CBS’ ‘Silence of the Lambs’ Sequel ‘Clarice’ Will Make You Miss ‘Hannibal’
Set months after the events of “The Silence of the Lambs,” this TV spinoff is nothing more than a lame CBS procedural with little to no thrills.
CBS churns out law enforcement procedurals in its sleep, all of them hewing to the same template of single-episode crime-solving bound together by superficial ongoing character work and narrative arcs. Picking up where The Silence of the Lambs left off but, in reality, following in the worn-out footsteps of CSI, Criminal Minds, NCIS and FBI—to name only a few of its direct antecedents—Clarice (premiering Feb. 11) is as obvious as it is dull. Designed for maximum uninventiveness and lack of surprise, it’s formulaic comfort food that, in almost every respect, fails to satisfy.
Given the generally conservative nature of CBS, there was never any real hope that showrunners Alex Kurtzman (Transformers) and Jenny Lumet might take their crime drama down a Hannibal-like path; Bryan Fuller’s Red Dragon-inspired NBC series remains a brilliant Grand Guignol outlier that pushed just about every imaginable boundary in depicting the psychosexual (and homoerotic) relationship between Mads Mikkelsen’s cannibalistic Hannibal Lecter and Hugh Dancy’s tortured investigator Will Graham. This effort, on the other hand, takes no risks in revisiting Clarice Starling (Rebecca Breeds) one year after her Silence of the Lambs encounter with Buffalo Bill (Simon Northwood), who’s seen in recurring memory-flashbacks that meticulously recreate the imagery of Jonathan Demme’s Oscar-winning 1991 film.
As we learn in an introductory chat between Clarice and her jerky therapist (Shawn Doyle), the past 12 months haven’t been kind to the FBI agent, who retreated from the spotlight created by her Buffalo Bill triumph to toil in the basement of the Behavioral Science unit. Their rapid-fire tete-a-tete informs us that Clarice has a lot of rage, suffers from PTSD, and no longer speaks to Catherine Martin (Marnee Carpenter), the woman she rescued from the serial killer’s clutches. “To be a survivor, you have to be a victim,” Clarice says in a southern drawl that sounds like a caricature of the West Virginia patois employed by Jodie Foster, and once this duo has gotten their exposition dump out of the way, Clarice is whisked away by federal agents on the orders of Catherine’s mother, recently appointed Attorney General Ruth Martin (Jayne Atkinson), who wants her to join an FBI task force known as VICAP (Violent Criminal Apprehension Unit). Ruth still feels indebted to Clarice for saving her daughter (who now owns Buffalo Bill’s dog Precious!), and trusts her to help track down a potential new serial killer on the loose.
Thus within the premiere’s first few minutes, Clarice’s headspace and crucial relationships are laid out in blunt fashion, and once she joins up with VICAP, such upfront storytelling continues apace. Team leader Paul Krendler (Michael Cudlitz) doesn’t trust Clarice, whom he views as a loose cannon. Former military sniper Tomas Esquivel (Lucca De Oliveira) takes an immediate liking to his latest squadmate, befriending her even though his boss wants him to spy on her. Murray Clarke (Nick Sandow) is the crew’s voice of grouchy old-guy reason, included mainly to help complete the show’s team-of-investigators format. And as Emin Grigoryan, Kal Penn just stands about in the background, saying and doing so little—at least during the series’ first two episodes—that one almost suspects he’s actually playing his Harold and Kumar stoner, who’s snuck onto the set of this by-the-books affair and donned a VICAP jacket for kicks.
Also occasionally aided by her friend and roommate Ardelia (Devyn A. Tyler), Clarice is tasked with finding the culprit behind the murders of two women, which Ruth—eager to make a splash in her new position—wants pinned on a serial killer. Paul is happy to comply with this directive, but Clarice instinctively deduces that these slayings are the handiwork of a cold, clinical fiend pretending to be a habitual predator, which creates the type of friction with her superiors that viewers over the age of 10 have seen approximately eight million times before. Clarice’s hunches are routinely looked down upon by everyone in command, only to turn out to be correct, at which point she earns more trust with her comrades. Then, at the next criminal incident or phase of their overarching serialized case, she once again butts up against the powers-that-be—wash, rinse, repeat.
The further it proceeds down its chosen path—which, in episode two, involves a conflict at a Waco-style Tennessee militia compound—the more Clarice reveals itself to be about its heroine’s efforts to uncover a vast conspiracy involving a pharmaceutical drug trial. Suffice it to say, that is definitely not why anyone is tuning into this show. By situating Clarice in stock crime scenarios, Kurtzman and Lumet seem content to use their IP to gussy up yet another mechanical procedural that plays by the same rules as its numerous network brethren. Sure, Clarice is plagued by memories of her clash with Buffalo Bill—a plot device that becomes incessant to the point of aggravating by its second installment. But such anguish is merely an affectation meant to imbue her with the appearance of depth, as well as to remind people why they’re watching this in the first place.
Breeds is as functional as the rest of the cast, all of whom are denied the opportunity to give three-dimensional performances by scripts awash in exposition; not a scene goes by without a character explaining everything in quick, comprehensive terms (for example, the haunted Catherine tells Clarice at one point, “We’re exactly the same. You think you can rewrite this story, but you can’t!”). The show’s fondness for ultra-slow-motion sequences, country music, and one-to-one storytelling—as when Clarice’s experience with the militia is directly mirrored by her recollections of her brother and father—only exacerbate the leadenness of this venture, which diligently spoon-feeds its audience the relevant information they might need at a given moment.
The purpose, and result, of this clichéd approach is to coddle viewers; by adhering to comforting conventions, Kurtzman and Lumet let it be known that no matter how “disturbing” the cases and killers appear on their surface, things will always work out precisely as expected. The series aims to attract eyeballs by playing it safe and familiar, which has the added effect of neutering any semblance of suspense, much less the sort of unforgettable horror delivered by The Silence of the Lambs. Better to revisit that genre classic than to put up with Clarice’s dreary noise about trauma and trust.