TV Review - Bates Motel

One of my favorite TV shows of the past decade was ABC's Lost, which premiered in 2004. One of the head writers and executive producers of that series Carlton Cuse and one of its producers and directors Tucker Gates have reunited to create this show based on Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), but warped into its own thing. Thankfully, the makers here bring the beautiful aesthetic from Lost to this quirky thriller and psychological drama. The camerawork and production design are gorgeous and are very cinematic in the way Lost was. That, along with the writing and the acting, which has managed to pop interesting and compelling characters, one of which is obviously familiar, has made me, based on the first three episodes, want to see where this show is going.

Freddie Highmore stars as Norman Bates, a 17-year-old mama's boy who wakes up one day to find his father dead. He's devastated, and he's comforted by his mother, but within six months Norman's mother uses the insurance money from her husband's death to move herself and Norman from Arizona to California to purchase an old motel that she wants to manage by herself with Norman.

Max Thieriot (Chloe and House at the End of the Street) co-stars as Dylan, Norman's half-brother. He comes to stay at the motel, despite his hatred of his and Norman's mother. Dylan and Norman have the same mother but different fathers, and the reason Dylan hates their mother is because she left his father for Norman's. Because of his resentment, his mother practically abandoned Dylan and tried to distance herself and erase Dylan from her life.

Oscar-nominee Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air and The Departed) co-stars as Norma, the mother in question of both these boys. Clearly, she favors Norman and clearly she dotes on him. She's very controlling over him. She's also overly protective. It's due to hardships and abuses she's suffered in her life that makes her, as Dylan says, want to smother Norman, be all over him, and passively-aggressively control him.

Norman is in return very protective of her. Dylan thinks he should leave her, but the intricacies and intimacies of Norma and Norman's relationship is the creepy draw of the show. Another creepy draw is the town next to which the motel is located. The town is made all the more creepy because the presence of the Bates family exposes the criminal underbelly that possibly controls the town.

The Bates family doesn't necessarily expose that underbelly as much as they are pulled into it in a possible Breaking Bad kind of way. Meanwhile, Norman has a bit of a love triangle, or a perceived love triangle between the popular girl Bradley, played by Nicola Peltz, and the awkward girl with cystic fibrosis Emma, played by Olivia Cooke. Yet, along the way, we see an internal struggle for Norman who does have behavioral and possibly mental problems.

Allusions to Hitchcock's hit film do appear. It starts with the look of Freddie Highmore. He is dressed up to be a young Anthony Perkins, tall, slender, mild-mannered, slightly awkward but cute. Episode 5 has a shot that is patterned after the famous, final shot of Psycho. It has a different context, but it's still as haunting.

The first six episodes maintain that haunting aura. Again, I go back to quirky. Aside from haunting, this series is quirky. There's this morbid comedy to it like when characters are trying to cover up a murder, yet the people involved stumble. A cop also unknowingly takes a piss next to a dead body. One character even quotes Jane Eyre while helping to perform a burial at sea.

The show swings from reminding me of Taxi Driver (1976) to the HBO series Six Feet Under. It has great performances. Farmiga is the best. Her character is put through a lot and Farmiga sells every moment, even the most ridiculous. Highmore is good for her to bounce off, but Thieriot is better and more interesting than Highmore, but the writers give Highmore and Thieriot such warm and tense scenes together.

The only criticism is the first two villains. The first one is a bit over-the-top but needlessly so. The second villain is well-woven. He's not even the obvious villain. He's certainly antagonistic, but he's handsome, charming and in some ways helpful. He's Deputy Shelby and he's played perfectly by Mike Vogel (Miami Medical and Pan Am). In the end, he's painted in such evil broad strokes that it's hard not to laugh at him or the situation in which he finds himself.

Yet, the whole thing is still fun, even in its silliness.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-14-DSLV.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Mondays at 10PM on A&E.


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