Reviews

February 12, 2021

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Clarice”

 

CLARICE:  Thursday 10PM on CBS

The Silence Of the Lambs wasn’t supposed to be Hannibal Lecter’s story.  Despite Anthony Hopkins’ Best Actor Oscar for the role, the character was a supporting player in both Thomas Harris’ 1988 novel and Jonathan Demme’s 1991 film.  The center of the tale was FBI agent Clarice Starling, but while Jodie Foster won her own Oscar for her remarkable work, it was Lecter who became the breakout pop culture phenomenon.  (It probably didn’t help that Harris’ sequel novel Hannibal betrayed Clarice’s character so horribly, or that Ridley Scott’s toned-down film had to recast the part with Julianne Moore–giving one of her least memorable performances–when Foster declined to sign on again.)  There was nothing at all wrong with the idea of reclaiming the Silence legacy for its original protagonist, as CBS’s new CLARICE attempts to do.

Clarice‘s opening episode, though, suggests that the broadcast network procedural delivered by series creators Alex Kurtzman and Jenny Lumet may not be the right route to that goal.  Set in 1993, one year after the events of Silence, the series gives us Clarice (now played by Rebecca Breeds) out of the limelight and toiling at an FBI desk job.  She suffers from PTSD, but in this telling that’s due almost entirely to her encounter with Buffalo Bill, because an arcane rights split prevents Clarice from ever using the name “Hannibal Lecter” or making more than the most glancing reference to his existence.  (Boiled down very simplistically, the Dino De Laurentis estate has exclusive ownership of all the elements of Harris’ novel Red Dragon, which included the first appearance of Lecter, and MGM, the studio behind Clarice, can only use the elements unique to Silence Of the Lambs.)  Clarice is summoned by Ruth Martin (Jayne Atkinson), the Senator in Silence whose daughter Clarice saved from Buffalo Bill and now US Attorney General, when a new serial killer seems to be on the loose.

Pilot director Maja Vrvilo was clearly instructed to suggest or outright imitate Jonathan Demme’s work on Silence in all ways possible, and everything from the imagery to Breeds’ appearance to the type-face of the titles and time/place chyrons are close to duplicates.  But the comparison that Clarice so insistently invites isn’t to the show’s advantage.  The series may look like Demme’s film, but it feels for the most part like a standard CBS procedural, complete with a gruff boss (Paul Krendler, a character from Silence, played by Michael Cudlitz), a team of colleagues that include Kal Pen and Nick Sandow in what are so far nothing roles, a sympathetic and perhaps romantic interest partner (Esquivel, played by Lucca De Oliveira), and an ambiguous government figure in the person of the AG.  The conceptually clever idea of having the killer in the first episode not being a serial killer at all is an effective reversal of expectations, but in a way that makes it even more clear that Clarice is a fairly standard crime drama.

As for Clarice herself, it’s no insult to say that Breeds doesn’t capture all that made Foster’s performance iconic.  Breeds has the determination and quiet passion down, but thus far she lacks the grimly repressed fury that drove the movie’s Clarice, as well as the furtive pleasure she took in her own skill.  The exposition-heavy script by Kurtzman and Lumet fails to give her grace notes.  Even with Lecter’s participation being forbidden, they should have realized that Clarice needed some kind of foil off whom she could bounce her dazzling intelligence, someone who could challenge her, hurt her and spur her on.  Without that figure, she’s just the smartest person in a room full of mediocrities.

Perhaps Clarice will turn out to be more ambitious than it seems, and more effective at proving itself against its classic forebears.  For now, it’s barely even a meal.



About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on screened.com and the-burg.com. In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."




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