Bates Motel Season 1 (2013) TV Review “A Motel Worth Checking Into”

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I don’t always stay on top of TV news like I do movie news, (which might explain why this blog was originally primarily movie related as oppose to TV related).  So, I found out literally a couple nights before the premiere, that A&E was coming out with a contemporary prequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece “Psycho” (only one of the greatest films of all time).    I remained optimistic since a well made show leading up to the original film could be very interesting.  “Bates Motel” is a very solid show with some memorable moments and good acting by our lead actor and actress.  The series however gets itself bogged down in meaningless subplots that acts as filler rather then something contributive.   Never the less, “Bates Motel” has enough to love to bring viewers back for more after each episode.

As mentioned before “Bates Motel” is a prequel (of sorts) to the original masterpiece “Psycho”.   As we see Norman Bates as a teenager accompanied with his mother as they open up a new hotel in a small town.  Slowly though it becomes clear that Norman Bates isn’t a normal teenager as his psych begins to unravel in this new town that seems to be full of secrets and lies.

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Whether or not this a true prequel is still unclear.  Although the show clearly looks directly inspired and molded after Hitchcock’s vision and production design of the original movie, this is still a contemporary setting so it doesn’t take place in the 1950s or 1960s, it’s modern day.  So obviously continuity is a little off (as far as time periods are concerned) but “Bates Motel” suggests towards “Psycho” and even with that time period difference it keeps the movie’s sprit alive.  It’s the best of both worlds, keeping true to the original movie but also keeping things fresh and new.

One thing right off the bat you have to understand is this series isn’t made with the same level of craftsmanship that Hitchcock was making his original movie at.  Almost no one can match his level of craftsmanship however as for a cable network TV show, it’s above the average show.  It’s well shot and the look and feel of the production is very well executed.  “Bates Motel” is able to distinguish itself away from other network shows.

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For a network show it does go to a few dark and scary places that I think many other channels would shy away from showing.  Just the attempted rape in the very first episode feels very grotesque.  The show never gets gratuitous but sometimes I feel as though the network could have pushed the show’s content further for its dark and sometimes twisted subject matter but at the same time for many other watered down network shows  there are , this does stick it’s head above the rest.  So, in that regard I guess I can’t complain too much.

Playing the famed role of Norman Bates is once famous child star Freddie Highmore.  Remember him from Tim Burton’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” remake or “Spiderwick” or “Finding Neverland” or  “August Rush” or even that little fantasy film “Arthur and the Invisibles?”  I swear to god this kid use to be everywhere.  Now an adult at the start of this show (playing a teen) Highmore proves himself to be more than just an aging former kid actor and displays dynamic range.  He is both sympathetic and sweet on the surface but shows just enough edge to hint towards a damaged psyche.   While it’s hard to ever replace what Anthony Perkins did in the original, Highmore carries on the spirit of his performance and all around impresses.

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Playing opposite of Highmore is the wickedly talented Vera Farmiga of “Conjuring” fame.  Farmiga plays Norman’s mother Norma Bates.  A character for obvious reasons was absent from the original film is now front and center as a main player, and Farmiga gives a commanding performance.  She is able to play sweet and innocent but has a clear wicked undercurrent.  Her pivotal role is played to perfection; with the added appeal of an actress that looks like could have been a movie star back in the 50s and 60, she has that aurora about her.

What’s nice about this show is it takes it’s time in its buildup towards the show’s eventual finale.  Many prequels make the mistake of playing their cards too early in favor of fan service, but here the writers are smart enough to hold enough back in favor of building this unraveling story.  There is sometimes too much teen angst material and some less than interesting filler subplots ( mostly involving Norman’s brother)  that gets tiresome.  For the writing shortcomings, what they do well however they do extremely well.

Now not all the acting in the show is as good as Freddie Highmore, or Vera Farmiga,( or even the very solid young actress Olivia Cooke).  One of the major supporting players is Max Thierot playing Norman’s half-brother.  The character occasionally has some vital importance (when he isn’t bothering with local “gangsters”) but Thierot is very inconsistent as an actor; sometimes he is very good but other times he is very flat.  Another semi-regular is Nicola Peltz as Norman’s high school crush, Bradley Martin.  Again she is very inconsistent. Sometimes Peltz is solid but most of the time wooden (which explains her “Transformers 4” performance)

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This show isn’t perfect but this first season is definitely the start of something that could turn into something special on TV.   It has two great lead actors, some pretty solid writing, and an edge and creepiness to it.   If the writers sharpen up their focus and maybe play down their more inconsistent actors you might have not just a good show but a great show.  Will season 2 continue this trend?  That’s for another time.

Final Score

7.5/10

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