originally published July 22, 2012
Since the beginning of this bizarre experiment, I have had the privilege of writing about a movies I have never seen (Mermaids), musicians I have never heard (Bob Log III), places I’ll never go to (Leckhampstead), people I’ll never meet (Mary Nissenson), and now I get to write about a TV show I’ve never watched.
I used to watch Law & Order when A&E was airing it constantly, even more than they run Criminal Minds today. The show had a ravenous fan following, which is probably why they have cultivated spin-off after spin-off, none of which have interested me. With the rise of the extended-story form of dramatic television (like The Wire, for a cop-show example), the wrap-it-up-in-an-hour serial variety hasn’t really been my thing.
This brings us to today’s topic: “Probability.” Not the actual notion of probability, about which I could easily write a thousand words without getting up from the craps table, but the episode named “Probability” from season two of Law & Order: Criminal Intent.
Again, never seen the episode, never even watched a full hour of the series. I had to actually look up what the premise of the show was, in terms of differentiation from the original L&O. I guess this show focused on the ‘Major Crimes’ division in New York. Major Crimes involves investigations beyond the scope of normal police work: stuff like art theft, kidnappings, larceny, burglaries over $100,000, suspicious-looking gummy bears, wayward ostriches, counterfeit raisins, and zeppelin hijackings.
This particular episode is about an investigation into the murder of a homeless man, which strikes me as something Homicide would handle. I hate to second-guess Dick Wolf, but I think this one should have gone to Jerry Orbach and Sam Waterston on the other show.
It actually turns into a string of homeless murders, so I guess it gets interesting enough for Vincent D’Onofrio and Kathryn Erbe. The title “Probability” refers to the fact that a corrupt insurance agent was behind all of the killings. I don’t know if this is one of those ‘ripped from the headlines’ episodes that L&O is so famous for, but I’d hate for insurance agents to get tarred with negative publicity.
As with Mermaids, I’m writing about something I’ve never seen, so I bestn’t write about how this episode fits in with the arc of the series as a whole, or if anything interesting happened in the specific dialog or to the characters that had a lasting impact on the audience. So like any professional faker, I turn to IMDb.
Let’s start with the principles. Vincent D’Onofrio is actually a pretty well-known actor. He played Orson Welles in the brilliant Johnny Depp movie Ed Wood, and Private Lawrence in Full Metal Jacket. Kathryn Erbe was on the HBO show Oz, and a number of movies I will probably never find the time nor inclination to watch.
What interests me the most is seeing that Mark Linn-Baker was a guest star on this episode. In fact, I’m betting he earned the coveted “Special Guest Star” title after the opening theme. For those who don’t recognize the name (and shame on you all), MLB played lovable Cousin Larry Appleton on Perfect Strangers from 1986 through 1993. Wow. Just looking at those numbers impresses me. They made it through seven seasons and 150 episodes based solely on the premise that foreign people can be goofy.
Incidentally, Mark Linn-Baker’s first credited role was in Woody Allen’s Manhattan, as “Shakespearean Actor” (apparently credited to Mary Linn Baker???). He also directs TV, having notched thirty-one episodes of the Fox… I want to say ‘hit’?… Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper. He was also in the stage production of Doonesbury: The Musical, which apparently exists, and he is friends with stand-up comic and late-night angryman Lewis Black.
Nathan Corddry is best known to me from the painfully-short-lived Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, though he’s currently on the new Kathy Bates legal drama, Harry’s Law (which may actually no longer exist). He was also in this episode, possibly as a homeless guy. I’m not looking too deeply into this.
Ken Cheeseman, whom I am also going to assume played a homeless man in this episode, is one of those guys who pops up all over the showbiz map, according to his IMDb page. In fact, he even slipped back into Law & Order: Criminal Intent three years later in a different role. I guess they figured nobody would notice, and they were probably right.
They do this a lot, by the way. I’ve scrolled through hundreds of actor resumes on this site and found numerous occurrences of “Let’s bring him back – no one will notice.”
Cheeseman has held such notable roles as “Doctor” in Shutter Island, “Shouting Man” in The Invention of Lying, “Dave’s Friend In Bar” in Mystic River, and “Goat Owner” in The Crucible. He has also appeared in single episodes of every other Law & Order series ever. We can chuckle at these facts, but it was enough to warrant him two paragraphs in today’s article and most likely more money than I make clicking on File->Print for a living, so I’d say that’s a rounded tablespoon of win for Mr. Cheeseman. Also, he bicycled across America three times. So there.
Matthew Arkin, whom I thought might be related to Alan and Adam Arkin (which he is, as son and brother), played some guy related to Ken Cheeseman’s character – I’m guessing a homeless brother? – and has also shown up on Law & Orders across the spectrum. In fact, he has played five different people on five different episodes of the original Law & Order between 1991 and 2009.
I actually kind of feel bad for Matthew Arkin. In 1997, while his brother was reaping the benefits of minor fame from his roles on Northern Exposure and Chicago Hope, and while his dad was – well, his dad was Alan fucking Arkin, Matthew had to settle for playing “Colleague” in Jim Carey’s Liar Liar. I don’t want to discount the fact that he’s been a fairly steady working actor for the past fifteen years or so, but with those genetics, it’s kind of like ending up being Marlon Jackson (who was one of Michael Jackson’s brothers, lest the reference be too vague, which it probably was).
Anyhow, the criminal mastermind in this particular episode of L&O: CI made a special point of choosing locations and manners of death to be as random as possible. Of course he conveniently has Asperger Syndrome, which means he was using an obsessive mathematical pattern, which allows Vincent D’Onofrio to catch him.
This guy was no criminal genius like Omar (for you Wire lovers). Hell, he was barely a Balki.