In both the novel and movie, The Silence of the Lambs, cannibal Hannibal Lecter states to Clarice, “You still wake up sometimes, don’t you? You wake up in the dark and hear the screaming of the lambs.” I bring this quote up because, to me, it’s essentially the basis of what fans can expect from the CBS All Access show, CLARICE. Picking up a year after the events of The Silence of the Lambs, FBI Agent Clarice Starling (Rebecca Breeds) finds herself dealing with the trauma and PTSD that she experienced at the hands of the serial killer, Buffalo Bill.
For those not familiar with the new series from executive producers Alex Kurtzman and Jenny Lumet, CLARICE is a deep dive into the untold personal story of Clarice Starling as she returns to the field to pursue serial murderers and sexual predators while navigating the high stakes political world of Washington, D.C.
Recently, I had the chance to check out the first three episodes of the series and, though there were elements that I liked, I found that the show missed the mark in making this a sturdy companion to the movie/book. When we meet Clarice, she is being seen by a psychologist who believes she isn’t ready to go back out into the field. However, she ends up getting roped into helping the VICAP (Violent Criminal Apprehension Unit) division of the FBI, after she’s brought on specifically by Ruth Martin (Jayne Atkinson), the acting Attorney General. Having rescued Martin’s daughter from Buffalo Bill, AG Martin believes that Clarice is just the person needed to track down a possible new serial killer that’s slaying young women. Joining her on this crusade is the rest of the VICAP team made up of agents Paul Krendler (Michael Cudlitz), Emin Grigoryan (Kal Penn), Murray Clarke (Nick Sandow), and Tomas Esquivel (Lucca De Oliveria). However, it doesn’t take long for tensions to rise between Krendler and Starling leading the viewer to wonder how the two will work together.
As a whole, CLARICE didn’t work for me, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t like elements of it. The strongest acting of the bunch comes from Michael Cudlitz – he makes the character of Paul Krendler his own without relying on what we’ve seen in previous performances done by Ray Liotta (Hannibal) and Ron Vawter (The Silence of the Lambs). He’s brash and blunt, but there’s more dimension to him than just that. Extending the story of Clarice is something that I find to be exciting, especially considering we get to see the impact that Buffalo Bill had upon her both in her professional and personal life. The show also features some stylized artistry, especially in regards to the practical effects in relation to the bodies that are found. It’s not groundbreaking or anything, but I do enjoy the juxtaposition between the striking visuals and the disturbing nature of the crime.
As for what I thought could change, the presentation of the series could have been done a bit differently. With The Silence of the Lambs, it had a grittier feel to it which I wished that CLARICE would have adopted instead of feeling so polished. Because of this, CLARICE feels more like a very distant second cousin to The Silence of the Lambs instead of a direct continuation of the story. But the biggest issue I had with the series was the casting of Rebecca Breeds as Clarice Starling. This isn’t to say that she isn’t a good actress but, when it comes to filling the shoes of the character that Jodie Foster made famous, it’s best to go with an actor that has more chops and experience. Though she was able to emulate Starling’s more vulnerable emotions, she fell flat when it came to showing the immense fortitude that Starling possesses.
As a massive fan of The Silence of the Lambs, I’m happy to see that Clarice is getting a longer storyline. That said, it’s really hard not to compare this show to the film or to Bryan Fuller’s “Hannibal.” Though Hannibal Lecter won’t be a part of this season, it’s hard not to imagine what would have been if Bryan Fuller had been given the chance to accomplish what he set out to do with Clarice in “Hannibal.”
Overall, I think CLARICE would have worked much better as a serialized crime drama without the use of the existing IP. That’s not to say that the series won’t surprise me down the line as I’ve only watched three episodes. But it ultimately took me until the end of Episode 3 to feel really engaged with the characters and story. I wish I had better things to say about CLARICE but, as of now, this just feels like another episode of “Law & Order: SVU.”
CLARICE premieres on CBS All Access on February 11th at 10 p.m.