Keep Your Eye on … A&E’s ‘Bates Motel’
By Rachel Bennett
Television Editor & Columnist
Every Monday, Rachel will pick a TV show, actor/actress or storyline you need to watch out for that week.
Even though it’s the first installment of this feature, I’m already going to bend the rules a bit.
A&E’s series Bates Motel doesn’t premiere until March 18, but a lot of exciting information about it was unveiled this weekend at the winter Television Critics Association press tour — so much so that I’m dying (pun intended) to tell you about it.
The drama, which is a prequel of sorts to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film Psycho, stars Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air) and Freddie Highmore (Finding Neverland). It is executive produced by Carlton Cuse (ABC’s Lost) and Kerry Ehrin (NBC and DirecTV’s Friday Night Lights).
• The cast: I was initially hesitant about Bates Motel, thinking that latching on to the legacy of Psycho was a cheap way to gain viewers, but my worries were put to rest when Farmiga joined the cast. The actress has rarely misstepped in the past seven or so years, and with such a successful film career, it seems unlikely she would switch over to TV — unless the part is worth it. “I got into this wanting to defend who that woman was,” Farmiga says of playing Norma Bates, the mother of eventual killer Norman. “To me, she was such a beautiful portrait of valiant maternity, and therein was the challenge. To me, the story is a beautiful love letter between a mother and her son.” Add in Highmore, who’s talented but hasn’t gotten much work lately, and such supporting players as Mike Vogel (ABC’s Pan Am) and Nestor Carbonell (ABC’s Lost), and this is a series not to miss.
• The crew: Aside from the cast, another part of the hour-long drama that may make it more than a cheap thriller is the people behind it. Cuse made his name delivering weekly tension and shocks with Lost, so Bates Motel shouldn’t be short on them either. However, Cuse says, “We view this as a psychological thriller, as a very character-based thriller type of story … We sort of want the audience to fall in love with these characters, particularly Norma and Norman, and yet we know their inevitable fates. And that tension of knowing what their fate is and seeing how they get there was something that we, as storytellers, just thought was really compelling.” Whereas Cuse may deliver the scares, the involvement of Ehrin should help develop these characters. Friday Night Lights is one of the best character-driven dramas of the past 10 years, so Bates Motel is probably in good hands.
• A different perspective: Although Bates Motel is labeled a prequel to Psycho, that’s not exactly correct. For one, the drama isn’t set in the 1950s, as it would be to lead up to the 1960 movie. Instead, it takes place today. “The idea of doing a contemporary prequel made it clear that what we were doing was something that was inspired by Psycho but not an homage to Psycho, and that was a big difference to us,” Cuse explains. “I think the idea of an homage is just not … that’s just not engaging to me. So it felt like making that fundamental decision to make the story contemporary gave us the freedom to really take these characters wherever we wanted to.” Nevertheless, he adds, “We are going to catch up with a version of the character from the movie, but we don’t feel literally bound, as someone asked earlier, to have Marion Crane come rolling into the Bates Motel.”
Additionally, even though the thriller will include several mysteries, the program is in no way a procedural. “Like all the best serialized shows, whether Breaking Bad [AMC] or Homeland [Showtime], it’s a kind of a story that takes ten episodes to unfold,” Cuse says. “And there’s some hooks that will hopefully carry us into a second season. We’re not just solving one particular crime. There’s a number of mysteries.” Cuse is right: The best series tend to adhere to serialized storytelling — it gives writers more opportunity to focus on the characters as opposed to “the crime of the week,” and it will keep viewers coming back for more.
• A new A&E era: It’s always exciting to see a network begin to break out of its shell, and with more and more channels diving into original programming, A&E is poising itself to become one of the best. Even though the channel is known more for its reality program Duck Dynasty — a far cry from AMC’s Mad Men — than anything else, it’s helped the network gain attention. The fall’s season finale attracted 6.5 million viewers and beat the likes of TLC’s Here Comes Honey Boo Boo in the ratings. While Duck Dynasty put the network on the map, the channel’s first original scripted drama, Longmire, gave A&E some credibility. The series averaged about 4 million viewers throughout its first season in 2012, and it will come back for a second season. A&E is also smart to jump on the violent TV bandwagon. AMC’s The Walking Dead was the fall’s most-watched scripted program and is the network’s bread and butter. Only time will tell if Bates Motel will be as successful.
• Bates Motel pictures
• Bates Motel teaser
• Bates Motel trailer
When to Watch
• Check out Bates Motel Monday, March 18 at 10 p.m. EST/7 p.m. PST.
Tags: A&E, ABC, Alfred Hitchcock, AMC, Bates Motel, Breaking Bad, Carlton Cuse, DirecTV, Duck Dynasty, Finding Neverland, Freddie Highmore, Friday Night Lights, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, Homeland, Kerry Ehrin, Longmire, Lost, Mad Men, Mike Vogel, NBC, Nestor Carbonell, Pan Am, Psycho, The Walking Dead, TLC, Up in the Air, Vera Farmiga