If you’re looking for a new TV series that would go well with a nice glass of Chianti, well… keep looking.
For those of you drinking something stronger, there’s Clarice.
Described as a psychological horror crime drama, the shot-in-Toronto series premieres Thursday night on CBS and Global.
It’s based on the book and the Oscar-winning, 1991 movie “The Silence of the Lambs,” with Rebecca Breeds (Pretty Little Liars) as the titular character. The Australian actress has the unenviable task of trying to make audiences forget Jodie Foster in the role (and, later, Julianne Moore in “Hannibal”). She does a nice job approximating Foster’s accent. Projecting strength and vulnerability, something about this actress reminds me of Elliot Page back when he was playing the lead character in “Juno.”
Speaking of Hannibal Lecter, the creepy villain so vividly played by Anthony Hopkins in movies and Mads Mikkelsen on television is not part of the series. The rights to that character, apparently, are held by a group not associated with this production.
Executive producer Alex Kurtzman (the recent “Star Trek” movies) told reporters participating in a recent CBS zoom conference that Hannibal is not the priority here anyway. The character of Clarice, silenced for 30 years, was “our compass. That’s what led us. That’s what we wanted to do. And I think we just really didn’t want to tread territory that’s been done so well by so many others.”
Still, do audiences staggering through the hell that has been the last year or so — pandemics, killings leading to Black Lives Matter marches, insurrections and impeachments, another Brady Super Bowl win — really want a serial killer series?
Yes and here’s why explained co-creator/executive producer Jenny Lumet on that same CBS zoom call:
“Right now in 2021, I think that people are rediscovering who they are after extraordinary circumstances, and it’s all been a group experience,” said Lumet. “People are using their voices, realizing that they can use their voices for change,” she continued. “And that’s definitely Clarice, and she’s simply the hero I needed and I think you’re going to find she’s the hero that you need too.”
The pilot episode opens in a dark, shadowy psychiatrist’s office. Always welcome Shawn Doyle plays the bloodless shrink, bearing down on Clarice one year after she famously rescued a young woman from the clutches of serial killer Buffalo Bill — a monster who skinned six others. Images of bodies and blood amp up the creepiness.
The shrink seems not to have paid his lighting bill. We get it; this series is dark.
Suddenly Clarice is whisked out of the shrink’s office and thrown into the frying pan that is Washington, summoned by the Attorney General — the mother of the young woman Clarice rescued. What are the odds?
Not really ready for field work, Clarice is ordered into action and must report to the investigator in charge, played by Michael Cudlitz — so good as the dad on that big Catholic family sitcom of a few years ago, The Kids are Alright, but also an alumni of The Walking Dead and Southland.
He’s not a fan of Clarice; thinks she got lucky. She quickly finds herself knee-deep in bodies, starting with a mangled, naked, decomposing female victim. The corpse is riddled with stab and bite wounds and washed up on a river bed. Clarice finds another dead naked female tangled underground in a nearby sewer grate, also covered in stab wounds as well as a shot to the head. Clarice notes that the wounds “don’t kiss.”
Almost immediately dozens of reporters fill the crime scene. The series is set in the early ’90s, when there were dozens of reporters. Clarice was told to say nothing but that this is the work of a serial killer. She does her duty, but we know she’s not feeling it.
Other scenes follow: domestic scenes, police work scenes, confrontations, all shot with barely enough light. Several other familiar faces are in the cast, including Kal Penn as one of the FBI investigators. Shooting began last September and continues through March, with the entire production taking place under strict COVID safety protocols.
The body counts go on, and the images are relentlessly disturbing. Maybe Clarice is the hero we need today, but I don’t want to believe it, and I don’t want to watch her work. If you miss Criminal Minds, you may like this series. To me it is sorrowful and depressing and the last show audiences need to be watching right now.