On the surface, Bates Motel seems like a cheap idea motivated by the desire to cash in on the infamous Psycho name.
The show follows a young Norman Bates and his mother before the events of the classic Alfred Hitchcock film. It’s a series that shouldn’t work, but it does due to the actors involved and the crisp writing overseen by Lost co-mastermind Carlton Cuse.
The show’s first season, available now on Blu-ray, stars Freddie Highmore in the role made famous by Anthony Perkins. Highmore is brilliant at capturing Norman’s lost young soul in a way we can both empathize with and, at the same time, become fascinated by. He’s a very young actor, but he manages to capture the balance of innocence and hostility in Norman perfectly. He’s very well cast and gives the show both its heart and its central horror. It’s a lot of weight to be on the shoulders of such a young star, but he pulls it off.
The other central character to Bates Motel is Norma Bates portrayed by Vera Farmiga. We didn’t get to see much of her in the Psycho movie, but here she is center stage. Farmiga captures the endless layers to her character and we almost feel like Norma could sustain, and deserves, her own prequel series.
You may be wondering how an entire series can revolve around just a boy and his mother owning a motel. Never fear. Cuse and company provide plenty of material including surrounding the Bates Motel with a very unusual and creepy town along with giving Norman a brother and a background story involving the death of his father. The story never feels stretched or inorganic.
Perhaps the most freeing creative decision the series makes is the biggest deviation from the Hitchcock universe. The show chooses to throw Norman into the modern day where we see everything from iPhones to new cars. The decision actually succeeds because it breaks the shackles the film would have held over the show. It’s clear from the beginning that Cuse and company are not just making a prequel to Psycho. They are making a thrilling show about a lost boy and mother in a strange town inspired by Psycho.
Bates Motel is also one of the more thrilling shows on television. Perhaps it’s the fact that Cuse is helping to run the series, but Motel expertly lays out its plots in the first six season-one episodes. The show always gives us just enough and holds just enough back. It’s hard to imagine not watching Bates Motel all at once. It’s made the way a suspenseful show should be.
The Season One Blu-ray edition sports deleted scenes and a featurette that includes the creative team discussing the show at length. There’s also a cool treat separate from the discs that fans will immediately recognize and enjoy as a neat touch to the set.