My first reaction to the new A&E show about Norman and Norma Bates was that it was too much a simpleton’s view of their well known, complex story. By now, both Norman and his mother have woven themselves into the fabric of evolving American culture and in many ways, there’s no turning back. The Bates Motel I had in my head was a Mad Men type of show full of retro nostalgia and the mother I had in my head was a cold fish, clingy perhaps but not a fully fleshed out woman as realized by Vera Farmiga. Freddie Highmore is a formidable Norman, not yet the fully fleshed out grown man leading a double life yet but you could see him heading in that direction.
I also thought the show was going to lay blame completely on Mother – that Norman would have been a perfectly well-adjusted boy were it not for his mother. But the show fooled me in old Hitchcockian fashion. Turns out, there is probably more to Norman than meets the eye.
The other twist in the story is that it’s held in modern times, making it a kind of Psycho meets Dawson’s Creek. At least, that’s what you’re led to believe. But the show sort of drifts backwards in time each time we head back to Bates Motel, where all of the really good action is. That house. That motel. I know every turn and every wall. And I have to say, they got that part of it really right on.
There are subtle references to Psycho the movie that you might only get if you knew the movie well (as I do; it’s practically my second child I’ve watched it so many times). After a while I found myself liking this take on it, despite my own inner protestations that some things don’t need to explained or colored in.
What I like about the show is that it doesn’t try to do what last year’s Hitchcock did – it doesn’t try to “explain” Psycho, mercifully. Instead, it offers up Norma and Norman as a kind of remake of Psycho itself. The town is changing. Soon there will be no more cars heading through there and Norma and Norman will be closed off to themselves like never before.
I never envisioned Norma as a murderer – to my mind it was always just Norman. But I saw enough in episode one to keep watching. I plan to write something longer later but wanted to punch this out quickly.