Clarice review: Does it hold up?

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The premiere of the new CBS show Clarice aired earlier this month, and as the latest installment in a large and very popular franchise, there were plenty of scrutinous eyes on it. The show, created by Alex Kurtzman and Jenny Lumet, was heavily advertised. However, many Silence of the Lambs fans were disappointed to find out that it will not feature the iconic character of Hannibal Lecter, or even mention him by name. That being said, the show deserves to be judged on its own merits, separate from the franchise as a whole.

The episode, titled “The Silence is Over,” can be summarized as fairly unremarkable. Watching, I felt no passion from the creators and no unique vision making the show stand out. Most of the episode is spent dumping information on the viewer in a fashion that degrades the quality of the dialogue, which is plain and often stilted and unnatural sounding. The conflicts set up throughout the episode are predictable and unoriginal, and many of the characters appear to have no depth beyond their service to the plot.

Of course, the show is only on its first episode, and there is plenty of time for the characters to evolve. The murder investigation that the episode follows is fun and the concept is fairly unique, with an ending that is not so obvious that the process is not fun to watch, but also feels plausible for the characters to have figured out by the time of the reveal. Some of the characters were fun to watch, and Rebecca Breeds does a good job as the character of Clarice despite the poorly-written dialogue.

Overall, this looks like a cash-grab exploitation of a popular franchise that takes all of the most obvious routes for its plot and themes and has no real substance to make it worth watching. The show so far is mediocre, yet the trailers, cinematography and music attempt to frame it as gripping and deep, an effort that ultimately falls flat. There are enjoyable parts and plenty of room for growth over the course of the season, but as it stands, my advice is to pass on Clarice.

From this point, commentary will be more specific and include spoilers. The episode begins with Clarice in a session with her FBI-appointed therapist. This scene is a clear exposition dump, and the dialogue feels forced. During the thinly-veiled recap of the events of Silence of the Lambs, the characters reference Hannibal Lecter in a roundabout manner that distracts viewers and draws unwanted attention to the character’s obvious omission; the scene would have been better off if they had chosen not to try to mention him at all.

Then, Clarice is taken away at the request of the US Attorney General to join a task force tracking a suspected serial killer. This task force is headed by Paul Krendler, the villain of the episode. Krendler’s aggression is bland and his character has little depth beyond his desire to push Clarice around and use her as a PR device. However, I do see potential for future character development from him.

While investigating with the task force, Clarice meets Esquivel, one of the best characters so far. They develop a sort of allyship that feels natural even though their dialogue does suffer from the same stiltedness as the rest of the episode. There is a conflict between the two of them and Krendler that feels very forced, but the time dedicated to the two of them investigating together is the best part of the episode. As with Krendler, there is plenty of room to grow here, which I look forward to seeing in future episodes.

Later on, the audience is introduced to Ardelia, a longtime friend of Clarice’s and my personal favorite character. Her conversations with Clarice do not suffer from the same unnatural feeling as the rest of the dialogue, and although her service to the plot is minimal so far, I thoroughly enjoyed her time on screen.

Toward the end of the episode, Clarice has a phone conversation with Catherine Martin, whom she saved from Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs. This conversation is meant to be intense, but Catherine’s character totally falls flat and she seems to act as more of a device to further Clarice’s character development than an actual, fully fleshed-out character, which I feel was the wrong decision. This scene builds a clear conflict between the two of them, but it feels one-sided and forced. However, this is another thing that I anticipate will change over the course of the season, as there are plenty of possibilities for Catherine and her relationship to Clarice that can be explored.

After more investigation uncovers a much larger conspiracy than the serial murders that were pushed by the Attorney General and Paul Krendler, Clarice finds herself speaking to the press about these murders for the second time in the episode. The first time was unremarkable and the main take-away was that Clarice was going to allow Krendler to push her around and tell her what to say. However, this scene directly contrasts that by showing Clarice telling the full truth of what she believes is going on instead of lying under Krendler’s instruction. The scene builds itself up quite a bit without much real emotional payoff for the viewer, but the way Clarice’s character is established in contrast to her behavior earlier in the episode is the one part of the plot that hits as intended.

In conclusion, Clarice sets up what it believes to be many deep, dark themes, but these themes are shoved down the viewer’s throat with a lack of grace that removes all impact that they may have had. There are many small things throughout the episode that are enjoyable to watch, but they are not worth sitting through the forced dialogue and bland conflict to see. As it stands, the show has much potential and room for improvement, but from what I gathered watching the first episode, the creators seem to not care enough to make those improvements and turn this into a show worth watching.

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