Can’t wait ‘til the next season of “Dexter” this fall? Not enough horror movies coming out this month? Is the fact that the Jodi Arias trial is winding down driving you into a mad depression? Well, fear not, horror show lovers, help is on the way. More killers are getting their own TV series, with two based on popular movie killers premiering in the next month. Norman Bates is open for business at the “Bates Motel” starting March 18 on A & E. And “Hannibal”, based on the “Hannibal the Cannibal” Lecter character of “The Silence of the Lambs” franchise fame, is being served up April 4 on NBC. Bon Appétit!
Ever since “The Sopranos” became a critical darling as well as a big ratings winner for HBO back in the early part of this century, networks have been trying to capture a similar dark magic with their own stories centered on killers and very bad eggs. Since then, “Breaking Bad” has become one of basic cable’s most respected shows as Walter White as gone from chemistry teacher to drug kingpin in five, terrifying seasons. Showtime’s “Dexter” is approaching year seven and has reinvigorated itself in its last couple of seasons by having stepsister Deb find out about her stepbrother's peccadilloes and joining him on the dark side of the law herself (http://exm.nr/Z98RPz). And Don Draper, Nucky Thompson, Sookie’s vampire lovers, all those sons of anarchy, and half the cast of “Game of Thrones” have proven that being the anti-hero sure beats being a hero on TV these days.
Thus, Norman Bates and Hannibal Lecter, two of the greatest movie villains of all-time, will soon be starring in their own primetime TV shows. Bryan Fuller, who brought us “Heroes” a few seasons back, now switches to the other side with his take on the early years of Dr. Lecter’s duel with FBI profiler Will Graham. Mads Mikkelson plays Lecter while Hugh Dancy will essay the role of the bad doctor's crime fighting foil. Mikkelson made mincemeat out of 007’s testicles in “Casino Royale” in 2006, and we shall now see how he does with a man’s liver, some Fava beans and a nice Chianti. The DeLaurentis Group tried to make more hay out of the character with a youthful film reboot back in 2007 but “Hannibal Rising” bombed big time, so hopefully the American Film Institute’s pick for # 1 villain of all time (http://bit.ly/oEa39D) will make the transition to the small screen and not bite off more than he can chew.
Then there’s Norman Bates. The AFI’s # 2 villain of all-time has seen his profile turn into just as big a legend since his premiere in Alfred Hitchcock’s horror classic “Psycho” way back in 1960. For my money, it’s impossible for anyone to top the amazing performance of Anthony Perkins as the mother-fixated motel manager (http://exm.nr/LOCHUQ) and most others agreed, as subsequent "Pyscho"sequels or spin-off's wisely turned to him to continue playing the iconic role. But Perkins is no longer with us and the role must be recast. Shrewdly, the makers of "Bates Motel" aren't starting with an adult Norman, but rather a teenager in an origins story, so that will make it a bit easier for an actor to start anew.
Freddie Highmore, the respected child star of "Finding Neverland" (1994), is now 21 and will be portraying the troubled teenage Norman. And the series will concentrate on his early, tempestuous relationship with his demanding mother Norma (Vera Famiga). Famiga is one of the more complex actresses working today and her participation promises something special. And showing how Norman was ‘schooled’ by his namesake parent could illuminate the entire “Psycho” series as I hope that the early years of Hannibal's story will do the same for his franchise. Time will tell whether either TV series resonates with the public the way their movie counterparts have for decades now.
To me, as a horror buff, the most promising part of all of this is the continuation of TV thriving in the genre. While big-budget movies are more obsessed with CGI effects and bloodletting, TV has concentrated on character, which makes all the difference in the world. Perhaps because they cannot be as gory as an R-rated movie, television shows have to make the characters more interesting to keep our attention. But keep us they do, even on a show like AMC's “The Walking Dead” where the violence is unsettling, but the characterizations are more so. We wouldn't care about what happens on the show, and it wouldn't be basic cable's biggest hit, if it weren't for us caring about what happens to the cadre of complex characters. And care we do, about them, and all the other baddies in primetime who are making for such rich and fascinating character studies.
It could be a big year for horror, what with “Bates Motel” and “Hannibal” launching in the next weeks, along with the premieres of big screen remakes like “Carrie”, “Evil Dead”, and “Hellraiser” due in the coming months. I'm also looking forward to the theatrical releases of original works like “World War Z”, “The Lords of Salem” and “All the Boys Love Mandy Lane” as well. With all that, who needs the Jodi Arias trial? And frankly, that nightmare is just too horrifying to watch. Even for me.