A&E attempts to capitalize on the huge success of current horror shows "The Walking Dead" and "American Horror Story" with the premiere of mid-season replacement show "Bates Motel." The show acts as an updated prequel to Alfred Hitchcock's generative 1960 slasher film "Psycho," following 17-year-old Norman Bates and his widowed mother Norma as they acquire, through foreclosure, a motel and the iconic manse that towers behind it.
The show's opening moments elucidated that this is no "Walking Dead" or "AHS." With inferior writing and production value and clearly a lower budget than the aforementioned predecessors, "Bates Motel" nonetheless proves interesting.
Show creators Carlton Cuse, best known as writer and producer for "Lost," and Kerry Ehrin, writer for "Friday Night Lights", cast 21-year-old Brit Freddie Highmore ("Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," "The Spiderwick Chronicles") as Norman. Acclaimed first for her performance in "The Departed," Academy Award nominee for "Up in the Air" Vera Farmiga plays Norma. No stranger to the horror genre, Farmiga starred in the 2009 film "Orphan" and is real life big sister to Taissa, who played Violet in the first season of "AHS."
The show's first episode, entitled First You Dream, Then You Die, presented audiences with a sweet Norman and an almost sweet, though extremely overprotective, Norma. To support Norman and herself, while keeping her distance from Norman's deadbeat older brother, the widow has gone from one town and harebrained scheme to another, with the latest - the motel - already doomed because (as the Norman of the 1960 film relates happens) a superhighway is soon to be built on the other side of town.
At first, the Bates don't give much thought to the menacing threats of a disgruntled family member of the former owners and his vague comments about knowing all the evil history of the property. But when a disagreement surrounding Norma's possessiveness results in Norman sneaking out and going to a party with new classmates, the man breaks in, handcuffs Norma to the kitchen table and rapes her. Norman returns home during the act and knocks out the intruder. The Bates succeed in handcuffing the man, but, after leaving the room briefly, Norman returns to find Norma has repeatedly stabbed and killed him.
In a creepy though derivative scene, Norman and his mom struggle to get the body from the house on the hill into a bathtub in one of the empty motel rooms. When Norman accidentally drops his end, Norma blames him for the blood stain on the carpet and insists they must, right now, pull up the carpet in all the rooms and use renovations as an excuse to anyone who might come around asking.
When the police see lights on in the motel they thought abandoned, in the middle of the night, they stop to check it out. The elder of the two officers enters the bathroom which has the body behind a shower curtain. This obvious attempt at suspense falls flat due to the fact that the events that come to pass in the film wouldn't be possible had Norma been found a murderer at this time. Of interest, though, the sparks evident between Norma and the younger officer, which, from previews of coming episodes, eventually ignite.
The show added an intriguing element when Norman, while pulling up the carpet, discovers a small sketch book depicting women in bondage, which he hides from Norma. Later, he's studying the drawings with a bit too much interest, clearly foreshadowing events to come and the wickedness hiding inside Norman's rather charming exterior. Another chilling moment, when Norman and his mom discuss their love for one another, which borders on the incestuous -- WHILE dumping the dead body into a lake.
Instead of the usual pilot, A&E has scheduled ten episodes on Mondays at 10 p.m. Eastern. Besides Norma's dalliance with the policeman, previews suggest her elder son will also come into the picture. While "Bates Motel" may not live up to the quality of its contemporaries, with limited off-season TV offerings, the intriguing story development and good casting choices make it a viable choice for horror fans.