"Bates Motel" is a thrilling prequel to Hitchcock's "Psycho"

By Mel DeCandia on April 3, 2013

Bates Motel, a new prequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s infamous 1960 thriller Psycho has a lot to live up to. The original film is now considered a classic and Hitchcock among the greatest filmmakers of all time. Nonetheless Bates Motel, surprisingly, succeeds.

The new television drama, which premiered March 18, follows a teenage Norman Bates and his mother Norma when they have only just arrived at the motel that serves as the setting for the film.

It does seem as though the less television audiences are familiar with the film the show is inspired by, the more likely they are be satisfied.

The CW’s prequel to Sex and the City, The Carrie Diaries, is a show that can stand on its own yet is enhanced when viewers have seen the original material.  Bates Motel, however, strays slightly more so from its Psycho roots.

Some liberties were taken regarding the main characters’ development. Norman Bates in Psycho (played by Anthony Perkins) is a villainous murderer, albeit the result of mental delusion. In Bates Motel seventeen year-old Norman (Freddie Highmore) is a likeable protagonist.

Norman’s incestuous-like relationship with his mother seems a creation of his mind in film; in the television show he is more so a victim of his mother (Vera Farmiga), who is strangely attached and possessive of him.

Perhaps the most jarring thing about Bates Motel though is that it takes place in present day, despite the obvious fact that it is supposed to occur prior to the events of the 1960s film.

While these changes may be disappointing to die-hard fans, they all ultimately make for a stronger show overall, definitely keeping the newcomer audiences glued.

Bates Motel wastes little time on set-up and quickly springs into the action of the story. The first episode features a particularly graphic scene involving rape and murder not even halfway through.

The plot is fast moving and, unlike most shows on television today, requires audiences’ full attention in order to keep up. However, the show should have little trouble with keeping viewers on the edge of their seats: the suspense, at least, is very much in the vein of Hitchcock.

The darkness of Hitchcock’s work is also very much thriving in Bates Motel, involving everything from the eerie music underscoring the show’s most thrilling moments to the ghostly setting of coastal town White Pine Bay. The look and feel of the show is similar to that of FX’s popular American Horror Story, and Bates Motel could likely draw in new audiences from the AHS fan base.

Bates Motel’s success can also be attributed in part to its stellar cast. Farmiga and Highmore, as Norma and Norman respectively, carry the show. The character of Norma is in good hands with Farmiga, who portrays her as antagonistic with seemingly good intentions. Highmore’s Norman is thoughtful and trusting, though angry and perturbed beneath. Both actors breathe fully fleshed out and newly-developed life into the characters.

Overall, Bates Motel is dark and mysterious and suspenseful: all attributes expected considering the show is a work of the producers of Lost.  Nonetheless, it is certainly unique from other contemporary shows and even the original Hitchcock film, particularly in the way it delves deep into the confusing, and potentially romantic, relationship between a mother and son, exploring the mainly negative effects it has on the psyche. But then again, as the show's tagline says: a boy's best friend is his mother.

Bates Motel airs Monday nights at 10/9c on A&E.

University of Maryland, Merrill College of Journalism '16. Terp, show-tune enthusiast and part-time Belieber. Sometimes I write things.

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