Hollywood hasn’t been shy about mining their past and television isn’t ashamed to follow suit. There were failed pilots for TV versions of Clerks and L.A. Confidential while FX is currently working on a 10-episode series based on Fargo. In April, NBC premiered Hannibal, a stylish drama from Bryan Fuller (Pushing Daisies) with Mads Mikkelsen cast as a Hannibal Lecter decades away from meeting Clarice Starling. Meanwhile, A&E has also resurrected another infamous cinematic killer in Norman Bates with their new show, Bates Motel. Although the character was created in a 1959 novel by Robert Bloch and immortalized in Alfred Hitchcock’s seminal film a year later, Bates Motel is set today and considered a “contemporary prequel.”
Bates Motel begins with a teenaged Norman (Freddie Highmore) and his mother Norma (Vera Farmiga) discovering the body of Mr. Bates. Looking for a fresh start mom and son move to a seemingly bucolic town in Oregon called White Pine Bay. It is there that Norma purchases the rundown hotel that may one day become the site of the iconic shower stabbing of Marion Crane.
Bates Motel isn’t the first time anyone has attempted to expand upon Psycho. There were two sequels produced in the 80’s and a made-for-Showtime prequel. That doesn’t include the other Bates Motel, an NBC pilot with a tenuous connection to the original picture. A&E’s Bates Motel succeeds by not connecting every single dot to anything that came before. Instead, the show creates a new mythology while staying true to the essence of the characters. On the surface, Norma appears to be a loving mother with a loyal, dutiful son. By peering deeper into their relationship, the creepy oedipal overtones are clear. Interestingly enough, Norman has no problems making friends at school in spite of his awkwardness. He immediately becomes pals with the popular girl, Bradley (Nicola Peltz), as well as Emma (Olivia Cooke), the studious bookworm with cystic fibrosis.
Series creators Carlton Cuse (Lost), Kerry Ehrin (Friday Night Lights), and Anthony Cipriano are just as influenced by Twin Peaks as they are by Bloch and Hitchcock. White Pine Bay might look like a sleepy community, but there’s a darkness lurking beneath. While tearing up carpet at the motel, Norman discovers a book filled with sketches of women being bound and tortured. In only the second episode, Norma witnesses a body being burned in the middle of the town square.
Universal has released the inaugural season of Bates Motel in a 2-disc set. The episodes included are:
“First You Dream, Then You Die” – Norma and Norman Bates move to the quiet Pacific Northwest to start a new life by running a roadside motel.
“Nice Town You Picked, Norma…” – Norma’s other vagabond son, Dylan, arrives just as Sheriff Romero questions her about the disappearance of the motel’s previous owner, Keith Summers.
“What’s Wrong With Norman” – Dylan gets a job guarding the marijuana fields outside of town and surprisingly bonds with his half-brother.
“Trust Me” – Norman breaks into Deputy Shelby’s home, believing him to be the man behind the sketchbook.
“Ocean View” – Norman has to put the motel up as collateral in order to bail out his mother who is arrested for the murder of Keith Summers.
“The Truth” – Emma and Norman confront Norma with the truth that the Deputy is involved with a human trafficking ring.
“The Man in Number 9” – Norma meets one of the motel’s regular guests, Jake Abernathy, a strange fellow who asks for free reign and complete privacy for a week.
“A Boy and His Dog” – Norman deals with his dog’s death by learning taxidermy from Emma’s father while Norma can’t seem to escape from Abernathy.
“Underwater” – Abernathy’s harassment causes Norma to rethink the motel and possibly move to Hawaii and Norman is having all sorts of girl trouble at school.
“Midnight” – The school dance doesn’t end well for Norman as Norma and Sheriff Romero meet with Abernathy, who demands the money Shelby owed him.
The video is presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. Shot on digital, the transfers are pristine and ably capture the murky, misty qualities of British Columbia, which passes for Oregon.
The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The sound is evenly mixed though it becomes more robust when music is played.
Disc 2 features Paley Center Panel Discussion (45:39) is a Q&A session moderated by Shawn Ryan (creator of The Shield) with Carlton Cuse, Kerry Ehrin, Freddie Highmore, Vera Farmiga, Nestor Carbonell, Max Thieriot, and Nicola Peltz.
Rounding out the extras are deleted scenes on discs 1 and 2, an Ultraviolet download code, and trading cards with artwork from the sketchbook.
Film Value: 6
Bates Motel is surprisingly satisfying with plenty of shocking twists and turns throughout the season. Everything hinges on the stellar performances of the lead actors; particularly Vera Farmiga, who earned an Emmy nomination for her sultry Mrs. Bates. The series doesn’t rehash the Psycho mythology, but takes it into a new direction. It owes a lot more to David Lynch than Alfred Hitchcock.