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‘Clarice’ Offers New Take on ‘Silence of the Lambs’

Clarice on CBS
(Image credit: Brooke Palmer/CBS)

Clarice, a spinoff of The Silence of the Lambs, starts on CBS February 11. Rebecca Breeds plays Clarice, the FBI agent who Jodie Foster played in the 1991 horror film. 

Jenny Lumet and Alex Kurtzman are behind the show. “I remember the moment when Clarice Starling became my hero,” said Lumet at a press event. “In The Silence of the Lambs, she was somehow able to go down into the dark and find the human and the monsters and then pull out the light. And I thought, as I watched her, this is a woman with a lot of secrets. And I like that.”

Lumet found herself thinking about Clarice more and more. “Then she went silent for years and I couldn't let it go, that you had this hero, this icon, this mystery,” she said. “What happened in those missing years?”

Thomas Harris wrote the novel The Silence of the Lambs. NBC had the series Hannibal, which ran for three seasons before wrapping in 2015. 

Kurtzman said he and Lumet envisioned Clarice as a streaming show. CBS urged them to produce it for CBS, but produce it like a series on streaming or cable. “CBS said, really unequivocally, ‘Please put it on our network, and we will let you make whatever show you want,’” said Kurtzman. “And we said, ‘Are you sure? Because there's going to be serialized storylines, and there's going to be violence. And it's going to feel like a streaming show, even though it will be a network show.’ They said, ‘Sure, please do it.’”

Kurtzman said they’ve not gotten a single note from CBS execs that suggested pushing it more to the CBS procedural norm. “That's been really liberating for us,” he said. 

The NY Times, for its part, called Clarice “an unremarkable network crime drama.”

The series is set in 1993. Michael Cuddlitz, Lucca De Oliveira, Kal Penn, Nick Sandow and Devyn Tyler are also in the cast. 

“Brilliant and vulnerable, Clarice’s bravery gives her an inner light that draws monsters and madmen to her,” goes the CBS descrip. “However, her complex psychological makeup that comes from a challenging childhood empowers her to begin to find her voice while working in a man’s world, as well as escape the family secrets that have haunted her throughout her life.”

Breeds is an Australian who dove into playing Clarice. “I found Clarice when I found the accent. So the two were synonymous for me,” she said. “I don't know if it would feel the same if I didn't get to do that beautiful West Virginian Appalachian accent.”

Kurtzman said he and Lumet--and surely some of the cast--are huge fans of The Silence of the Lambs, and Hannibal, but felt there was plenty of new ground to cover beyond those properties. “We were crazy, rabid fans of The Silence of the Lambs,” he said, “and it has been explored in great depth by so many brilliant people.”

He said the tagline for Clarice, The Silence is Over, “kept pushing itself to the foreground” as the scripts were hashed out. “And I think that meant that she had not spoken in 30 years and it was her time to speak now,” said Kirtzman. 

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.