REVIEW - Bates Motel S01E01

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When I first heard about this television series based on Alfred Hitchcock's immortal cinema characters I was extremely sceptical, but placing the show on a cable network gave it "American Horror Story" potential and casting some outstanding actors filled me with even more hope that this could be a good thing. The pilot has just aired in the USA on A&E and was I impressed? Sort of....

Bates Motel centres around a boy Norman (Freddie Highmore) and his mother Norma (Verma Farmiga) as they escape their sordid past to buy a motel in a new town and move on with their lives together. The pilot episode introduces these characters in a new way, we have never seen the character of Norma before, she was always a figment of our imagination or a gooey mummy (ha!)

Norma is an incredibly over-bearing mother, who uses her love as a way of controlling Norman into doing what she wants and disguising this as love. This was one of my favourite parts of the show, this is emphasised so much through cooking him an outstanding meal when he gets from school, but not allowing him to get involved in the school track team or go to the library and study with new school friends. The pure and unadulterated love between the two of them is commendable.

This is highly due to Highmore and Farmiga who are outstanding in these roles, Farmiga had an extremely hard job on her hands, and she is mesmerising, I could not look away whenever she was on screen, her portrayal and redefinition of this iconic character is nothing short of commendable. Highmore shines as equally as Norman, fulfilling the socially awkward, Norman who is dearly devoted to his mother.

The show is set in the modern world, even though the novel and film were set in the 50's and this is meant to be a prequel. Now before I got any further I did some research and the show's creators Anthony Cipriano and Dameon Lindelof that this is simply inspired by these characters, not a direct prequel. It is important that you understand this, as I was picking it apart until I found this out.

Horror wise is this show too much? Sort of...the main drama in this episode happens when the old owner of the hotel breaks into the Bates residence and assaults and rapes, yes that is correct rapes (quite unnecessarily!) Norma Bates who gets some help from Norman, ties him up and stabs him to death. They hide the body in a bath and wrapped up in sheets from the beds and carpet.

Keep in mind that this is only the pilot, a lot of explaining had to be done about these characters, who they are and how this show is going to actually work, and they achieved this quite well. It has a lot of potential and now that the premise has been explained, I am looking forward to were the show is headed and getting further into the psyche of Norman Bates.

Some great nods to Psycho and Hitchcock are placed all throughout the pilot, the original black and white Psycho is playing when the episode begins on a tv in the background, the bath and window shots are also great winks.

Visually this show is stunning, the motel and house are an exact replica from the original film and the CGI and stage sets are an achievement in television. Norman and Norma dress from the 50's, while everyone at school, outside etc is set in modern day clothes. This can get a little confusing but it oddly works, also the use of mobile phones and door bells are just a little odd and seem out of place.

If you are a fan of American Horror Story, or just like drama/horror shows this is definitely one to check out. I will definitely be checking back in each week to see were this series takes goes. Bates Motel is showing on A&E Mondays at 9pm.

Review by Alaisdair "Arrow" Dewar


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