Although I think television is an intellectually barren wasteland with idiotic, crude programming, I have to admit I’m hooked on a few programs. L&O; – Criminal Intent is my favorite. A spin-off of the highly acclaimed Law and Order series, it has an intriguing hook like few others. I’m drawn to it like a moth to the flame. The story lines are “ripped from the news headlines”, as it self-proclaims, and the dialogue, cast, settings and balance between the law (justice sytem) and order (police who investigate the crimes) sides are superb.

What cinches it for me, though, is one character in particular: Detective Bobby Goren, played by Vince D’onofrio. In my mind’s eye, he is the modern day equivalent of Sherlock Holmes. Goren sees things, both physical and mental, that the ordinary cop on the beat misses. What might appear to be minutiae to one person, even his attractive assistant detective Eames, becomes the springboard for further evidence to investigate.

When I first started watching this series a few years ago, I recognized his name but couldn’t quite place him. I then did what every red-blooded, curious person would do — I Googled his name for background info. When I saw his credits, I laughed out loud! He was the freaking “Bug” in the movie “Men in Black”! Holy bug catcher, Batman! What a contrast between the cockroach-eating alien bug from outer space and the erudite, polished investigator on Criminal Intent. It didn’t seem plausible, but it is. That in itself says something about his acting talents, by being able to break out of a comically ludicrous role into a deadly serious one. Normally they get type-cast and can’t make the transition between the vastly different genres.

Bobby’s peers, and certainly his precinct commander, don’t quite know what to make of him. I noticed, though, a progression of understanding and acceptance by those around him, particularly his sidekick played by Katherine Erb. In the early episodes, she is almost besides herself with Bobby’s intellect and gestures. He is certainly out of the mold of the average detective. She discovers, along with their commander and the assistant D.A., that for all his kookiness and eccentricities, he blows them all away with his powers of deductive reasoning. Indeed, it’s revealed, through a flashback, that Eames had actually requested a different partner due to Bobby’s persona. She didn’t understand him back then, but is now an integral partner in their investigative forays. They play off each other very nicely.

Goren is a complex, multi-faceted character that possesses the right degree of conflict, both inner and external. The son of a paranoid-schizophrenic mother, he is acutely aware of mental illness and, I think, is fearful for his own psyche — the terrible fear of genetic eventuality, becoming a clone of his mother’s delusional life. The outer conflict seemingly involves his sense of place, as he is the proverbial square peg in a sea of round holes. A likable loner, he draws the viewer close to his world but never into it. The personal enigma becomes him. He can be both physically tough, slamming a criminal around (albeit on a rare occasion) and yet a very compassionate person. Even towards a criminal that he thinks is innocent while everyone else wants to hang the perp.

It’s interesting also to note the character development of those in his department from the earlier to the later seasonal episodes. They are not only more comfortable with his quirks, but understand and encourage his peculiar investigative style. He himself goofs on the various criminals during intensive questioning, always throwing them off guard with his exaggerated gestures and props. He has fully blossomed into a character that you either love or hate. I have yet to find someone who takes the middle ground in this regard.

His tenure on the show will eventually come to end, bringing a sad note to us fans of this creative series. Bobby, we hardly knew ye!

Best Character on “Law and Order – Criminal Intent”