A&E’s Bates Motel is the newest offering to grace a television landscape that has been overtaken by zombies and programs that focus on psychological horrors. But what makes the show intriguing (and what sets it apart) is that on the surface, it’s not exactly what it seems. From the first few episodes, it’s hard to know whether Bates Motel wants to be a full-out horror show (the pilot episode has at least one overly squirmy moment) or a psychological thriller – though it’s clear that as the show eases into its run, it only gets stronger and more intriguing. And in that way, it may be that the show ends up being both sides of the coin.
This smoke-and-mirror atmosphere shouldn’t be surprising considering Bates is (fittingly) helmed by Carlton Cuse (LOST) and Kerry Ehrin (Friday Night Lights) both of whom have experience writing strong characters and intriguing twists. Still, the series is a dark and interesting choice for an hour long, short season foray.
Despite its similarities, Bates Motel is not a direct prequel to Psycho, something that both Cuse and Ehrin have stressed since the series was given the green light. But make no mistake; it does a formidable job of laying the groundwork for the iconic movie by introducing us to a young teenage Norman (Freddie Highmore) and his mother, Norma (Vera Farmiga.) Highmore is awkwardly perfect for the role of Norman and extremely well cast to boot (and, in the first few minutes of being on screen, wipes away any and all memory of the adorable boy we know from Charlie And The Chocolate Factory and Finding Neverland.) Farmiga, meanwhile, is the perfect compliment, giving Norma a personality so shrewd that you’re not exactly sure if – or what – she’s hiding. Together, the two have chemistry so good that it’s almost as creepy as their mother-son relationship.
Though not a period piece and though set in the present day, there is much about the series that makes you feel that something is “off,” from the uncomfortable relationship between Highmore and Farmiga, to the almost dated wardrobe choices, dilapidated down and muted tones of tones (although not entirely similar, I would be lying to say I didn’t get a few Twin Peaks vibes during the hour.)
Is Bates Motel for you? It’s certainly worth checking out, and it’s a quality hour of television that will cause you to move to the edge of your seat. I for one look forward to seeing the series progress.
Bates Motel airs tonight at 10/9c on A&E.