Bates Motel, Season 1 (2013)
Time for a guest review from an long time fan (and frequent contributor) James Saunders. James used to contribute a lot more but apparently he went out and got himself a life!! But I’m not jealous at all. Nope. I could go and get a life any time I wanted. I just don’t want too <sticking my tongue out>!! This is a show I have yet to catch on TV but is firmly in my queue. Enjoy!! – AHS
“What’s important is that we’re together and as long as we’re together then nothing bad can really happen. Right Norman?” - Norma Bates
When I first saw the trailer for BATES MOTEL I was really excited. Not only did the trailer make show look amazing in its own right but I also thought this was a fantastic premise to base a series on. Hitchcock’s 1960 film PSYCHO, about a woman on the run for stealing a large sum of money from her employer and getting brutally murdered by a deranged killer, Norman Bates, is undeniably one of the most famous movies ever made. Even if you haven’t seen the movie its self, it is highly likely that you’ve seen or at the very least have heard about the iconic scene where Marion Crane (played by famous actress at the time, the late Janet Leigh), was stabbed to death in the shower by Norman Bates (played by the late Anthony Perkins). In my opinion this movie still hold up really well today, with great acting, great pacing, great cinematography, a great story and great characters. So to base an entire show around one of those characters, the psychotic killer Norman Bates as a young man, seemed like a really great idea to me and I was really stoked to go and watch this show.
And yeah the first episode did not disappoint, I thought it was absolutely fantastic and I was really looking forward to where the series went from there. The show introduced us to the principle characters of Norman Bates played by Freddie Highmore and his mother Norma Bates played by Vera Farmiga. In my opinion Highmore nailed his part perfectly. He gets everything about the character spot on, from the tone of his voice, to his subtle body movements. It really did feel like I was watching what Anthony Perkins’ portrayal of a young Norman Bates would have been were he to have done it. Farmiga is also fantastic as Norman’s mother. She plays someone who can go from being very normal one second to someone very manic and unhinged the next and back to someone being normal the very second after that, and she does this in a way that seems very natural to her character. Although we never see Norma in PSYCHO, from the descriptions we were given of her in the film I really believed that this portrayal of her is what she would have been like.
The show starts with a fatal “accident” happening to Norman’s father, after which Norman and Norma pack up to begin a new life in White Pine Bay running a motel. During the episode we’re introduced to several of the other characters that will play major roles in pair’s lives, such as Norman’s school friends, the sheriff and his deputy and the disgruntled former owner of the motel. Throughout the episode the relationship between Norman and his mother, Norma is built up in a very believable way. It shows Norma to be overly clingy towards Norman and Norman in turn be a bit odd in various little way, for instance in calling Norma “mother” instead of “mum” all the time. It also has a great murder scene in it that pays homage to the original PSYCHO whilst also being fresh, unique and relevant to the events of the show. The scene really feels like it’s going to have a weighty impact on the characters specifically and the show generally. After I finished watching the first episode I could not wait to tune into the second.
Unfortunately with the second episode the show starts going downhill very quickly and really continues that way for the rest of the season. The town that the small family moved to is fucking nuts and an obscene number of absolutely ridiculous things happen there. What’s more is that none of these things seem to have any effect on the people living in the town or on our main characters. At worse everyone is completely unfazed by the events within the town and at best mildly inconvenienced by them. A major drug smuggling ring, human trafficking and more horrendous deaths then a cheesy 80’s action movie, well that’s just another day in the life of White Pine Bay. There are far too many of these ridiculous things to talk about in one review, so I’ll just mention a few that really stuck out to me.
With the second episode we’re introduced to Dylan Massett, Norman’s half brother (played by Max Thieriot). This could have been a really good idea as it could have introduced a more normalising element into Norman’s life, someone who was striving for Norman’s soul against an over possessive mother so he could have a more traditional, normal life. Instead what we got was another character who is clearly a few kitchen knives short of a full set. He also refuses to call Norma “mum” for reasons that are never actually shown and not really ever explained very well. He’s also a gun toting gangster wannabe who joins a drug smuggling ring and kills people without batting an eyelid. What a great character and not completely superfluous to the story of Norman Bates at all.
Also did you know that when Norman Bates was a young man he was an absolute stud? I’m sure I didn’t but the evidence speaks for its self as the number of hot girls that want to get with him is insane. Hey I’m pretty sure that I was considered to be a bit of a weird kid when I was in school, why didn’t all the hot girls try and chat me up damn it!? I suppose one of the girls does have cystic fibrosis and has to wear breathing apparatus; making her ugly… I guess. Yes indeed she’s so ugly and not absolutely stunningly gorgeous at all *cough* *cough*, moving on!
The girl with cystic fibrosis is called Emma Decody (played by Olivia Cooke) and together she and Norman solve crimes together SCOOBY-DOO style. Yep that’s right, the antagonist of the movie that, if it didn’t spawn the slasher genre at the very least had a massive influence on it, is solving crimes like they did in SCOOBY-DOO. I was honestly expecting the villain of said crimes to say something like “And I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for you meddling kids.”
This is another problem with the show; there are far too many villains, making it feel kind of reminiscent of DEXTER. Whilst I loved DEXTER the formula of that show was one that worked because the show was set up in such a way that it made sense for that formula to work. The set up for BATES MOTEL is completely different so applying the same formula here makes the events that happen seem completely absurd. It also doesn’t help that the villains are completely incompetent. They have zero security measures in place, they never seem to communicate with each other, they are oblivious to important facts relating to their business, and they do some of the most monumentally stupid things for people trying to keep their nefarious activities inconspicuous that I’ve ever seen. Of course their helped out a lot by law enforcement who are just as incompetent as they are, being completely inept, completely ignoring judicial process or complicate in crimes themselves.
All these things pretty much amount to just a bunch of stuff happening rather than telling a character story. Instead of the show focusing on the Bates family and how Norman became one of the most iconic fictional serial killers ever, we just have the characters accidently blundering into situations, some of which would make national news if discovered and these events never really seem to have any real effect on who they are as people. Don’t get me wrong I love action shows, I mean I’m proper psyched for the return of Jack Bauer in 24 later this year but these shows have their time and place and that’s not in BATES MOTEL. I will say that I also love character pieces and the premise of BATES MOTEL seems tailor made for some serious character pieces… and not for a show where someone gets killed horrifically every week.
What I would have liked to have seen in this show would have been a young Norman trying to fit in with his peers and not understanding why he didn’t. I would have liked to have seen how Norma manipulated him so she cling onto him for a little longer. I would have liked to have seen Norman with continued mental health problems as he became more and more detached from reality. And sure we do get glimmers of this kind of stuff throughout the season but generally this takes a back seat to whatever action happens to be going on.
His continue downwards spiral due to problems with ill mental health and a deep discussion of those problems would have been especially great to see. How people with mental health difficulties are treated within society is a very prevalent issue for anyone working with people that have mental health difficulties and obviously, for people with mental health difficulties themselves. It could have had an exploration of how poor mental health can negatively and falsely stereotype people, a stereotype that the 1960 film PSYCHO helped to perpetuate, i.e. all people with schizophrenia are violent serial killers when in fact they themselves are more likely to be the victims of violent crime. An exploration how these negative and false stereotypes that were perpetuated in the original movie were effecting Norman in this show would have been ingenious I think.
Despite all my criticisms of this show however, it is a bit of a guilty pleasure as I do kind of like it. The over the top ridiculous things in it are so over the top ridiculous that it’s had me laughing my head off more than once. I have sat there in hysterics through almost entire episodes before. And aside from making me laugh, the rare times when the show pops its head out from all of its many crazy nonsensical plots and is actually about what it’s meant to be about (i.e. Norman and Norma) then it’s actually quite a good show. Despite being very funny I am kinda hoping that season 2 drops crazy nonsensical plots and starts focusing on the Bates family characters, as I really do think this show has a lot of untapped potential that could make it really great if only it could stay focused. Oh well I guess we’ll just have to wait for season 2 later this year to find out!
Creators: Carlton Cuse, Kerry Ehrin, and Anthony Cipriano
Plot: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Gore: 5 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by James Saunders