I have to commend A&E for putting itself on the level of networks like AMC, FX and HBO. They’ve introduced a number of original shows and mini-series, elevating their programming from hoarders and animal patrol guys with ugly hair.
Their latest, ‘Bates Motel,’ is an interesting look at a young Norman Bates and his beloved mother Norma before the events of the original ‘Psycho’ movie and its sequels and remake. The fact that it’s set in present day might throw you off a bit, after all we remember Norman as they shy and creepy character played by Anthony Perkins, but in it’s first episode, ‘First You Dream, Then You Die,’ the show gives us more insight to who Norman was and how he came to be such a ladykiller.
Norman, played by Freddie Highmore who you might remember from ‘Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, finds his father lying dead in the garage. When he screams for his mother Norma, Vera Farmiga, she isn’t all that surprised or upset by any of this, and this begins what I assume will be a series of moments where Mrs. Bates is unfazed by violence and gore.
Not long after they arrive at the newly acquired motel, they meet a man whose family used to own the land and thinks he should be the rightful owner. When Norman sneaks out with some high school girls who have taken an annoying like to him, the man breaks into their house to threaten and sexually assault Norma. This scene was shown in very graphic and uncomfortable detail. Luckily, Norman arrives just in time to beat the guy over the head with an iron, then Norma finishes him off with a knife. She ignores the fact that she has been raped and cut, and goes straight into covering up the murder. How many times has she done this, and how many times has Norman been witness?
Just two of the many questions the show raises about Norman’s upbringing. He and his mother share an odd bond, and while I didn’t get the feeling that she show was suggesting that Norman and his mother had a sexual relationship, the way she keeps him away from other people, especially girls, is telling precursor to his behavior in ‘Psycho.’ She’s completely dependent on him, while we see that he just wants to be a normal kid. The apparently popular girls that befriend are one dimensional, but he later meets a girl who seems like a bit of a loner like him.
While Norman tries to fit in at school, Norma has to keep the murder a secret from the prying cops who stop by the hotel searching for the missing man. Her and Norman then share a sweet moment when they dump his body into a lake. Just regular, old fashioned mother-son bonding.
Farmiga and Highmore make a great team here. He is cute enough that you feel sorry for him at times, having to deal with such an overbearing (insane?) mother, but there are moments of creepiness where we see flashes of what Norman will become. Farmiga is great at playing crazy women, and her take on Mrs. Bates is at times a little sympathetic. She loves her son, but perhaps too much. I’m sure she believes a boy’s best friend is his mother.
This year seems to be the year for killer shows. FOX has ‘The Following,’ and NBC will be premiering ‘Hannibal’ soon. Television is getting grisly. ‘Bates Motel’ isn’t perfect, but I’ll give it time to grow.
So I’ll be staying at ‘Bates Motel’ and you should check in too!