Monday, 01 March 2021

‘Clarice’ and ‘The Equalizer’ reinvent known classics




‘CLARICE’ AND ‘THE EQUALIZER’ ON CBS

“Clarice” is all about exactly what you think. The name can never be separated from the chilling horror of “The Silence of the Lambs” film that starred a young Jodie Foster as FBI trainee Clarice Starling.

What does not surface in this new CBS series is even a mention of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a psychiatrist who was imprisoned in maximum security isolation for being a serial killer that dabbled in cannibalism with a side of fava beans and a nice chianti.

More than a film rights issue disallowing a reference to the fabled cannibal, the show producer Alex Kurtzman obliquely noted to critics at the winter press tour that the Lecter storyline “had been explored in great depth by so many brilliant people.”

Moreover, if the Hannibal Lecter angle were to be raised in a new format, the series would be treading territory that has been slogged by so many others in films and even a television series that followed “The Silence of the Lambs.”

Set in 1993, “Clarice” picks up one year after the trauma of the young female FBI trainee having to confront the serial killer Buffalo Bill to rescue a senator’s daughter trapped in a dry well.

Suffering from PTSD as the result of too many flashbacks from the rescue mission, Clarice (Rebecca Breeds) has been relegated to the safe confines of the Behavioral Science Unit and subjected to sessions with a condescending therapist (Shawn Doyle).

Viewed as a media darling for her notoriety, Clarice’s exclusion from field work has probably much to do with the suspicion of a male-dominated hierarchy in the FBI that questions her abilities, if partly for lack of a deep resume in the agency.

That’s no concern for Ruth Martin (Jayne Atkinson), the senator in the film who is now the attorney general and indebted to Clarice for saving her daughter Catherine (Marnee Carpenter) from the nightmare of Buffalo Bill’s basement.

That the attorney general insists Clarice must join the FBI’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (VICAP) that is led by hostile supervisor Paul Krendler (Michael Cudlitz) sets the stage in the first episode for the series premise of another hunt for a serial killer.

It’s a bit of an odd note that the second episode veers off into a standoff with a militia group where the FBI honchos fret about an explosive situation so close in time to the fiasco of the deadly siege of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas.

For Clarice, dealing with a cult leader may be little different than divining the motives of a sociopathic killer, but whether she succeeds as an agent despite her damaged psyche could be reason enough to tune into “Clarice.”

“The Equalizer,” first popularized as a crime drama television series starring Edward Woodward and later in two films with Denzel Washington in the role of righteous vigilante Robert McCall, has taken a gender twist with Queen Latifah as Robyn McCall.

As a crime procedural, this new version relies on the strength of character of a Black woman empowered to right wrongs and to seek justice that eludes a person in need with nowhere to turn for meaningful support.

Queen Latifah is a most appropriate choice for a role that calls for equal parts compassion and toughness. One has to wonder, however, if this series might have been even more fitting for Pam Grier in her prime almost fifty years ago.

In vigilante movies like “Coffy” and “Foxy Brown,” Grier’s avenging angel took no prisoners when exacting revenge on drug dealers and murderers. But Grier’s heroics occurred in a different era when Blaxploitation was a popular urban genre.

Whether Queen Latifah would have been a proper fit in Grier’s memorable roles may be an open question, but “The Equalizer” does offer opportunities for her to prove a toughness of spirit as well as physicality for vigilantism.

Robyn McCall is a former CIA intelligence officer who apparently seems to have been involved in a bungled operation in a third world country that hastened her departure from government service.

An old colleague, William Bishop (Chris Noth), surfaces with offers of lucrative work in private security, but Robyn has perhaps other ideas that don’t quite gel until she finds a young woman needing saving from a bunch of thugs.

Contemplating her future and caring for her rebellious 15-year-old daughter Delilah (Laya DeLeon Hayes), with the help of her Aunt Vi (Lorraine Toussaint) to balance life as a working mother, Robyn seeks to keep her clandestine work a secret from family.

Not the lone wolf that Denzel Washington portrayed, Latifah’s vigilante gets help from Melody (Liza Lipara), an edgy bar owner and sharpshooter, and her husband Harry (Adam Goldberg), a paranoid and brilliant hacker.

Robyn’s handiwork also draws the attention of NYPD Detective Marcus Dante (Terry Kittles), who doggedly seeks to uncover the identity of the person known as The Equalizer.

When only the first episode was available to review, it’s not easy to fathom whether “The Equalizer” will capture our attention, thus the viewers must choose.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.


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