Bates Motel (2013)- Universal Channel (UK) Thursdays at 9pm
Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is an undisputed classic of cinema. Taking characters from the 1960 film and putting them into a modern setting was a big gamble, with myriad cinema fans waiting in the wings to rubbish it. I have to confess, I was one of them. First there was the pointless 1998 remake, and now the characters were being resurrected for a TV show intended as a prequel to the film, set in the modern day. What was the point? Why not commission an original story? However, we are now on episode 3 of the series in the UK, and things are starting to get very interesting in the motel, and my cynicism may be proved wrong.
Norma (Vera Farmiga) and Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) have moved into their newly purchased motel, which they quickly renamed the Bates Motel, and were just settling in to their new life. Things were bound not to run smoothly, we know Norman’s future after all, but the pair have found themselves in a lot of trouble very quickly.
The drama in Bates Motel comes, much like that in Superman backstory Smallville, from wondering how we get from A to B, in this case from seemingly sweet Norman in episode one of the series to the Norman (and his desiccated mother) of Psycho fame. Freddie Highmore was an inspired choice for the role made famous by Anthony Perkins, having the same slight frame and innocent exterior, and he has been excellent so far balancing that quiet calm with an edge of menace, adding his own spin on the character. The writers have also thrown into the mix a half-brother, Dylan (Max Thieriot), who arrives on the scene calling his mother either “Norma” or “Whore” and throws up some interesting questions about the family’s past. What did happen to Norman’s father? Where is Dylan’s father? What exactly is Norma and Norman’s relationship?
Therein lies the most interesting and creepy element to the show, explaining the mother of all mummy issues. Norma and Norman are CLOSE. Too close. Smotheringly close. But Vera Farmiga manages to play the role so well that you are convinced she doesn’t really know what she is doing to her son. As an example, Norma sees getting undressed in front of her 17-year old son as a perfectly normal mother-son interaction. Norman meanwhile is seemingly unaware of the interest in him from two girls at his local high school, with his mind firmly elsewhere.
It has been an interesting and compelling start to the series, and definitely worth watching, although it treads an odd line between being a dark drama in the vein of Hannibal and a more teenage-friendly series like The OC or Dawson’s Creek. Worth a watch if you’re in need of a series with a great cast and a creepy tone.
- Vera Farmiga & Freddie Highmore – Emmy Awards 2013 (justjared.com)
- Bates Motel: ‘I don’t want to mimic Anthony Perkins’ (independent.co.uk)