Pilot Script Review of Clarice

The legendary character (finally) finds her way to the small screen.
  • Rebecca Breeds stars in Clarice. (CBS)
    Editor's Note: Ever wonder how TV executives wade through the dozens of pilot scripts they're pitched each year? They have staff script readers, who provide what's called "Script Coverage," an executive summary and a recommendation for each script. Now, thanks to Primetimer's own resident script reader, you too can preview some of the season's most buzzed about pilots. Note that all opinions are our own, and all plot, casting and other creative details described here are subject to change.

    The iconic Clarice Starling never made it to NBC's Hannibal TV Series since the show was canceled before they got to the events of The Silence of the Lambs in the fifth season as planned. At the time, creator Bryan Fuller declared Ellen Page wold be his dream actor for the role. Back in 2012, MGM, which owns the rights to the movies based on Thomas Harris' work, teamed with Lifetime to develop a Clarice TV series that was to follow the exploits of a young Clarice Starling soon after she graduates from the FBI academy. That project didn't go forward and hadn't been heard from again until it received a series commitment from CBS this january. With a pilot script already written, the intention was to go to series after filming the pilot. With the Coronavirus pandemic shutting down production on most of this year's pilots, Clarice seems to be an even more likely thing as CBS will need safer bets and projects where most of the heavy lifting is already done.

    Clarice is written and executive produced by frequent collaborators Alex Kurtzman and Jenny Lumet, who currently have three series at CBS All Access — The Man Who Fell to Earth, as well as Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard. The show is produced by MGM Television in association with CBS Television Studios and Kurtzman’s CBS Studios-based Secret Hideout (Hawaii 5-0, Instinct, Scorpion). The Silence of the Lambs novel was published in 1988 and its movie adaptation hit theaters in 1991, directed by Jonathan Demme and starring Jodie Foster as Clarice. It won Best Picture and Best Actress at the 64th Academy Awards ceremony.

    The role of Clarice Starling is probably the highest-profile role for a young actress this pilot season, and it's Australia-born Rebecca Breeds who won the part in a very competitve situation. This is the second network drama pilot for which she nabbed the title role after an extensive testing process, following NBC's Miranda's Rights in 2016, which didn't make it to series. Since then, she's had recurring roles on Pretty Little Liars, The Originals and CBS' one-and-done The Code. Clarice is the role a lifetime and it won't be easy for her to please the crowd.

    PILOT SCRIPT TITLE: "The Silence Is Over"
    WRITTEN BY: Jenny Lumet & Alex Kurtzman
    DRAFT DATE: 1/14/2020
    PAGE COUNT: 64 pages

    SCRIPT SYNOPSIS: Rain pours just outside the Justice Department as a soaking wet woman comes into focus. Water drips off her ponytail, as a gun is at her hip and a FBI badge is around her neck. Meet CLARICE STARLING (26), again. We're one year after the events of Silence of the Lambs. Via voice-over, she tells us she thought she was done. She's fighting her way through a swarm of paparazzi, trying to reach her car. She rises her hand in front of her face, and we cut to the same image on a tabloid cover. It sits on a table in a THERAPIST's office in Quantico. Clarice is clearly not happy to be here. But after all that's happened to her, she has no other choice. The therapist asks how her sudden celebrity status is sitting with her FBI colleagues. She says it's fine, she's fine. But we all know it's not true. She has flashes of a sewing machine working on human skin. We learn that the only survivor, CATHERINE MARTIN, has reached out to her to talk a few times, but Clarice never called her back. Flashes keep on coming, here of Catherine's blurred face screaming. Clarice doesn't want to be considered a victim herself, let alone a survivor. The conversation heats up. Clarice is not comfortable at all and wants it to end. The therapist insists: he wants to know where all her rage went since then. But they're abruptly interrupted by a knock on the door. AGENT MOHR from the Department of Justice needs Clarice; she has to go to Washington for a new assignment. He says she'll be gone for a while.

    We find Clarice in the war room with RUTH MARTIN (50s), Catherine's mother, previously Senator, now Attorney General, surrounded by her Chief of staff MICHAEL AYRES (40s) and JEN TALLY (30s). After a few pleasantries, she finally explains why Clarice is here: two dead women have been found floating down the river. Someone sliced them to ribbons. It could be the act of a serial killer. Ruth doesn't want her for consulting on behavioral sciences. She wants her to "catch the son of a bitch". Ruth explains that she created a Violent Crimes Task Force when she took the office, and she wants Clarice to join it because she's an extraordinary agent that shouldn't rot in a basement. Plus, she's a woman and she has a reputation. Clarice reluctantly accepts as Ruth suggests she finally return Catherine's calls...

    COMMENTS: As originally envisioned by Thomas Harris, the Clarice Starling of Clarice grew up in West Virginia until her father, a police officer, was shot and killed when she was just ten years old. She then moved to her uncle’s farm in Montana, only to run away and wind up in an orphanage. After college, she applied to the FBI academy, where she was one of the best. And then... Hannibal Lecter happened.

    As a sequel to Silence of the Lambs, Clarice explores an unknown period between the novels and the films where the writers can make anything up and that 's what they do with plenty of respect to both the character and Harris' previous work. The creators released this statement when the project was announced: "After more than 20 years of silence, we’re privileged to give voice to one of America’s most enduring heroes – Clarice Starling. Clarice’s bravery and complexity have always lit the way, even as her personal story remained in the dark. But hers is the very story we need today: her struggle, her resilience, her victory. Her time is now, and always."

    What's troubling and impressive at the same time is that the pilot script for Clarice reads exactly as if Thomas Harris had written it himself. With apologies to Hannibal fans, I have to add that's it's not how Bryan Fuller would have handled it. There's no extravaganza. The dialogue isn't trying to be smart (it just is), while scene descriptions are economical yet manage to chill you to the bone in a few, carefully chosen words. I don't know how far CBS can go in the depiction of the murders but Evil has proven they can go pretty far if they want to, and one hopes that the gritty and gloomy atmosphere will jump from the page to the screen just as it should for a project based on one of the most terrifying movies ever made.

    The story is wisely still set in the 90s, and producers will need to walk a tighrope to be sure it doesn't feel too modern nor too outdated. Say what you want about CBS, but the network really appears to making efforts to protect the jewel they have on their hands. They don't appear to be trying to make it a straight procedural, nor are they relying too much on action scenes. There doesn't seem to be one big villain like Hannibal (probably because they know they just can't create a better one); instead, the pilot suggests at a conspiracy with a number of "little" villains spread all around the country, yet somehow linked to one another.

    Of course it's Clarice who's is at the center of this story. Brilliant and vulnerable, she graduated with a double major in psych and criminology. Her bravery gives her an inner light that draws monsters and madmen to her. Her complex psychological makeup comes from a challenging childhood, and her drive comes from her need to escape the burden of family secrets that have haunted her throughout her life. She's both bad ass and emotional. Think Carrie Mathison or Dana Scully. Taking on such an iconic role, Rebecca Breeds certainly has her work cut out for her. Her performance has to be great or the whole project could crumble down.

    Clarice also explores office politics and the complex relationships between the FBI and the Government. Each of the show's strong supporting characters are potrayed with nuance, especially Clarice's new partner, Tomas Esquivel. After graduation, he became a counter-sniper during Operation Desert Storm. He is initially suspicious of Clarice and her singular background in the Bureau. He has gone through his own kind of hazing, and is torn between his love of service and his belief that the FBI needs to shake off its “Old School” mentality. Meanwhile, Ardelia Mapp is Clarice’s closest friend and her roommate at the FBI Academy. Not only is she brilliant, she's developed strong coping mechanisms as a black woman working in the white male universe of the FBI. Ardelia has landed at the Department of Justice where she is an Asst. U.S. Attorney. She is vocal and open about the discrimination that’s rampant in the Bureau and in the D.O.J.

    FINAL RECOMMENDATION: Complex and creepy, Clarice is true to its source material, promising to leave viewers on the edge of their seats. Without seeing a frame, it's already my favorite new network show for the 2020-2021 season.

    [   ] PASS
    [   ] CONSIDER

    BEST FIT: Thursday nights at 10 midseason, after Evil completes its second season.

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