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Friday, August 01, 2014

Bates Motel -- Season One (Review)

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Bates Motel
2013 A&E
Season One
Score: 7/10

Psycho is one of the better films by arguably the greatest director of all time. The film, a master class in suspense and atmosphere, deserves its status as a classic. Now, as we continue into the depths of this age of infinite prequels and sequels, Psycho is ripe for mining. The film has been sequeled to death already, though, so the A&E channel has wisely chosen to take the prequel path with their series, Bates Motel. Considering the film features a guy who dresses in his dead mother's clothes, murders people in her guise, all while keeping his her corpse upright in a chair in the cellar, the series has a lot of ground to cover. Norman Bates must journey from a kind, well-mannered teenager to the severely disturbed individual mentioned in the previous sentence. Considering these horrific events have to somehow be entertaining and watchable over the course of multiple seasons, the showrunners, Kerry Ehrin (Friday Night Lights) and Carlton Cuse (Lost), have their work cut out for them.
The bad: Though Norman eventually has to reach quite a horrific state, the show can be a bit melodramatic at times. Rape, murder, illegal pot farming, sex slavery, incest--the show can lay it on pretty thick at times. The simple fact that Norman's mother is domineering and his family situation is poor could have fed these ten episodes with all the material they needed. The issues listed above continue to pile up to an almost ridiculous level--the show could be renamed "Don't Move to White Pine Bay," and perhaps be more aptly titled. All of this craziness undermines the seriousness of Bates Motel's first season a little. Also, Norman's mother is a bit hard to take at times, and while she is supposed to be, her motivations could have been revealed sooner than the final ten minutes of the season finale.
The good: For everything I've just mentioned, Bates Motel is a very fun, addictive program. The characters are well drawn, and the actors are enjoyable in their roles. The show dabbles quite a bit with high school romance, and actually does a great job of tying this in to Norman's future nature. Norman's romantic life also gives his mother fertile ground to roam. As Norman's mother, Norma (Yes, "Norma"), Vera Farmiga has the hardest task of any of Bates' actors. As previously stated, Norma acts bizarrely with no explanation for most of the season, so Farmiga has to work extra hard to inject some humanity and likability into the character. Elsewhere, Freddie Highmore does an excellent job portraying Norman's efforts to balance his devotion to Norma with actually having some sort of life. Highmore also excels at channeling his predecessor, Anthony Perkins, who portrayed Bates in Hitchcock's Psycho. One scene, involving a spurned Norman feverishly repeating his mother's words as he walks away from an ex-lover, is particularly chilling in its invocation of Perkins' performance. Indeed, the performances and character work, along with the setting and atmosphere, make Bates Motel worth watching.
"Indeed" is a swell word.

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