One of the foundations of the contemporary TV procedural is Jonathan Demme’s “The Silence of the Lambs.” The 1991 horror-filled movie about Jody Foster’s FBI trainee and Anthony Hopkins’s cannibalistic killer went on to heavily influence network crime shows, of which there are uncountably many. The dread, the gross-out murder scenes, the obsessive criminal profiling, the dim lighting, and claustrophobia — they’ve helped define “Criminal Minds,” “The Mentalist,” “The Following,” “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” and more.
So the series “Clarice,” a new CBS sequel to “The Silence of the Lambs,” arrives late to the grim party that, in a way, it helped to throw. That doesn’t have to be a problem, if the series had fresh moves to show off, on the order of “Hannibal,” NBC’s 2013-15 “Silence of the Lambs” prequel. But “Clarice” is a tiresome retread of the dramas that were created in its mothership’s image. It’s no better than most of its fellow post-“Silence” crime shows, and it only serves as a reminder — not least of all thanks to TV Clarice’s hallucinations of moths from the movie — of just how extremely fine Demme’s film and Foster’s performance truly are. It brings no further glory to the franchise whose seeds were first sown by Thomas Harris in his 1981 novel “Red Dragon.”
“Clarice,” which premieres Feb. 11 at 10 p.m., is the kind of network show that, at moments, seems as if it were written with lines of dialogue that have been consciously primed for use on commercials and “previously on” segments. It’s the kind of network show whose ensemble of FBI agents — played by Kal Penn, Michael Cudlitz, Lucca De Oliveira, and Nick Sandow — are each reduced to a single attribute. It’s the kind of network show that awkwardly wraps up absurdly complicated cases-of-the-week in no time, with brisk leaps in logic, while trying to keep a serialized story line afoot throughout. And it’s the kind of network show that turns its heroine’s approach to crime-solving — Clarice shares too much of herself to get confessions — into a kind of party trick that’s repeated every week.
The show is set in 1993, a year after the events of “Silence of the Lambs.” Played by Australian actress Rebecca Breeds with a Southern accent, Clarice Starling is now a celebrity due to what went down in “Silence.” But she hates the limelight and feels she’s too inexperienced to be the hero everyone thinks she is (spoiler: she’s not). She continues to be haunted by the Buffalo Bill case, and she tries to put it out of her mind, dodging calls from Catherine (Marnee Carpenter), the desperate, severely depressed woman she saved from Buffalo Bill. But, you know, if she doesn’t deal with it, it will deal with her. Catherine, by the way, is a regular character here; her mother is the attorney general who has assigned Clarice to more serial killer work.
Like the movie, the series — which, by the way, is not legally able to use the name Hannibal Lecter — makes it clear that Clarice is working in a sexist environment. She also deals with resentment from her male colleagues because she’s the star. But their attitude is only an annoyance, and Clarice continues to gain respect as she almost magically pulls information out of everyone and their dog. Breeds does a decent job of balancing Clarice’s demons — not just Bill, but events from her childhood involving the death of her father — with her heroism and brilliance, but I’m not sure even Foster herself could elevate the material. It’s a run-of-the-mill network creep show, more bland evidence of the franchise madness of contemporary entertainment.
Starring: Rebecca Breeds, Kal Penn, Nick Sandow, Devyn A. Tyler, Michael Cudlitz, Lucca De Oliveira, Marnee Carpenter
On: CBS. Premieres Feb. 11 at 10 p.m.