some great twists, touching upon my favorites, deceit and corruption. Another great episode is "Enemy Within", which features a solid mind twisting plot an extremely wealthy man who dies unconventionally. There are also some noticeable appearances from Law & Order regulars Jerry Orbach and Jesse L. Martin in the episode "Poison". It's a very brief encounter, but always good to see Orbach on camera.

Sitting through the first season of Law & Order: Criminal Intent wasn't the most entertaining experience of my life, but it was mainly because I wasn't really in love with the approach that the show took to crime, mystery, and drama. There seemed to be too much focus on a single character, which left the others looking fairly useless. Furthermore, some of the episodes seemed a bit too bland and a bit too predictable. For that reason, Law & Order: Criminal Intent - The First Year isn't the strongest series on the Dick Wolf flagship. However, the show definitely has potential. I, for one, am anxiously awaiting future season releases on DVD.


Law & Order: Criminal Intent - The First Year is presented in its original television aspect ratio of 1.33:1 full frame color. The picture quality for the most part is fairly good. Detail is fairly sharp, with only minor effects from distortion and grain. The picture quality is much better than what you would expect to see from broadcast or cable television.

The audio of first season release of Law & Order: Criminal Intent is presented in English Dolby digital stereo surround and Spanish 2.0 Dolby digital stereo sound. The dialogue throughout the entire season is clear and understandable, but it relatively flat, which is expected. There is a slight hiss in the audio track. The sound is complemented with subtitles in English, Spanish, and French languages. The words are in white and are easy to read and do not interfere with the show.

Similar to previous DVD releases from the Law & Order series, there isn't a lot of time spent with the extras. I'd say it's mainly because of the series popularity. What this equates to is that people are going to buy this, extras or no extras. Anyways, there is a single extra presented with in this box set. It's a 21 minute featurette entitled "Law & Order: Criminal Intent - The Beginning". This featurette has cast and crew discussing their experiences and thoughts about the first season. The cast and crew include creator Dick Wolf, executive producer Rene Balcer, and actors Kathryn Erbe, Vincent D'Onofrio, and Courtney B. Vance. It's fairly entertaining, but not the strongest part about this release. Still, I am very disappointed there wasn't more included.

Final Thoughts:
The success of Dick Wolf's original Law & Order series has been so great that there have been several spin-off series like Law & Order: Criminal Intent, which takes a much different approach than its predecessor. Instead of having a balanced focus upon criminal investigations and the legal proceedings that follow, Law & Order: Criminal Intent deals specifically with the major case squad and very little with the district attorneys. This change leaves the show feeling more like a modern Sherlock Holmes. It's a much different approach from Law & Order that will leave those expecting the original series scratching their heads in confusion. While television has seen crime and mystery in this manner before, Law & Order: Criminal Intent's approach isn't really great. There are just too many difficulties with its limited character development and repetitive content that leave the first season less than thrilling. However, there are still enough entertaining episodes that make this season a decent viewing. For that reason, it's a great rental.

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