Bates Motel

By David Knox on May 25, 2013 / Filed Under Reviews, Top Stories 12

2013-05-25_0036Since American Horror Story has come along, US television seems to be going back to telling twisted tales and having a bit of fun with the genre.

After all, it’s been a long time since we’ve seen Twin Peaks.

The latest, Bates Motel from Carlton Cuse (Lost), Kerry Ehrin (Friday Night Lights) and Anthony Cipriano, may not be as ground-breaking, but it’s not without its charms.

As the name suggests, Bates Motel is set in the land of Psycho and in this case it’s a prequel.

We meet 17 year old Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) and his mother Norma (Vera Farmiga) as they move into the old house behind a closed, run-down motel in Oregon (a reassembled Psycho house still stands on the Universal Studios lot, not far from Desperate Housewives‘ Wisteria Lane).

Norma and Norman are depicted as moving into the house, having bought the motel to begin a new chapter in their lives. They are still recovering from the death of Norman’s father, who has suffered a gruesome death. What is significant here however, is that while this serves as a prequel to Psycho, it’s set in the present (Wentworth has similarly bent the timeline rules).

Mother and son are especially close in this tale (I can’t help but wonder about an Oedipus complex bubbling away here), with Norma protective of Norman from his new female school friends, together with several scenes of affection to the exclusion of all other characters. In Bates Motel, it’s mother and son against the world.

Norman does meet Emma Decody (Olivia Cooke), a new-found school friend suffering Cystic Fibrosis, while Norma is confronted by an angry Keith Summers, whose family was forced by the bank into selling the house and motel. The first episode will also introduce the inquisitive Sheriff Alex Romero (Nestor Carbonell) and his Deputy Zack Shelby (Mike Vogel). Norman later uncovers a mystery that will chart a longer series arc.

Gaunt Freddie Highmore makes for a convincing younger Anthony Perkins, who goes to great lengths to protect his mother. Vera Farmiga (Source Code, Up in the Air), who reminds me of Felicity Huffman, has the most layers to her manipulative character and is the more interesting of the two.

While the story has a contemporary setting, the designers have sought to give the show old-fashioned sensibilities. They drive old cars and the shy, reserved Norman dresses in conservative clothes.

Sustaining the interest across a series will be part of the challenge here, however the opening episode is a strong start and it deftly balances character, movie mythology and enough thrills with a solid cast.

Bates Motel airs 8:30pm Sunday on FOX8.

12 Comments »

  1. chilli May 27, 2013 at 12:27 am -

    Couldn’t help but think how much Nestor Carbonell looked like a younger Anthony Perkins

  2. Mac May 26, 2013 at 1:23 pm -

    Nailed the Huffman comparison there, David – I was struggling to put my finger on it.

  3. daveinprogress May 26, 2013 at 1:22 pm -

    @theblueskidoo – great name, by the way!
    Vera was wonderful in those first 2 movies you mention. She is always watchable even if the material isn’t always. Freddie Highmore was one of the most powerful juvenile actors during the 00’s. I look forward to this, the creepier the better!

  4. theblueskidoo May 25, 2013 at 2:45 pm -

    Anything heralded as ‘the best worst new show on TV’ sparks my interest.

    Vera Farmiga had an extraordinary screen presence in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and Up in the Air, although she was in that craptastic movie Orphan.

  5. MattJ May 25, 2013 at 1:39 pm -

    Love this show. Watched first ep on the Foxtel On Demand two nights ago. Now have to wait more than a week for ep 2!

  6. David Knox May 25, 2013 at 11:24 am -

    It won’t.

  7. Buddy029 May 25, 2013 at 11:09 am -

    Any word on this coming to free to air TV, Looks like it might be alright. I really enjoyed American Horror Story….

  8. Jason May 25, 2013 at 10:31 am -

    Nothing will beat the original “Psycho”. But if there are still some creative writers somewhere, yes, agree with all of Glory Days. Those were indeed the “Glory Days”.

  9. Glory Days May 25, 2013 at 9:05 am -

    Maybe it’s time for revisiting shows like The Twilight Zone and Tales of the Unexpected used to creep me out late at night when I was a kid.

    I liked Two Twisted (the Bryan Brown series back about 7 years).

    I have Bates Motel in the planner.

  10. adrianguest May 25, 2013 at 8:48 am -

    Just finished watching series 1 final ep, audience is definitely kept interested. The two lead actors are pivotal to this. Series 2 is a definite.

  11. pietro May 25, 2013 at 8:18 am -

    If you are looking for any vestige of Hitchcock style you will be very disappointed.

  12. bozzy May 25, 2013 at 7:32 am -

    I have seen the first series of BM and it is great. More twists than a roller coaster

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