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.