Review: Bates Motel – Season 1 / Cert: 18 / Director: Various / Screenplay: Various / Starring: Freddie Highmore, Vera Farmiga, Max Thieriot, Olivia Cooke, Nicola Peltz / Release Date: February 3rd
Ever wondered how Norman Bates came to be? If you’re intrigued by the creepy taxidermist in the Psycho films, Bates Motel is for you. Not all great stories and characters need an explanation or reason behind them; sometimes the mystique and vague nature is part of the charm of a movie or character. Is Norman Bates one of those characters? Initially, Starburst would have answered a firm “Yes!” But watching Bates Motel’s elaboration on Norman’s childhood, it's impossible not to be drawn in by the impressive storytelling, the strong character development, and some truly wonderful performances from the principal cast.
We’re introduced to Norman (Highmore) at a time after the death of his father and when his mother, Norma (Farmiga), decides it’s time to move on to a new life in a new town. Deciding to settle in White Pine Bay, the family Bates wind up the new owners of a rather familiar-looking motel. With the pair in trouble from the get-go, it would seem that they can never just go smoothly for Norma and her son. Adding to the Bates’ dynamic, we’re introduced to Max (Thieriot), Norman’s older half-brother. Whilst not as dark, menacing or unstable as the rest of the Bates clan, Max still manages to get himself into bother in other ways.
Full of slow-build subtleties, sinister mayhem and just the slightest teases of what is to come, the first season of Bates Motel is quite simply addictive. It’s one of those shows, of which there seem to be so many lately, where as soon as one episode ends you immediately want to watch the next one. We find Norman adapting to a new school and new friends, along with the problems that can be caused by that; problems that aren’t helped by the fact that young Norman isn’t quite your regular teenager. We also get to meet some of White Pine Bay’s locals, with secrets, suspense, and sinister goings-on aplenty.
As the young Norman, Freddie Highmore is terrific. It’s literally like watching somebody playing Anthony Perkins playing Norman Bates; he captures all the mannerisms, all the awkwardness, all the turmoil and inner conflict just perfectly. As Norma, Vera Farmiga delivers a seductive, insecure, unstable siren that gives you plenty of indication as to where Norman gets certain quirks from. Yes, the show centres around mother and son, but there’s also great supporting performances, particularly from Olivia Cooke as a well-meaning friend/love interest of Norman’s, and from Thieriot as the rebellious older brother who sees just how crazy things are.
With regards to extras, this Season 1 boxset includes a whole bunch of deleted scenes from across the series, all of which are in synch with the tone and feel of the show - one can only presume time constraints got in the way of most of these scenes making the final cut. Then there's the discussion panel featurette from the Paley Centre. Featuring the majority of the principal cast, including Highmore, Farmiga and Thieriot, and some of the show's creators, this featurette gives a great insight into the show and the interaction between its cast and crew. At nearly an hour in duration, this really is a treat for fans of Bates Motel, as the discussion is dealt with like an in-depth Q&A session.
In a time where quality TV is all the rage, Bates Motel is a must for any and all genre fans, perfectly balancing the modern-day setting with the traditional elements of Psycho.
Extras: See above.