That Guy From Jurassic Park Would Like To Ask You a Few Questions
What is Jeff Goldblum doing on Law & Order?
By Nathan HellerPosted Thursday, June 25, 2009, at 9:26 AM ET
Hardworking American, you are having a bad day. You dropped your cell phone in the sink this morning, used the bleach detergent on your colored laundry, got sneezed on while waiting at the drugstore checkout. If ever a person deserved an hour of mindless television, you are that person. You sigh. You wake your DVR. You call up Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Zoned out with New York’s finest, swaddled in your favorite couch pillows, you feel, at last, protected from the day’s unkind surprises. Or do you? Something weird is happening on your screen. You blink, then double-blink. You wonder: What is Jeff Goldblum doing on my show?
That is the question millions of Americans asked, or should have asked, beginning earlier this spring, when Goldblum replaced Chris Noth on the eighth season of the crime procedural. The question has an easy answer: Goldblum plays Detective Zack Nichols, a wily shamus with a murky past who serves justice and limp wisecracks to the city’s worst criminal offenders. But that is not a satisfying response. The real question is what Jeff Goldblum, a guy who cannot for the life of him come off as a gritty, self-serious human being, is doing in the citadel of gritty, self-serious human beings. And why is he smirking? What’s so funny? To see Jeff Goldblum on the screen these days is to be confronted by a topsy-turvy version of the show you planned to watch.
We all know Goldblum is a quirky guy. But it’s rare that quirkiness is so starkly at odds with its surroundings. Law & Order has existed in one flavor or another for just short of 20 years; the recipe is as golden as a Wonka chocolate bar and basically unchanged since the ascendancy of Hammer pants. Our overcoated heroes beat the New York pavement in pursuit of heinous criminals, trawling from lavish townhouses to grim walk-ups and keeping countless coffee carts solvent along the way. Criminal Intent is the series’ most eccentric flavor, blending a high tolerance for idiosyncrasy (Vincent D’Onofrio’s Detective Robert Goren gets more fitful, obsessive, and shabby-looking with each season) with a low attention span for jurisprudence. But Goldblum exceeds even these allowances. The latest season doesn’t come across as Law & Order with Jeff Goldblum cast as a police dick. It comes across as an oblique, high-irony parody of Law & Order with Jeff Goldblum playing both the premise and the punch line.