My foray into the 1960s-era skies did not last long. Somewhere in the middle of episode two of Pan Am, my husband left the activity due to frustrations with the historical in-accuracies. Myself, I have always been a believer that one can give artistic license to fictional narratives, but I too lost interest by the middle of episode three. Well, maybe I will come back to it sometime in the near future.

We have been watching a lot of Law & Order: Criminal Intent lately. The series I believe to be the third in the Dick Wolf catalog of police dramas has always been my favorite. Maybe not always, but when I gave the show just a little attention, I was slowly mesmerized by the intricate plot-lines and the idiosyncrasies of the lead character. From time to time, I am not certain if the peculiarities of Robert Goren are more Vincent D’Onofrio than fictional: while I think the actor is near genius, sometimes I do see that guy on the edge of sanity that he spectacularly portrayed in Full Metal Jacket, just a smarter, older version.

Happily I found a DVD at the video store the other day. CI is not the most popular of the L&O series and I did not expect to find it here in Switzerland, but low and behold there was “New York – Section criminelle” season 2 for only CHF 29.99. These early seasons are such a pleasure to watch, as the actors and writers are enjoying the development of the main characters and their relationships.

I believed the series held up even when the cast changes and additions began, although I did miss ADA Carver when he left. As the series progressed, it got so bogged down with the “will he or won’t he lost it” theme regarding Detective Goran and his family history of mental illness. The back-story never quite developed into a real story arc, but rather it always seemed like an easy emotional device used by the writers. Vincent D’Onofrio had the range to pull it off, it did push the boundaries of believability.

Television here in Switzerland is such an odd mixture of programming: unlike many other countries, the national networks often broadcast television in two languages, the original or V.O. and the dubbed version on different audio channels. Some U.S. television programs from the 1970s, like Starsky and Hutch and Charlie’s Angels are still rerun. Another common staple is Columbo. I never watched Columbo when it was first-run, but I do watch it occasionally these days.

There is no doubt in my mind that Detective Robert Goren is a direct descendant of Lieutenant Columbo. Columbo is the bumbling and disheveled detective, always under-estimated and continually dismissed by those he is investigating. He has his own mannerisms and habits, like wearing the overcoat that at least one time got him mistaken for a homeless person, and making references to his wife (who I imagine, while I have not seen most of the series’ episodes, is one of those TV characters who is often talked of but never seen).

The most obviously striking connection is the way both detectives make themselves a nuisance to the those they are investigating, repeatedly appearing at inopportune times to ask a few questions, touching and handling items to the frustration of their owners, just plain “getting in the way”. Both detectives have that uncanny knack of seizing upon the smallest facts that ultimately allow them to prove guilt. The format of each series, culminates in the confrontation, when both detectives break-down the guilty party to the point of confession by using their characters’ very convincing ability to read one’s psychology.

I am admittedly a child of pop culture and I enjoy watching the product of other children of my era who offer a nod to the programs we grew up with. In the best tradition of imitation as the sincerest form of flattery, I see Goren as a great homage to another great fictional, television character. When done right, the tribute elevates the original by enhanced recognition, and the product of that inspiration by adding another depth to an already layered character.

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