When Teeter, a talented musician, is found murdered after a night out with his friends [to take in a spelling bee!] – in a neighborhood composed of several different ethnicities, Captain Danny Ross [Eric Bogosian] assigns Detective Megan Wheeler [Julianne Nichols] to the case, along with her new partner, Detective Zach Nichols [Jeff Goldblum]. As their investigation begins, Rafe, another musician who lived in the same warehouse sized loft as Teeter falls down the building’s elevator shaft. Rock Star, this week’s episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent [USA, 9/8C] introduces Goldblum’s Detective Nichols in a way that allows Goldblum to make an indelible first impression – on his new partner, and on the show’s audience.
Nichols arrives at his first crime scene [Teeter] marvelling about the variety of fine ethnic foods he was able to find on his way to work. Wheeler is not amused, but when she questions Ross about him, Ross informs her that, before he took a seven-year leave, he was, “…amazing. Brilliant cop. Very perceptive.” And notes that both Nichol’ parents were shrinks. Where did he go for those seven years? “He sent me a postcard from Cleveland, “says Ross.
Before long though, Nichols wins Wheeler over with his keen eye for detail and a knowledge of people that allows him to reassure a possible suspect that he’s not one by playing a cool jazz improvisation on the late Teeter’s keyboard. He also knows how to spin his questions when dealing with other suspects – like the musicians’ landlord, Philip, whose band played the third-longest set at Woodstock.
Rock Star showcases Goldblum’s character, but allows Nicholson and Bogosian plenty of room to perform as well – though it’s likely that Goldblum’s Nichols will assume the lead role on future investigations. The character may remind of Goldblum’s last series, the brilliant – of too hip for the room – Raines, though minus that character’s imagined conversations with the victims whose murders he was trying to solve. Nichols has that same intensity and ability to learn about people without actually appearing to be doing anything.
Where Vincent D’Onofrio’s Detective Goren is a riff on Sherlock Holmes, Goldblum’s Nichols might be analogous to Freud – Goren is a facts guy, while Nichols is all about motive. The one thing they have in common is that no detail escapes them. They differ in their method of using those details. I expect that Detective Wheeler’s primary concern, in future eps, will be grounding Nichols in much the same way that Detective Eames keeps Goren grounded – and like the Watson of Conan Doyle’s original stories, provide a certain toughness and resourcefulness that will keep Nichols on track.
If Rock star is any indication, Law & Order may be about to hit a creative peak. Not bad for a show in its eighth season!
Final Grade: A