Review: Bates Motel - too close for comfort

Published: April 14, 2013
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A&E’s new series looks at the teenage years of Norman Bates before he unraveled to become  Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.

A&E’s new series looks at the teenage years of Norman Bates before he unraveled to become Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.

A&E’s new series looks at the teenage years of Norman Bates before he unraveled to become  Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. A&E’s new series looks at the teenage years of Norman Bates before he unraveled to become  Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.

Oedipal closeness has few signs, unless you are watching really closely. In the case of Norman Bates and his mother Norma Bates the creepy mother-son bond goes beyond more than just one alphabetic letter in the new A&E television series Bates Motel.

This prequel by executive producers Carlton Cuse of Lost and Kerry Ehrin of Friday Night Lights offers a fresh Hitchcockian look into what happened in the fictitious years that led up to Psycho — the film that forever changed horror.

The first episode opens with the writers giving us a hint at the undertones by using lines from the movie His Girl Friday: “Are you going to live with your mother?” Cary Grant’s character sneakily asks his ex-girlfriend’s fiancé, to which the man replies “Just for the first year.”

Bates Motel, which has aired four episodes so far, tells the story of Norman (Freddie Highmore of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) — an intelligent but fidgety 17-year-old — and his highly co-dependent mother, Norma (Vera Farmiga). After the mysterious death of Norman’s father, they move to a rundown motel to start a new life.

We see Norman struggling to fit into his new high school, a possible love interest, blood-stained carpets in the murky motel, a suspicious sheriff and a corpse in the shower. And all the while, in the background, Norma manipulates his adolescent mind into thinking he can never leave her side. “We’re like two peas in a pod,” the teenager assures his mother, while quoting lines from Jane Eyre. “There’s a cord between our hearts. We share the same blood.”

The question is whether the writers will go down the same road as the movie, with Norman eventually murdering his mother and developing a split personality. Since creepy and cryptic seem be the theme raking in high ratings for television networks — The Walking Dead (AMC), Dexter (Showtime) and The Vampire Diaries (CW) to name a few — A&E has also thrown its name in the ring. The network, however, has chosen to go with the more familiar Bates family which already has a fan base, making it easier for the network to market this product. The challenge lies in the writers being able to expand on the lives of two of the most lonesome characters of the big screen. The show airs every Friday in the United States on A&E.

1  Hannibal

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The cannibalistic serial killer, Dr Hannibal Lecter, is back — this time on the small screen and much younger. The series has only aired one episode up till now but Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale) has already won our hearts with his sharp dressing, slick hair and his culinary expertise (minus his choice of meat). Hannibal is dark and intense, (compared to him Dexter looks like a vegetarian) but it will be interesting to see how Lecter keeps getting away with a human-only diet for so long.

2   Smallville

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We all know the movie Superman. Here too, much like Bates Motel, the television series Smallville, set over ten seasons, tells you everything you need to know about how the adopted boy learns to use his powers to save the world (without the spandex — in the first few seasons at least). Taking story lines from DC’s original comics, the TV script introduces Kent’s parents, his high school sweetheart, his arch nemesis Lex Luthor and other super heroes.

3    The Carrie Diaries

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What was Carrie Bradshaw like before the Manolo Blahniks and Mr Big? How did this ballerina-bodied icon become the personification of Sex and the City where she reigned with Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte from 1998 to 2004? You can find out about it in The Carrie Diaries that is set in 1984. She is good looking and in a small town with nothing to do. It’s hard to say, however, how the audience will react to the missing elements which made Sex and the City a cult series.

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, April 14th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (3)

  • boco
    Apr 15, 2013 - 12:34AM

    Loved Bates Motel, the family dynamic is delicious especially with Norman’s brother in the mix (which wasn’t present in any of the Psycho movies or the books) and the acting is terrific, Vera Farmiga is a delight to watch.
    Hannibal was underwhelming to say the least: the chemistry between Lecter and Graham is stunted; Hugh Dancy is overacting his part and Mads Mikkelsen is a miscast, he isn’t bringing the bone-chilling charisma Anthony Hopkins brought to the role and his accent is very distracting (I can’t be creeped out/scared by you if I can’t understand what you are saying Dr. Lecter); the female leads are annoying specially the CSI girl and Lawrence Fishburne doesn’t have any acting chops beyond red pill/blue pill-level scenes; plus American network tv is not a good fit for the concept of the show, the show belongs on cable maybe then it wouldn’t be so watered down.Recommend

  • Nobody
    Apr 15, 2013 - 2:59PM

    Love Bates Motel so far. Acting is superb, very natural and believable. Each episode more intense than the previous. Hannibal was enjoyable as well but not quite as much. I love Hugh Dancy, but I need more time to fall for his character on this particular show. Mads is not a bad choice. Not the best, but not bad. Haven’t grown to like or have any feeling at all about the other characters.

    Recommend

  • doom
    Apr 23, 2013 - 8:00PM

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