Checking In to the “Bates Motel”
I’ve never been a huge fan of prequels. Watching stories I already pretty much know or investing in characters I know will end up in horrible conditions – which let’s face it, most prequels deal with tragic characters – just doesn’t do anything for me. That being said, I have really been looking forward to A&E’s new series Bates Motel, which airs Monday nights. Apparently, lots of people were as excited for this show as I was; 4.6 million people watched the premier episode. The prequel to the Alfred Hitchcock classic, Psycho, features a teenage Norman Bates as he and his dear mother buy a recently foreclosed motel, so they can have a fresh start after his father dies under, shall we say, suspicious circumstances. Their fresh start isn’t going to be so easy though. Days after moving in, the previous owner comes back to claim what he thinks is his, and things get very Hitchcockian in all the best ways. On top of that, they town is not the idyllic haven Mrs. Bates was hoping for; crime and eye-for-an-eye justice holds the town together, so maybe the Bates will fit right in after all.
In my opinion, Norman Bates is the perfect focus for a prequel: we may know how he ends up and a bit about his backstory, but there’s enough mystery and intrigue to keep the story interesting. Plus, here’s an opportunity to see Mrs. Bates alive and well and follow just how she molded Norman into a killer. After two episodes, I have to say, I’m hooked. The characterization and acting are beautifully crafted. Norman is an awkward adolescent, who is quite popular with the ladies. And why not? Freddie Highmore (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Finding Neverland) is positively adorable as Norman Bates, and yet he can be quite creepy when no one onscreen is looking. He harbors no ill will, unless someone insults his mother, Norma Bates – it’s not weird; sons take their father’s names all the time – played by the brilliant Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air, Orphan). Farmiga is brilliantly twirked as the overbearing, psychotic Mrs. Bates, a mother a little too close to her son. Their destructive relationship is subtle yet unmistakable.
The series also adds a couple of new faces, including Norman’s rebellious half-brother, Dylan (Max Thieriot of House at the End of the Street, My Soul to Take). Dylan’s utter disdain for his mother beautifully contrasts Norman’s infatuation. There are also several girls who take an interest in Norman, namely Bradley (Nicola Peltz) and Kennedy (Conchita Campbell). Bradley is a popular girl with a jealous boyfriend – you know that’s going to be addressed during the series – and Kennedy is a sweetheart attached to an oxygen machine, but still eager to pull Norman into adventures.
The show is dark, intriguing, full of twists and turns, and has just enough references to its source material. My one complaint is the music. The music for Psycho is so iconic; I’d like some taste of it in the series, even if it’s just over the title opening. Perhaps they’re waiting to incorporate it once Norman becomes psycho. But with a complaint so minor, it barely warrants mentioning. Bates Motel is definitely worth checking out – or “checking in.” Har har har.
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