Take a glance at Criminal Intent, where Vincent D'Onofrio has borrowed time from his film career to do some of the most flamboyant detective work since David Suchet twirled mustache wax as PBS' Hercule Poirot. ''CI'' is the ''L&O'' spin-off that shows you the crime first, then lets you watch how the heroes suss it all out. D'Onofrio, as a ''special case squad'' solver, reveals the workings of his character's mind by physicalizing everything. He doesn't just interrogate someone, he bends his long, wide, Gumby body around a suspect, who becomes additionally unnerved when D'Onofrio waggles a frankfurter-long finger in his face and asks cutting yet smiley-faced questions.
D'Onofrio is so eccentrically entertaining, even his costar Kathryn Erbe seems fascinated. This doesn't do much for her role -- she must have 75 percent less dialogue per episode than he does -- but it jibes with the subtle range she showed on HBO's ''Oz'' and proves her professional generosity. Although snowy owl Jamey Sheridan is similarly nonplussed and under-utilized as D'Onofrio's boss, Courtney B. Vance is terrific as a silky-voiced prosecuting attorney who makes defendants wither in the face of his elegantly reasoned cross-examinations. Add tight plotting, and ''CI'' is the ''L&O'' of the year.