The film “The Silence of the Lambs,” based on the 1988 novel by Thomas Harris, was released three years after the book to record-shattering acclaim. It remains the only horror movie to ever win Best Picture at the Oscars, with Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter both widely considered among the greatest characters ever put on the big screen. So, whether overly optimistic or not, there are high expectations when it comes to its remakes and series adaptations.
To continue a legacy like “The Silence of the Lambs” this far in the future, it’s crucial that creators breathe new life into the story, to contribute a new voice and keep it fresh. It should honor the old but dare to enrich it.
Instead, “Clarice” takes everything that was wonderful about the original picture and commercializes, cheapens and flattens it. Sure, “Clarice” feels different from the original film. However, this is not to the credit of a fresh, modernized voice, but rather to the vapid absence of any voice at all.
The show opens with a monologue from the much-missed protagonist and our titular character, Clarice, played this time by Rebecca Breeds (“Slam”). She so graciously gives us a quick catch-up: Serial killer Buffalo Bill skinned some people, Clarice saved one of them and now a year has passed. It’s amazing how much information a show can communicate when it doesn’t bother to do it in a creative way.
Since the iconic case, Clarice has become a notable figure for tabloids. As a mandated therapist interrogates her about the events, she maintains that she is not a survivor. Rather, she was just doing her job. Quick flashes to her lying awake at night, however, suggest otherwise.
“Clarice, you’ve been coming here for a year now,” the therapist says, which is confusing since Clarice just explained her occupation to him as if they had only met today.
The shrink then asks about Clarice’s “former therapist,” a direct allusion to the iconic Hannibal Lecter. Hannibal’s absence in this show, and the show’s inability to reference him by name, stands as a major question mark for the series going forward. Hannibal has remained undoubtedly the most fascinating character within “The Red Dragon” universe, but more essentially, his chemistry with Clarice and his ability to pull deep, repressed fears out of the dark corners of her mind was where so much of the film’s magic came from.
In Hannibal’s absence, the writers must get inventive with characters and plot if they want to maintain Clarice’s impact as a reserved but nuanced character. Unfortunately for the audience, the writers have gone about this in the laziest way imaginable.
Through directly narrated monologues and cheap, unnerving flashes to Buffalo Bill’s house, we get to peer into the tortured mind of Clarice. And there’s nothing surprising or interesting inside.
The 1991 film was notably praised for its subtlety and honesty with the way it conveyed masculine dominance in the Federal Bureau of Investigation. With this restraint, the film respected her. It recognized that first and foremost, Clarice Starling is a professional. Not every triumph in the FBI is going to be an empowering moment. Beating misogyny is not a mission for her to accomplish or a case to crack but rather a dark cloud that weighs over her work and undermines every victory she has. To turn these issues into something so plastic and inauthentic as “Clarice” does is an injustice to not only the original story, but to the women who continuously face these struggles every day.
Paul Krendler (Michael Cudlitz, “Five Women in the End”) is a hardass boss who pretty much just does nothing but verbally pummel Clarice because, well, he hates women. The dialogue is ridiculously corny and though Rebecca Breed’s performance has enough charisma to meet what the show demands, she can’t escape that what the show does demand is disingenuous to her character.
It’s a shame for a character with so much complexity and depth to be given such an on the nose, artless rendition. And when I say on the nose, I mean she literally digs through tampons to find a clue.
Maybe I’m being too harsh on “Clarice.” It is only the first episode, and if you happen to be a fan of CBS procedurals, there’s enough here to keep you entertained until the end. However, as an admirer of the original movie, it’s hard to get excited about what this show is doing. Perhaps it will get more compelling with time, but to be honest (and admittedly pessimistic), I wouldn’t count on it.
Daily Arts Writer Ben Servetah can be reached at email@example.com.