Why CBS' Clarice Actually Works As A Silence Of The Lambs Sequel Without Mentioning Hannibal

clarice cbs series premiere
(Image credit: CBS)

Spoilers ahead for the series premiere of Clarice on CBS, called "The Silence is Over."

CBS is revisiting the world of Silence of the Lambs in primetime without remaking the 1991 film, with freshman series Clarice functioning as a sequel that picks up on how Clarice Starling has moved on (or not moved on) from the case of Buffalo Bill. The series premiere heavily dealt with the trauma of not only Clarice but also Buffalo Bill's survivor Catherine Martin. Notably absent from the episode was an explicit mention of Hannibal Lecter, but the show has found a way to follow Silence of the Lambs without mentioning the iconic film villain.

Now, anybody who is aware of the situation with the Hannibal character likely went into Clarice knowing that Hannibal wouldn't be explicitly mentioned, since CBS only has rights for characters from Thomas Harris' Silence of the Lambs novel, and Hannibal actually debuts in Harris' book universe in an earlier novel, Red Dragon. Clarice co-creators Jenny Lumet and Alex Kurtzman weighed at the virtual TCA panel for the new show on why not name-dropping Hannibal Lecter works, with Lumet saying:

I think, you know, that that character's been brought to life by extraordinarily talented artists. I can think of three extraordinary actors, and at least three or four extraordinary filmmakers. Clarice has not been explored like that. Clarice has a depth and a mystery that we haven't examined yet.

The role of Hannibal Lecter was made famous on the screen with Anthony Hopkins portraying the cannibal psychiatrist serial killer in Silence of the Lambs, for which Hopkins won an Academy Award. Another high-profile actor to play Hannibal was none other than Mads Mikkelsen, who also won an award for his portrayal, in NBC's Hannibal TV show that ran for three bloody seasons. And those are only two of those who have tackled the role. As Jenny Lumet said, Hannibal Lecter has been played many times; Clarice hasn't gotten as much focus until the CBS show literally named after her.

None of this is to say that Clarice can't at least allude to Hannibal, with Clarice's mandated FBI therapist mentioning that her "last therapist was an inmate in a Baltimore hospital for the criminally insane" who "ate his patients." Clarice of course protested that "he" wasn't her therapist, and neither name-dropped Hannibal Lecter, but the reference was enough for any viewers who have seen Silence of the Lambs or are even vaguely aware of it in pop culture to know who they were talking about.

Clarice co-creator Alex Kurtzman shared his own thoughts on Clarice focusing on Clarice without needing to mention Hannibal (rights issues aside), making mention of both Silence of the Lambs and the Hannibal TV show:

You know, I was an incredible fan of the show. Obviously we were crazy, rabid fans of The Silence of the Lambs. And it has been explored in great depth by so many brilliant people, and so I think we felt like, you know, as we were writing it, that the tag line for the show, which we had in our minds, kept pushing itself to the foreground, which was 'The Silence is Over.' And I think that meant that she had not spoken in 30 years and it was her time to speak now. And so we -- I think that was our compass. That's what led us. That's what we wanted to do. And I think we just really didn't want to tread territory that's been done so well by so many others.

In a fun twist, Clarice's 2021 debut means that the Clarice Starling-centric show debuts 30 years after Jodie Foster (who hasn't committed to watching the new show) brought Clarice to life on the big screen in Silence of the Lambs. This new CBS show is about the FBI agent who saved the day (traumatizing herself in the process) in the movie as she moves on with her life, and Hannibal Lecter doesn't need to be involved with that.

In fact, as the series premiere proved, Clarice has plenty on her plate without spending her time thinking about Hannibal, and not just because Buffalo Bill still intrudes on her mind. She has a new killer to catch. And you can watch Clarice fighting for her place on the FBI team even as she chases a new killer with new episodes of Clarice on Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on CBS. For more of what's on the way in the not-too-distant future, be sure to check out our 2021 winter and spring premiere schedule.

Laura Hurley
Senior Content Producer

Laura turned a lifelong love of television into a valid reason to write and think about TV on a daily basis. She's not a doctor, lawyer, or detective, but watches a lot of them in primetime. Resident of One Chicago, the galaxy far, far away, and Northeast Ohio. Will not time travel and can cite multiple TV shows to explain why. She does, however, want to believe that she can sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation (and author bios).