Monday, March 18, 2013

'Bates Motel' Premiere Review - 1.01 First You Dream, Then You Die

        On the series premiere of A&E's Bates Motel, widow Norma Bates (Vera Farmiga) and her shy teenage son, Norman (Freddie Highmore), seek a fresh start in a coastal town filled with secrets but the arrival of an unexpected guest turns the Bates' lives upside down.

        Bates Motel is a very confusing piece of television. It has severely jarring tonality issues and is very unsure of what it wants to do or say as a piece of entertainment. It wants to be a prequel to the story of Norman and Norma Bates in the classic Alfred Hitchcock movie Psycho. And yet, it also wants to be its own version of a character becoming a serial killer - which have been deluded so much lately in TV with Dexter, Criminal Minds, The Following, plus the upcoming Hannibal on NBC which is a prequel story too - and thusly tackling a different core mythology. It is set in present day and yet everything has an aura of dated and period. Norman and Norma and the decor of their newly acquired motel - but their previous house too - are outfitted similarly to the tone and style of the source material. But despite this, Norman has an Ipod and the rest of this coastal town have present-day materials and mannerisms. And yet perhaps the biggest issue here is that because of how great Psycho is as film piece, we know exactly how this story of a mother and her son will end and thusly takes a huge amount of forward momentum of wanting to see more. There needed to be something creative in this atmosphere or this community to make it compelling and engaging to watch despite this fact. This town community fits very well into this world but the narratives that they're in feel very straight-forward. Everything in the plot - at least in this first episode - goes exactly as expected. Norman, of course, sneaks out to hang with the girls and they, of course, take him to a club under the disguise of studying. The former owner of the motel, of course, returns to attack and rape Norma and her murdering of him, of course, brings mother and son together as they are forced to live with this deadly secret. Their familial bond is very creepy, yes, but also well-depicted and telling of what will eventually happen to them.
        The casting however, is purely spot on. Oscar nominee Vera Farmiga is exceptionally fantastic when given great material. At times, she gets campy lines and delivers them very campily. But when asked to do and give more, she absolutely delivers. Freddie Highmore - when/if you can look beyond his terribly inconsistent attempt to cover his British accent - is great at playing this innocent man and keeps the material from screaming "He grows up to be a serial killer of woman." Olivia Cooke and Nicola Peltz are the traditional romantic foils for Norman which makes the show feel like a traditional high school series. But they too get some charming moments interacting with Norman. Nestor Carbonell and Mike Vogel are playing very familiar roles for them - mostly because they excel at roles like this - and I'm excited for them to be better integrated even though they didn't make a huge impact role. There is a lot of potential in this project and as soon as it figures out what it wants to be and perhaps shake up its storytelling a little bit, it could be a great show.

So what did everyone think of the premiere? Have you had it with serial killer pieces on television? Were you confused by the time depictions? Will you watch more? Share your thoughts in the comments.