Entertainment Television

TV review: 'Bates Motel' weirder than just Norman-Norma

"What's wrong with Norman?" someone asks in the third episode of "Bates Motel," A&E's update and prequel to Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho." Maybe they should be asking, "What's wrong with Norman's new town?"

The Norman in question is Norman Bates, the knife-wielding maniac played creepily by Anthony Perkins in the 1960 horror classic. In the compelling new series (9 p.m. March 18, A&E; 3 stars out of 4) executive produced by Carlton Cuse ("Lost") and Kerry Ehrin ("Friday Night Lights"), Freddie Highmore plays up Norman's vulnerability, making him a sweet but socially awkward high school outcast with definite mommy issues.

Mommy Dearest is Norma, who here is much more than the mummified corpse she was in "Psycho." Vera Farmiga, devouring the juicy role, plays Norma as a loving, protective mother prone to smothering her son. She's also an impulsive, sexual and jealous creature who manipulates Norman and others. One way or another, this woman gets what she wants.

When we meet the Batses in Monday's premiere, Norman has discovered the body of his father in the garage. Norma, not at all upset about it, packs up Norman and their belongings in the car and sets off for a fresh start in the seemingly idyllic coastal town of White Pine Bay, where she's purchased a motel and the hauntingly familiar house on the hill beside it.

That's when things get (more) disturbing.

As the mother and son meet more of their new neighbors, viewers are introduced to a steady steam of shady characters more suited to "Lost" than "Friday Night Lights." It turns out the new Bates Motel has a history, and its former owner is not pleased that Norma snatched it up so cheaply in a foreclosure sale. He harasses the Bateses--which really, he shouldn't do that--while his buddy, Sheriff Alex Romero (Nestor Carbonell), casts a wary eye on Norman and Norma. Deputy Zach Shelby (Mike Vogel) casts a different kind of an eye on Norma.

By the time Norman's estranged half-brother, Dylan Massett (Max Thieriot), shows up to work Norma's nerves, we know White Pine Bay is hiding skeletons more nasty than those in the Bateses' closet. Norma's idea that it's she and Norman against the world might be less twisted than we think.

As they reveal more of White Pine Bay, Cuse and Ehrin slowly ratchet up the subtle suspense and eeriness Hitchcock so loved. But not everything is as restrained in "Bates Motel." A horrific rape scene in the first hour signals the unsettling nature of the series, but it could also compell some viewers to turn it off. And while I'm on the subject of flaws: It makes sense geek girl Emma Decody (Olivia Cooke) would dig nerdy Norman, but I'm still not clear how he attracts the attention of popular girl Bradley Martin (Nicola Peltz). But hey, no one understands teens, right?

"Bates Motel," however, makes one thing crystal clear by the end of the first episode: Like "Psycho," it offers a deliciously scary stew of unexpected twists, murder and mind games.

Watch the first six minutes of the premiere below:

Want more? Discuss this article and others on Show Patrol's Facebook page

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
Related Content
  • TV picks for March 18-24: 'Top of the Lake,' 'Phil Spector'
    TV picks for March 18-24: 'Top of the Lake,' 'Phil Spector'

    TV viewers get a brand new Norman Bates and his crazy mom in A&E's "Bates Motel" beginning March 18, but that's not all the new TV this week. Elisabeth Moss of "Mad Men" amazes in the Sundance Channel miniseries "Top of the Lake," as do Helen Mirren and Al Pacino in the HBO movie "Phil...

  • Serial killer TV: There's no escape!
    Serial killer TV: There's no escape!

    When Fox's new thriller "The Following" debuts Monday, TV viewers will be introduced to another serial killer--make that several serial killers, really. Other than one-offs in procedural crime dramas such as "Law & Order" and "CSI," serial killers haven't been the focus of many TV dramas in the...

  • Guide to March 2013 TV premieres, movies and specials
    Guide to March 2013 TV premieres, movies and specials

    You could easily focus on three words and wrap up March TV news: "Game of Thrones." But the TV gods have decided to bestow many more gifts on viewers. "Vikings," History Channel's scripted drama about the 8th century raiders and traders, premieres this weekend. "Grimm" and "Revolution" return...

  • TV review: Go west, young 'Vikings'
    TV review: Go west, young 'Vikings'

    Some people just won't take "no" for an answer. In the case of Ragnar Lothbrok in the new historical drama "Vikings" (9 p.m. CT March 3, History; 3 stars out of 4), that's a good thing.

  • Harrison Ford 'banged up' but recovering from plane crash
    Harrison Ford 'banged up' but recovering from plane crash

    Harrison Ford crash-landed his World War II-era airplane on Thursday after losing engine power, suffering serious but not life-threatening injuries as he used his years of piloting prowess to bring down the plane on a golf course and avoid nearby homes in what one expert called a beautifully...

  • Judge finds probable cause that ex-boyfriend raped escort
    Judge finds probable cause that ex-boyfriend raped escort

    A Chicago woman identified by prosecutors as an escort testified Thursday that she was raped by a former boyfriend after he used a fake identity to evade her online screening process and then showed up at her home in a disguise that included a beard, dark makeup, sunglasses and a turban.

  • 3 boys, 2 men wounded in separate city shootings
    3 boys, 2 men wounded in separate city shootings

    Three boys and two men were wounded Thursday in separate shootings on the city's Far South, South and Northwest sides, police said.

  • Unions sue to halt Rauner's move to withhold 'fair share' fees
    Unions sue to halt Rauner's move to withhold 'fair share' fees

    State employee unions on Thursday sued to block Gov. Bruce Rauner’s attempt to withhold fees unions receive from nonmembers, calling his executive order a “patently illegal” attempt to weaken organized labor ahead of new contract negotiations.