Is it possible to love your mother without it destroying your sanity? That's part of the premise behind A&E's upcoming show "Bates Motel," which foreshadowed how one boy's love for his mother could destroy him. The premise may be familiar, but the execution was near flawless.
"Bates Motel" followed how Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) suffered from the devastating shock of finding his father dead. Norman's father seemed to have died within reasonable circumstances, but that remains to be seen with Norma's recent history. He was forced to move to White Pine Bay with his mother Norma (Vera Farmiga) to start over. Part of their plan was to open up a motel that they could run together. Unfortunately, they were met with some opposition that led them covering up a crime to protect their future. Unfortunately, the Bates' mysterious plans to cover up their secret has put them under suspicion with Sheriff Alex Romero (Nestor Carbonell) and Deputy Zack Shelby (Mike Vogel). Deputy Shelby also formed a strong connection with Norma that could turn deadly if he gets too close to what she's been hiding. Norman's personal life was also starting to get complicated and he started to feel the pressure from hiding a huge secret. He formed a strong bond with fellow rebel Emma Decody (Olivia Cooke) that he told some of his secrets to. Norman also struggled with his attraction to resident popular girl Bradley Martin (Nicola Peltz) and his teacher Miss Watson's unwanted crush (Keegan Connor Tracy) on him. How will Norman and Norma be able to handle the return of Norman's half brother Dylan (Max Thieriot) who was eager to cause trouble for them?
In terms of questions, "Bates Motel" posed a lot valuable ones, but the biggest one was whether any new material can be derived from a familiar story, such as the Hitchcock classic "Psycho." Of course, viewers wer familiar with how Anthony Perkins' version of Norman Bates lost his sanity and became a dangerous murderer. What they didn't know was how he ended up this way. The show demonstrated to viewers how Norman was once a reasonably normal teenage boy who wanted to have a normal life. Unfortunately, Norman's luck always seemed to run out at the worst possible times, especially after his father died. The show also illustrated the evolution of how Norman's strong bond with his mother ended up killing both of them before they even realized it. The premiere tried to provide the right balance that viewers weren't completely turned off with the twisted mother and son dynamics. Sure, there was some humor involved as Highmore's Norman and Farmiga's Norma tried to make light of their darkest situations, but there were also scenes that were simply unnerving. A prime example would be when Farmiga's Norma was upset that Norman wanted to join the school track team rather than spend time with her. She spewed a high amount of emotional venom that will likely persuade him not to join. Viewers really needed the levity in order not to be completely turned off by the dark subject matter. The show should continue to find a balance between the comedy, drama and thrills of living at the Bates Motel. Only time will tell if that does happen.
As for breakout stars, Highmore and Fargmiga led the pack as they explore the unhealthy bonds of a mother and son that didn't completely disgust viewers. Highmore designed his version of Norman to be the right amount of innocence and insanity. It could take years of secrets and dangerous situations for him to completely lose his mind. Highmore's most memorable scene was when his character seemed to be suffering from guilty after he helped his mother cover up a crime. His guilt became full blown once he saw that he didn't get rid of all of the evidence. When he became sick to his stomach, viewers saw how Norman's pain and frustration with his situation washed over his face without having to verbalize it. It's hard to say how hard the show will push Highmore into acting outside of his comfort zone, but he showed that he was up to the task. Farmiga, on the other hand, had the dubious task of playing a character that could be considered borderline unlikable because viewers knew what her character did to her son. She designed Norma to be the right mixture of strength, vulnerability and psychosis. When Farmiga's Norma was brutally assaulted, she allowed her character to show some vulnerability where she feared she was going die. After being saved, Farmiga switched immediately to lethal anger as she expressed her frustrations in brutal fashion. Her character could be considered the show's wild card as she literally shot first and asked questions later. Future episodes should explain things whether that'll be the case.
"Bates Motel" premieres on March 18th and airs Mondays at 10:00 PM on A&E. Entertainment Weekly helped organize an early screening that was shown in various cities on February 27th. The screening took place at AMC Lowe's Cherry Hill 24 theatre at 7:00 PM.
Verdict: A show that demonstrated some early promise as it explored the complex relationship between Highmore's Norman and Farmiga's Norma that was sweet and disturbing at the same time.
TV Score: 4 out of 5 stars
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)