If you are reading Breitbart News, it is likely that, since the 2008 Presidential campaign and throughout the intervening years, the most captivating show before your eyes has been staged in Washington, DC. It has been an evolving trainwreck. Breath abated, I would imagine that you have not been able to look away.
But let’s face it. We all need a few moments’ escape and entertainment. Our collective sanity depends upon it. For your consideration, I give you television.
The quality of the writing, acting, and directing that is currently being presented on television – including Network, free cable, premium cable, and now the internet-is unparalleled today.
Take for example The Bates Motel on A&E Network. Written and produced by Carlton Cuse (Lost), it is conceived as a prequel to the classic Alfred Hitchcock movie Psycho. As executed in its first season, it is a believable yet haunting unspooling of the primal relationship of Norman Bates, unforgettably played by Tony Perkins in the film, and his mother Norma.
Norman is a 17-year-old high school student in this imagined flashback and is played to perfection by English actor Freddie Highmore (Finding Neverland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). Not enough can be said about this young man’s ability to convey the eagerness of adolescence, the intelligence, the Oedipal attachment, and the lowering violent psychosis of this character. In crafting the show around the teenage Norman, and casting the wonderful Highmore in the role, Cruz has laid a solid foundation.
From there, consider the additional casting of Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air, The Departed) as Norma Bates. Farmiga has had to entirely reconstruct the character of Norma from the film via Norman’s psychotic embodiment of her. Yet the wonder of this production is that the actress creates a full blown character that is fiercely loving, possessive, bruised, paranoiac, and so bent on the survival of herself and her sons that she is capable of the most cold blooded brutality. Full of nuance, her performance in the first season is the lynchpin of the series.
There is a second son (played by Max Thieriot), the proverbial black sheep come home for lack of options, whose trajectory is also compelling. The Pacific Northwest landscape, the old motel with its sputtering, flashing neon sign–all provide the requisite gothic atmosphere of menace and corruption despite the recently transplanted characters’ most valiant efforts to make a life here.
And what would a psycho-thriller be without a few smarmy, black hearted bad guys played by the likes of character stalwarts Jere Burns (Justified) and Nestor Carbonell (Lost).
You can watch reruns of Season One on A&E or purchase episodes from Amazon. And I am pleased to relate that production of Season Two begins this summer.