CBS’s upcoming crime drama, Clarice, will likely have a lot of common ground with the network’s long-running juggernaut, Criminal Minds, but it must be careful not to follow the same formula if it wants to see prolonged success.
Criminal Minds was an incredible success for CBS, as the crime drama saw 15 years on the air from 2005 to 2020, when it aired its final season. Following a group of FBI agents who head the Bureau’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, or BAU. These brave men and women risk their lives and families to track the worst of the worst, from serial killers to terrorists who they call “unidentified subjects”, or “unsubs”. Similar to other crime dramas, Criminal Minds followed a distinct formula where each episode was centered around a specific case or serial killer, and often delved deep into the disturbing methodology in which each uses to hunt, torture, and kill their victims. However, as the show went on, the formula shifted to also focus on specific members of the BAU, specifically how these horrific cases affect them. After a while, it started employing longer-term, recurring killers and deeper, character-driven plots where one or more members were personally affected by these killers.
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In an ideal world, Clarice—which is based on the character of Clarice Starling from The Silence of the Lambs—would be a combination of what made the movie so successful and some elements from Criminal Minds. The upcoming drama would also be smart to take aspects from Bryan Fuller’s beloved Hannibal series, which aired on NBC for three seasons, and focus specifically on Clarice and her development. However, finding this sweet spot will be tricky, and while there’s plenty of ways the show can be wildly successful for CBS, it can’t be a placeholder for Criminal Minds or a copycat Hannibal. Here’s how Clarice can avoid these traps and strike a purely unique attitude that will surely resonate with fans of gritty procedural dramas and the source material.
Based on the teaser trailer for the show and what information has already been released, Clarice will adapt a dark premise that explores what happens to Agent Starling after the events of The Silence of the Lambs. As such, it won’t focus on her going head-to-head with the cannibalistic Dr. Hannibal Lecter or Buffalo Bill, but see her climbing the ranks of the FBI a year after. This is a prime opportunity to free Clarice from her legacy as a foil to Hannibal’s character, and see her come into her own, but given what she’s endured, she’s bound to have a few psychological scuffs that will make her a unique lead for a crime drama, if done correctly.
Clarice should focus on the character and unraveling her inner psyche, just like Fuller did with Hannibal — he gave audiences a glimpse into what made the serial killer tick. Agent Starling will undoubtedly still be tracking and attempting to bring monsters like Lecter to justice. If the show focuses on how she ticks and her inner processes to how she is uniquely capable due to her experiences, it will be a marked departure from other characters on similar shows. A strong example of how this can be done is by looking at the character of Dr. Spencer Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler) from Criminal Minds. Dr. Reid’s intelligence made him extraordinarily capable of building unsub profiles and assisting the team. However, the “boy wonder” often struggled with the concept that his brain would eventually betray him and drive him into madness; this was incorporated into several different storylines throughout the show’s run.
The Silence of the Lambs movie and Thomas Harris’ novels have already given an incredible amount of characterization and material to draw from in building Clarice’s world. All Clarice needs to do now is follow that and understand what makes her different from the other crime drama protagonists, and hit the middle ground that will be satisfying to audiences who loved Criminal Minds‘ formula—before the show jumped the shark—and also to fans of The Silence of the Lambs. By deviating from the crime drama formula and combining those raw elements with a deep, psychological character study, Clarice can be one of the best shows of its kind on television in 2021.
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