November 01, 2006 at 08:54 PM EST

(SPOILER ALERT: If you were out trick-or-treating last night and taped Liza Minnelli’s Gest guest appearance on Law & Order: Criminal Intent but haven’t watched it yet,you’ll want to hold off on reading this item.)

For those of you who watched, however, there’s much to discuss. To me, the most refreshing part of last night’s episode, in which Minnelli played the mother of a JonBenet-like murder victim, was how it served as a reminder that she’s much more than a tabloid punch line. (The woman is an Oscar winner, after all!) The flirty dinner/subtle interrogation scene between Minnelli and Vincent D’Onofrio’s Det. Goren (pictured) — prior to which her character comically tries to disguise a pre-roasted chicken as a home-cooked delight — was riveting stuff. In a few short minutes, Minnelli managed to convey romantic desperation, piteous cluelessness, self-obsession, self-consciousness, all with an undercurrent of deep grief — and often all at the same time. And that exchange was only first runner-up to the devastating closing act, where her character offers forgiveness to the neighborhood boy who thinks he’s responsible for her daughter’s cold-case murder.

So where to next for Liza? I’d love to see her cast in a dramedy about four female friends approaching retirement age. (Perhaps we could fill out the cast with a few other Oscar winners and/or nominees, say Dianne Wiest, Goldie Hawn, and Alfre Woodard?). Minnelli’s certainly got the comic timing (didn’t you love the way she practically slammed the door on Kathryn Erbe’s Det. Eames to score some alone time with D’Onofrio?), and anyhow, doesn’t this generation deserve its own Golden Girls?

What did you think of Liza’s L&O debut? And, putting on your studio-exec hat, where would you cast her for her followup role?

addCredit(“Law & Order: Criminal Intent: Virginia Sherwood”)

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