Roush Review: Moody ‘Clarice’ Takes Another Shot at Crime

Rebecca Breeds Clarice Starling
Brooke Palmer/CBS

On Super Bowl Sunday, CBS introduced a female Equalizer to a mass audience amid much hype — and an audience of nearly 20.5 million. Good for her, but I’m much more intrigued by the network’s riskier pop-culture offshoot, Clarice, a gripping thriller inspired by the heroine of 1991’s Oscar-winning The Silence of the Lambs.

Rebecca Breeds has the unenviable task of stepping into Jodie Foster’s shadow as the young FBI agent Clarice Starling, who’s uneasy with the infamy that comes from taking down a notorious serial killer like Buffalo Bill. (This creepy villain continues to live large in Clarice’s nightmares, and she’s not alone.) Wisely, Breeds underplays with a quiet intensity, projecting empathy and intelligence in her soft-spoken but firm resolve to be taken seriously.

Unlike The Equalizer‘s swaggering Robyn McCall (Queen Latifah), Clarice knows she’s still a work in progress in her field, deflecting flattery and shrinking from a spotlight that keeps finding her. When told as a compliment, “You are a woman with a very public reputation for hunting monsters,” she rightly and tersely responds, “I can’t have a reputation. I’ve only done it once.”

But much in the way CBS senses an opportunity in reviving this popular character, Clarice is tapped to leave her comfort zone in the basement of the Behavioral Sciences Unit to join a violent crimes task force formed by Attorney General Ruth Martin (Jayne Atkinson), whose damaged daughter Catherine (Marnee Carpenter) she rescued in Lambs a year earlier. Turns out that much like Clarice, poor Catherine has some serious healing to do from her time in that dungeon of a well.

As you’d expect, Clarice faces patronizing skepticism from her colleagues — especially team leader Paul Krendler (The Walking Dead‘s always welcome Michael Cudlitz), who initially dismisses her as a “drop of honey for the cameras” — but she’s also plagued by her own self-doubt, even when her instincts lead her to defy her superiors’ political calculations.

Michael Cudlitz Paul Krendler Rebecca Breeds Clarice Starling

Brooke Palmer/CBS

“I don’t know if I can be definitive yet,” she says about her controversial first case, though she could just as easily be talking about taking on this iconic role. While it’s impossible not to miss Hannibal Lecter — and this show is meat and potatoes compared to the baroque banquet of horrors Bryan Fuller served in his Hannibal series for NBC (2013-15) — Clarice nevertheless is convincing me she’s worthy of her own show.

Clarice, Series Premiere, Thursday, February 11, 10/9c, CBS