A few quick thoughts on tonight’s premiere of the Psycho prequel series, Bates Motel, the most pressing of them first.
While Freddie Highmore may prove to be a decent Norman Bates, he has to figure out how to capture that Anthony Perkins look all the time. In a handful of the shots, he looks more like Peter Brady, and “Hey! It’s Peter Brady” is not the reaction the director probably wants me to have.
Some years down the line, someone will probably come up with a damning hypothesis about why American culture decided to reboot two of its most famous fictional serial killers — Norman Bates and Hannibal Lector — as characters on TV series.
I have to admit: Part of me wants some magic crystal ball that would let me see what Bates Motel would look like had Bryan Fuller helmed it instead of doing Hannibal.
The show immediately starts drawing parallels between Norma and Marion Crane. In fact, the first time we see Norma, she’s in the bathroom, just stepping out of the shower. Furthermore, Norman complains about his mother being impulsive and flighty. That’s important, because impulsiveness and flightiness are not only Marion’s most prominent qualities, they’re also basically her only qualities. Similarly, Norman and Norma travel from Arizona to California, and that’s the same path that Marion takes to the Bates Motel — Phoenix to some terrible off-ramp in California.
You really have to wonder how much the source material will inform the series. In the books and the movies, the specter of incest between Norman and Norma hangs heavier than dusty velvet curtains. And while that tension has already manifested on the show, people will not continue to watch if Vera Farmiga starts fucking her teenaged son. (... Right?) Similarly, should Bates Motel have some sort of lampshaded cross-dressing moment?
How does it affect your viewing of the show to know that unless it departs radically from the source material, little Freddie Highmore will end up killing Vera Farmiga and keeping her corpse preserved in the fruit cellar?
How necessary was it to show Norma’s rape? How necessary was it that she had to be raped at all? I will answer right now: It wasn’t.
Norman’s girlfriend, the popular one who kind of looks like Tara Reid — she’s going to get murdered, yes? By Norman? Even though she actually turned out to be nice and not a queen bee playing a prank on the damaged new kid?
Compare this series to Smallville, which eventually introduced Lois Lane a lot earlier in Superman’s “career” than she appears in the standard continuity. Will a teenaged Marion show up at some point? Like, on vacation with her parents? Or is Norma enough of a Marion? How far off should the events of the movie be from this show? A decade? Two?
Bates Motel is not a period piece, but it might as well be, since modern technology figures into the pilot’s plot only once, and even then in a small way. It looks old, frequently, and that’s not just the dilapidated house — it’s the beige-y 90s-ness of it, which perhaps stems from it having been filmed in British Columbia. But I wonder why it wasn’t a period piece, especially for a story that’s so centrally about old things still lingering, still affecting the present. Were it not for texting and ringtones, there’d be no reason, motivation-wise or aesthetic-wise why this couldn’t take place decades ago. But I’ll shut up about that, for the creators probably don’t want me comparing it to the decade-vague look of the Anne Heche remake.
I enjoy that Nestor Carbonell’s presence on this show has caused a whole new audience to ask, “Wait, why is that guy wearing eye shadow?”