With a show titled Bates Motel, you’ve probably got a pretty good idea of what is going on, but here is a rundown. Less of a prequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho than a companion piece, Bates Motel follows Norman Bates as a teenager. After his father’s untimely death, Norman’s mother, Norma, buys a motel and house and relocates the two of them there to run the place. Despite being set years before Psycho, Bates Motel takes place in present day. Interestingly, it is not tech-heavy show, and with a few minor exceptions, the show has an era-less feel. [Editor’s note: In an article I wrote last week, I stated that there were no smartphones in the show. This is incorrect: both Norman and Norma have iPhones, but neither use them excessively.]
Psycho is no stranger to sequels, prequels, and remakes, but this one is quite worthwhile. It is dark and Hitchcockian, without trampling on the original. (I’m looking at you, Gus Van Sant.) The acting is fantastic. Vera Farmiga plays Norma Bates with impressive range, switching from loving mom to neurotic, overbearing mother and back again with a mere blink or breath. Freddie Highmore as Norman is equally versatile, treading a tense line between a teenager trying to be a teenager, and a kid trying not to disappoint his mother. The supporting actors - so far made up almost entirely of Norman’s female classmates - are far less interesting. They include a girl with cystic fibrosis and a clique of “mean girls” who aren’t mean at all. I can only imagine that means the bitchiness is coming.
One of the more interesting aspects of Bates Motel is that the motel itself seems to be a bad seed. Not that it is haunted or anything supernatural like that, but that bad things happened in the motel long before Norman ever got there. That aspect could very likely introduce a nature vs. nurture element into the story.
A&E seems to be trying for a Walking Dead-sized hit, and while I don’t think Bates Motel has as wide a reach as the zombie drama, I think it hits a lot of notes that will lure in the average viewer and hook the genre viewer. I am eager to see what the rest of the season holds - and I think it is a lock for another season.
Bates Motel premieres Monday, March 18th on A&E.