By Ken Tucker
July 15, 2009 at 04:00 AM EDT
Will Hart/USA Network

While I’m not sure if Jeff Goldblum’s hands are gigantic or his head is unusually small, when his Det. Zack Nichols buries the latter in the former, his face disappears completely on Law & Order: Criminal Intent. And I’m not making fun of Goldblum’s body. Indeed, part of his fascination as an actor has always been the way those long fingers gesture so tantalizingly as his doleful eyes pierce the screen.

His honking articulation has rendered Goldblum a brainy eccentric in everything from Jurassic Park to The Fly, but Law & Order now grounds the actor’s quirks: Nichols feigns peculiarity while thinking furiously, solving the crime as he bats his eyelashes at a suspect. Goldblum’s small-scale triumph here coincides with a new blip of prominence. He turned a real-life death rumor into a witty bit on The Colbert Report, and all his recent talk-show appearances have been droll hoots.

In the great tradition of L&O female leads, costar Julianne Nicholson as Det. Megan Wheeler is obliged to spend lots of time gazing at her costar with a mixture of awe and impatience. But like Kathryn Erbe, who subtly outacts Vincent D’Onofrio on Criminal Intent‘s alternating weeks, Nicholson frequently steals scenes with her tart line readings and cutting glances.

Together, Goldblum and Nicholson are my favorite of the current Law & Order teams. The shows’ plots? Eh — by now we know the ripped-from-the-headlines formula; it?s the acting we zero in on. And add Eric Bogosian doing Crusty Old Boss as daredevil performance art, and you’ve got a helluva good cop show. B+

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