Clarice TV show will kill even Hannibal Lecter’s appetite

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures'' (and Universal Pictures in association with Dino De Laurentiis) thriller "Hannibal." (Photo by Phil Bray/MGM Pictures/Universal Pictures/Dino DeLaurentiis)
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures'' (and Universal Pictures in association with Dino De Laurentiis) thriller "Hannibal." (Photo by Phil Bray/MGM Pictures/Universal Pictures/Dino DeLaurentiis) /

The Clarice TV series sounds like a recipe for disaster. After the delicious dish NBC’s Hannibal, the cannibalistic cook would be most displeased with Clarice.

Hello, Clarice. You might have heard that CBS, masters of the long-running cop show, has ordered yet another update of an old property. This time, they are dabbling in Thomas Harris’s stories about cannibalistic villain Hannibal Lecter, now with 100% less Hannibal Lecter. Here’s what we know about the upcoming Clarice TV series.

Simply titled Clarice, the series will serve as a sequel to The Silence of the Lambs. In this twisted tale, FBI trainee Clarice Starling uses the insight of an incarcerated Lecter to catch a new serial killer known as “Buffalo Bill.”

The show, written by Alex Kurtzman and Jenny Lumet, focuses on Starling’s further exploits as she solves sexual and homicidal crimes presumably on a weekly basis. Australian actress Rebecca Breeds will take on the title character, played in the movies by Jodie Foster and Julianne Moore. CBS recently announced that Kal Penn, Nick Sandow, and Michael Cudlitz would also join the cast.

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This is not the first time that Harris’s works have been adapted for the small screen. Bryan Fuller previously gave us his own take on the sociopathic murderer with 2013’s Hannibal TV series. The show focused on profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), who possesses the unique gift of empathizing with the criminally insane, allowing him to understand their methods and mindset more intimately than anyone else.

Because of this, he’s recruited by FBI Behavioral Science head Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) to track the most elusive serial killers plaguing the northeastern U.S. Tasked with keeping Graham on the level is Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen), a psychiatrist with dark secrets of his own. The pairing of these two analytical minds begins a kinship that helps both men discover new, frightening sides of themselves.

Does that sound intriguing? Too bad. None of those characters or plot threads are likely to appear in the Clarice TV series due to rights issues.

Dr. Lecter isn’t in right now. Can I take a message?

For reference, Harris wrote four novels involving the deranged doctor: Red Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, and Hannibal Rising. Because the Clarice producers are only using The Silence of the Lambs, they’ll probably be unable to include any characters not introduced in that book. It’s already been stated that Lecter himself is not expected to appear.

HANNIBAL — “The Great Red Dragon” Episode 308 — (Photo by: Brooke Palmer/NBC)
HANNIBAL — “The Great Red Dragon” Episode 308 — (Photo by: Brooke Palmer/NBC) /

The Hannibal show also danced through a few rights hoops since it only had access to the other three books. For instance, when the creators presented their version of the Hannibal novel, they couldn’t use the Clarice character, so they had to change the narrative in certain places to accommodate.

For instance, some of Starling’s dialogue and actions were given to Graham and Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas). In addition, Lecter travelled to Italy with his colleague and psychiatrist, Bedelia Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson), instead of going it alone. In the end, this worked to the show’s advantage, as it allowed the writers to craft a rendition of the story that was unique to them and the world that they’d created.

The Clarice TV series, on the other hand, is far more limited. Not only does it only have one book to work with rather than three, but the only major characters we’re likely to see are Starling herself and Buffalo Bill. In essence, it’s going to be a series set in Hannibal Lecter’s  world without the cannibalistic killer, whom many consider the main attraction of the franchise.

Because of that, the showrunners will populate the series with a slew of new killers for Clarice to catch. Basically, it’s going to be a standard “freak of the week” format, which is probably why CBS picked it up. The premise fits neatly into the weekly structure of their other police procedurals.

They’ll probably make this yet another in the long line of generic cop shows on the network. It will be accessible to the masses and benefit from being associated with a popular property without having to dealing with any of that pesky methodical storytelling or cerebral reflection of its source material.

Clarice vs. Will

A large part of that simplicity comes from the title character. This is another area where the previous TV series has the advantage. Will Graham is a fundamentally more interesting character than Clarice Starling. Since he’s able to identify with insane individuals on such a deep level, his own moral compass and mental stability becomes increasingly uncertain.

After a while, you start to wonder if he’ll go over the edge and become one of the maniacs he’s trying to catch. This is especially the case whenever he comes in contact with Lecter. Due to Graham’s gift to assume the mentality of the killers he hunts, Hannibal sees immense potential in him and his ability to understand his ideology. He’s quite possibly the only individual whom the deranged doctor can view as an equal and a friend.

That unsettling ambiguity is mostly absent from Clarice. Her intrigue doesn’t come from her as much as it does from her tense intimacy with Hannibal Lecter. She’s one of the few people whose company he enjoys. Whether it’s due to romantic attraction, the chance to shape an impressionable young mind, a combination of the two, or some other reason, he’s willing to engage with her more than almost anyone else.

Despite this, you mostly get the sense that she still has a firm grasp on reality and righteousness, and it’s that incorruptibility that undermines the suspense when watching her. Granted, we dabbled bit into her decaying morals in the Hannibal book/film, but this paled in comparison to Graham and was brought on by her increasing association with Lecter, whom the Clarice show won’t use.

Banal producers and grasping second-rate writers

Finally, we have the issue of Kurtzman’s track record, which doesn’t fill one with much faith in this latest offering. This man has writing and directing duties on various high-profile franchises, such as the first two Transformers flicks, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and 2017’s The Mummy. While some of these made their fair share of money, many of them weren’t received well by critics and/or fans.

On the upside, he and writing partner Roberto Orci helped relaunch the Star Trek series with the 2009 J.J. Abrams-directed film and its sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness, which were both critical and commercial successes. However, this paved the way for him to spearhead Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard, two shows reviled by legions of Trekkies for their bombastic simplicity and topically political condescension.

Lumet isn’t much better; her only major writing credits are Rachel Getting Married and a couple of Kurtzman projects: The Mummy and Star Trek: Discovery.

Fuller, on the other hand, has created several acclaimed series which maintain a cult following to this day. These include Wonderfalls, Pushing Daisies, American Gods, and the aforementioned Hannibal, which I personally view as one of the greatest pieces of television in the last decade.

Given these factors, it’s hard to have much hype for the Clarice TV series. Does that disdain come from personal bitterness regarding Hannibal and the fact that we’re getting this instead of a fourth season of that show?

Partially, but my lack of enthusiasm stems more from the premise, the behind-the-scenes restrictions, and the people working on it. Such weaknesses make this series seem like a painfully uninspired cash grab and an utter waste of its compelling material.

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Are you excited for this show? Is this simply harsh prejudgment? What is your favorite Hannibal Lecter story?

The Clarice TV series will be available to watch on CBS. You can watch all five Hannibal Lecter movies, as well as the TV series, through streaming platforms (Amazon, iTunes) or various retail stores.