June 2011

"Law & Order: Criminal Intent" Comes to an End

One of the most popular and my personal favorite of the entire "Law & Order" television franchise, "Criminal Intent" comes to a close this Sunday night after a 10 year run; 7 years on NBC and 3 years on the USA network. Starring the incredible Vincent D'Onofrio as the complex Detective Robert "Bobby" Goren and his partner, Detective Alexandra Eames, portrayed by the equally talented Kathryn Erbe, "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" chronicled the exploits of the NYPD's "Major Case Squad". Goren's skill as a brilliant criminal profiler, coupled with the snarky wit of Eames and a bevy of great guest stars, helped make the show one of the best police dramas ever written for television.

Fans of the show fell in love with Goren's idiosyncracies; the way he would bend his body and lean over suspects to interrogate them; his now legendary, long running battle with serial killer Nicole Wallace, played by Olivia D'Abo; his affection for his mom, wonderfully played by Rita Moreno and the discovery that serial killer William Brady, portrayed by actor Roy Scheider in one of his final performances. D'Onofrio and Erbe's performances throughout these personal story-lines took the series into territories not usually seen on the original Law & Order' or in the other spin-offs like. "Special Victims Unit", "LA", "Trial By Jury" and even "Law & Order: UK". Criminal Intent's popularity would also spawn an international version of the series in France, known as "Criminal Investigations", ('Paris enquêtes criminelles").

Goren's relationship with his partner Eames is also one of the best on television, well written and handled with care. Their affection for one another is evident, and the way the writers of the show have forged their friendship through the fire of their cases is remarkable. Considered to be the "Dr. Watson to Goren's Sherlock Holmes", Eames has had a few story arcs as well; solving the murder of her husband, a policeman killed 8 years earlier in the line of duty; living in the footsteps of her retired policeman father; almost shooting Goren while he was secretly undercover and being kidnapped by one of Goren's long-time friends. That Eames was able to escape using her ingenuity rather than be rescued, only strengthened the respect for her character. In a world dominated by men, Eames is tough, yet sensitive and Erbe has portrayed her magnificently.

One of the hallmarks of this, the 10th and final season, has been Goren's weekly, mandatory sessions with police psychiatrist, Dr. Paula Gyson, played by actress Julia Ormond. Her questioning and probing of Goren; his relationship with Eames, his family and his struggles with his psychological demons has made for some riveting television. Both D'Onofrio and Erbe enjoyed the writing shift during the middle of the series to explore the personal aspects of their respective characters. Expect some revelations and resolution during this Sunday's series finale.

Beginning with the 5th season, (and to give D'Onofrio and Erbe a break from their busy schedules), the show also revolved around several other detectives, most notably Chris Noth as feisty Detective Mike Logan from the original Law & Order series and later Jeff Goldblum as Detective Zachary Nichols; the only other male detectives besides Goren to co-star in the series. Other actresses would also sub for Eames; Annabella Sciorra as Detective Carolyn Barek, Julianne Nicholson as Detective Megan Wheeler, Alicia Witt as Detective Nola Falacci and Saffron Burrows as Detective Serena Stevens. Samantha Buck appeared in a few episodes as Detective G. Lynn Bishop as Eames' temporary replacement while Erbe was on maternity leave during the 3rd season.

Goren's psychological issues have drawn both admiration (for his brilliance) and trepidation from his superiors. For the first 5 seasons, Goren and Eames had to answer to Captain Deakins, aptly played by Jamey Sheridan and the Assistant District Attorney Ron Carver, portrayed by Courtney B. Vance. Despite the tension, this quartet worked well together through thick and thin. After the departure of Sheridan and Carver, Criminal Intent moved away from the Law & Order courtroom, focusing more on the detectives within the Major Case Squad. With that in mind, the 6th season saw the addition of Eric Bogosian as Captain Danny Ross and a new triad of tension was born. Bogosian would remain with the show until he was killed off in the 2-part season 9 opener "Loyalty", which paved the way for his ex-partner Zach Nichols, (Goldblum) to team up with Goren and Eames to solve his murder. D'Onofrio and Erbe would leave the show for the rest of the season, leaving Goldblum and his new partner (Burrows) to carry the Major Case workload under the auspices of their newest Captain, Zoe Callas played by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. This season, Jay O. Sanders, (who actually played a murderer in the 2nd season opener), came on board as Captain Joseph Hannah, a sympathetic and long-time friend of Goren's from their Police Academy days.

The list of guest stars on Criminal Intent are as impressive as the performances they gave. From veteran actors like the aforementioned D'Abo, Moreno and Scheider, to John Glover, Griffith Dunne, Linda Lavin, Michael Nouri, Judd Hirsch, Rip Torn, Liza Minelli, Whoopi Goldberg, Lynn Redgrave, Michael York, David Keith, Michael Biehn and Brooke Shields to name a just few, or up-and-comers like Elisabeth Moss from the series "Madmen" and even Patti Smith. F. Murray Abraham would also take a turn as as Jeff Goldblum's psychiatrist father, Tony Goldwyn would appear as Goren's brother Frank and Leslie Hendrix would reprise her role from the previous Law & Order series as Medical Examiner Elisabeth Rodgers. She is one of only 5 actors to appear in all of the Law & Order series and spin-offs.

As much as fans enjoyed the eclectic Goldblum, ratings went down and the series seemed doomed until USA announced the return of D'Onofrio and Erbe for one more run. It hasn't been disappointing. Will Goren be able to convince the NYPD of his sanity and his ability to continue? What will happen to Eames? Like Mulder and Scully of the X Files, Criminal Intent shares some of the elements of the tension between Goren and Eames, however, don't expect an X Files-type ending, (I don't see Goren and Eames rowing off to a desert island together). Nevertheless, the writing and stories have been great.

Law & Order is well known for "stories ripped from today's headlines" and wrapping up series neatly, with the door left open for a little ambiguity or perhaps a reunion film in the future. In the series finale of the original Law & Order, fans were left seeing the cast celebrating with Lt. Anita Van Buren, (played by S. Epatha Merkerson), who learned her cancer was in remission. It was a happy moment for fans of the show, especially those who have followed the series from the beginning. I'm hoping for the best for Goren and Eames, especially after all the grisly murders, pathological criminals, serial killers, embezzlers, and even network changes; no two characters in the Law & Order franchise are more deserving of a happier ending. Law & Order: Criminal Intent concludes Sunday night at 6:00 pm and 9:00 pm on USA.


Joan Jeanrenaud and PC Muñoz's "Pop-Pop"

Recently, I came across the album "Pop-Pop", a collaboration of cellist extraordinaire Joan Jeanrenaud, (formerly of the Kronos Quartet) and one of my favorite percussionists, art-funk percussionist/beatmaker PC Muñoz. Described as "an exhilarating mash-up of contemporary classical/new music sensibilities and future-funk/hip-hop sonic aesthetics, Jeanrenaud's polyrhythmic compositions, rendered on both acoustic and electric celli, are paired with skittering electro-funk beats, eruptive drumkit, cajon drums, Hua Pan Gu (traditional Chinese drum), and other percussive elements, making for a refreshing, culturally diverse 21st century sound."

Derk Richardson, Senior Editor of Afar magazine, wrote that "Pop-Pop contains Jeanrenaud’s most playful music to date. There’s a big, implicit grin behind the dance that takes place between the cellist’s percussive bow strikes, pizzicato playing, and swirling arco phrases and the drumming, bleeps, burps, scratches, clicks, mixes, and washes brought in by Muñoz and Lieberman. But this highly re ned music also evokes both contemporary classical and cinematic legacies (Glass? Reich? Riley? Ligeti? Hermann?)."

"And for all the lively tempos, Devo-esque electronic pulses, and edgy avant-rock drumming, a certain darkness pervades many of the tracks. Dramatically ascending and descending glissandos, overlapping mournful phrases from two to six overdubbed celli, a feeling of unrelenting compression and extension, and eddies of dense, shadowy textures all contribute to the inexorable emotional gravity. What pops out from this canny interplay of mechanical and human elements is a complex musical personality as singular and fresh as it is steeped in history and experience."

Working with co-producer Justin Lieberman, the duo tracked the album at San Francisco's Studio Trilogy in a highly collaborative and improvisational fashion. "I had a great time working with PC on beats for a couple of tracks on my last record (the Grammy®-nominated ‘Strange Toys’)," Jeanrenaud notes. "So we thought we'd just dive in completely this time, and also have some fun working with pop-song structures, as well."

"I had a lot of material when I went in to record Strange Toys," says Jeanrenaud during a recent interview with NPR radio host Liane Hansen, "... And I sort of picked what I thought was the best material I had composed over the last several years. This time, I didn't have any material! So PC suggested, 'Well, why don't you just come in the studio, and we'll play around, and we'll just create some music by doing that process, just the two of us collaborating.'"

"Sometimes we'd start with a beat idea....and other times we'd start with a cello line, or an arrangement of a piece Joan had already finished," Muñoz says. "We'd mess around with ideas, and Joan would improvise melodies and themes...then she'd take home the demos, spend some time composing, and return with a piece that we would then start recording for real. It was a lot of fun, and very loose."

"The interesting thing is that when they hear the record, a lot of people might assume that the avant-garde stuff on the album is all from Joan and the funk/hip-hop stuff is all from PC," observes co-producer Lieberman. "But that isn't the case---some of the coolest, hip-hop-like ideas came from Joan, and some of the really out-there ideas came from PC. It was a very high level of collaboration and genre cross-pollination; very exciting to see."

With "Pop-Pop", Jeanrenaud and Munoz have met the challenge of devising new music for cello in the studio, and have come up with some of the most unique and creative music I've heard in some time. "That's why we ended up calling it Pop-Pop," Jeanrenaud says, "because it was the pop record that wasn't actually pop."