He’s a high school kid whose mother wouldn’t let him go out on a school night. But yet, just few hours later she insists that he take part in a gruesome task that seems counterintuitive to all maternal instincts she may have shown earlier in the evening. The mother’s thought process seems insane one moment and then, after she makes a frantic explanation of her reasoning, perfectly logical.
This flip-flopping, snap decision-making theme is carried throughout the first installment of “Bates Motel” and sets the tone for the series. Inspired by Hitchcock’s genre-defining film, “Psycho,” the series is a contemporary exploration of the formative years of Norman Bates’ relationship with his mother, Norma, and the world they inhabit.
Following the tragic death of her husband, Norma Bates buys a motel on the outskirts of the idyllic coastal town of White Pine Bay, seeking a fresh start. As Norma and Norman get ensconced in their new home, they discover this town isn't quite what it seems, and the locals aren’t so quick to let them in on their secrets. But the Bates’ duo will do whatever it takes to survive, including whatever is necessary to protect their own secrets. The series promises to give viewers an intimate portrayal of how Norman Bates’ psyche unravels through his teenage years, delving into how deeply intricate his relationship with his mother, Norma, truly is.
The series stars Academy Award nominee Vera Farmiga (“Up in the Air,” “The Departed”) and Freddie Highmore (“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Finding Neverland”) as mother and son. The pair work well together and even in the first episode have both an awkwardness and an ease with each other that is very true to life in a family of just two members.
The eeriness of the series is created by a combination of a light and airy palate that’s most often associated with contemporary features and a grainy, musty look that gives the essence of an old reel-to-reel film. The equal parts of this mixture make for an extremely unique feel throughout the narrative.
This look is in keeping with the tone of the series, which can best be described as a ‘contemporary pre-quel,’; a story that’s set in the present about a past character who’s ultimate fate is already known.
If the first episode is any indication of what’s to come in the following installments, much like the film that inspired this series, this narrative is not for the faint of heart. There are several ‘jump-inducing’ moments in this opening that will make even the most hardened viewer squirm. But these ‘scary’ moments are far outweighed by the slow psychological build that begins early on and will no doubt continue.
Given the pedigree of those behind the camera, it’s a fairly safe bet that the subsequent episodes of the series won’t succumb to ridiculous plotting or unbelievably twists. Those creative powers include the unlikely twosome of Carlton Cuse and Kerry Ehrin. He of “Lost” and she of “Friday Night Lights,” they seem to have the background to handle both the mysterious and familial elements that are needed to successfully tell this story.
The formula seems to work immediately. From the get go, the characters are well-defined and instantly compelling. The frightening familiar sight of the motel itself is more than enough to give an incredible amount of context to everything that’s happened and will happen on the series. Everything about this show has an uneasiness to it that will be strangely welcome and encouraged by viewers.
Even knowing where this journey with Norma and Norma eventually ends, this trip is still definitely worth taking.
"Bates Motel" premieres Monday, March 18th at 10e/9c on A&E.
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