Bates Motel Series Premiere Review: Time Warp

Bates Motel S01E01: "First You Dream, Then You Die"


Hollywood has become (and, really, has been for a while) fond of remaking and rebooting, sequeling and prequeling, and spinning off and on and on and on. Couple that with the clear ratings benefit that comes with violence, sex, and horror, and you can begin to understand why some Universal Television executive likely said, "Hey. We own Psycho, one of the most iconic horror films of all time. Why isn't there a Psycho TV series that's about how Norman went a little mad? We should do that. Then we sell it to a cable channel that's looking to expand their scripted program offerings." And then another executive said, "Or NBC." And then everyone laughed and laughed.

It's actually not that bad of an idea from a business and marketing standpoint. Psycho's still popular even after 53 years, so there's a built-in fanbase to exploit (and probably irritate) and clearly there's a market for psychosexual shenanigans and horror, given the success of American Horror Story and The Walking Dead. From a narrative standpoint, though, things get decidedly murkier for Bates Motel


See, I'm not opposed to a take on how Norman became the killer we see in Alfred Hitchcock's film, even if we've already seen that sort of origin story play out with the made-for-television movie Psycho IV: The Beginning back in 1990. I think there's enough room within the framework of the original film to tell this story again, and for it to be a possibly compelling look at how the dynamics between Norman and Norma resulted in what we see in Hitchock's movie.

But time's certainly the issue, isn't it? The decision to set the show in the contemporary, with all the iPhones and the earbuds, creates an odd sense of dissonance from the source material. Admittedly, this frees the showrunners, Carlton Cuse (Lost) and Kerry Ehrin (Friday Night Lights), to give us their own take on things—and there's something exciting about that idea—but at the same time, when it's 2013 and there are plenty of serial killer movies to choose from and it would not be difficult at all for Norman to just buy some professionally produced erotic manga on the internet, you sort of have to wonder how events in this series will end up the way they do in the film, and without anyone surrounding Norman and Norma being the wiser. Although that's assuming that events in this series DO end up like they do in the film. Cuse and Ehrin have been cagey about even admitting that Bates Motel will tie back into Psycho.

That issue isn't the only odd dissonance, but the other one I'm actually far more okay with. Norman and Norma are wonderfully enclosed in their own world and each other, and the city of White Pine Bay—as well as most of modernity—intrudes on all of that. They exist in this far-flung time warp, where Norma gets dressed for a dinner she's prepared or Norman's T-shirts are all in that ringer, vintage-style, but you know that Norman doesn't wear them because they're trendy (if they're trendy, I have no idea). So in the premiere, when Norman tells Bradley at that house party that seems like the high school version of Eyes Wide Shut that there's so much to just look at, he truly means it. 

And I kinda like the tension that results from the Bateses clinging to a past of some sort as the contemporary period, represented by people and not technology, constantly ruptures their lives. Whether it's ALL THE CUTE GIRLS (and a handsy language arts teacher) that Norman seems to attract without even trying or the former owner of the property breaking into their home and raping Norma, the Bateses just don't seem to belong here; it's something that, should the show develop it, could elevate the series beyond just its premise of "Here's how Norman became a serial killer who took on his mother's personality."

But even if that doesn't happen, I'd be game for watching Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore as Norma and Norman for a little while. Highmore, in particular, is just channeling Anthony Perkins' quiet presence and halting speech from the film, and I sort of can't get over how watchable he is. Even when he needs to shout or land a couple of funny lines, they don't break the character. Plus that goofy-ass grin slays me. Farmiga, I think, has the much harder task of trying to make abject mother Norma both horrible and sympathetic, and I think it'll take longer to establish those character traits. I still like her little bits of business, including swinging her legs like a young girl when she hops onto her bed in front of Norman or posing a bit like a pin-up on the car's hood, but finding a balance between that sort of thing and being domineering is going to be tough.

Overall, I'm a bit more positive on Bates Motel than Tim seemed to be in his "Hey, TV.com, Should I Watch" preview, but then I've only watched the pilot so far, and he's seen the first three episodes. I would agree that, even just based on the pilot, it seems odd for Bates Motel not to be a miniseries instead of a potentially ongoing show, and also that it certainly doesn't seem primed to set the television world on fire. But it could very well settle into a low-key creepfest, and I certainly wouldn't mind.



COMMENTS FROM THE GUESTBOOK


– While I knew before watching that Bates Motel takes place in a modern setting, I still found myself thinking it was at least thirty or forty years ago during the cold open. If you didn't notice the baseball game on the flatscreen TV (and I didn't, the first time I watched the pilot, because of that huge iron), then Norman's earbuds were sort of surprising.

– "You’re like a beautiful, deep still lake in the middle of a concrete world." See, Bradley, now that's a line.

– I do appreciate that the bypass is a plot element in the show, considering it's pretty much what allowed Norman to live in seclusion for so long in the movie.

– "Who's going to book a room in the rape-slash-murder hotel?"

– "Clean this up with paper towels and spray cleaner?! No, I don't think so."

– At first I thought that Summers had gone on a bender and decided to attack Norma. But then he seemed to have a rape utility belt, complete with duct tape, a box cutter, and handcuffs. Which makes it decidedly premeditated and awful that he would even prepare something like that.

– Sheriff Romero (Hi, Nestor Carbonell! I don't like the haircut.) certainly decided to take the longest and loudest pee in history. 


What'd you think of your first night's stay in Bates Motel? Will you be returning, or are you Ready to check out?


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Sep 19, 2013
I just started watching the show and decided to go back and find the reviews. I have never watched Psycho (shame on me) but I know the plot and watching this pilot definitely gives me the creeps. I know a thing or two about psychology and I'm intruiged how Farmiga will deliver from this point on.. She is nominated for an Emmy, so I have high expectations. The mother/son relationship is not healthy at all.
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Mar 29, 2013
How is this the only review that mentioned the rape belt? I figured it was going to be the next werid Internet trend of people making them and I can't even find chat room. I laughed at the duct type dispenser.
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Mar 25, 2013
Mother and son bonding over a dead body... That filled my creepy cup for at least a week! Will continue to see how this goes!
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Mar 24, 2013
I agree about that long loud pee! I was thinking did this guy just drink a 40 oz?? I still don't know why they were there and acting so suspicious.

I did enjoy the pilot though. I think the kid playing Norman is doing a great job. I'm wondering who this current serial killer is. I'll definitely be coming back for more!
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Mar 22, 2013
I would have liked the series better if it was only the mother being crazy and the son struggling with that, but the fact is that this is Norman Bates we're talking about. The little pervert who will grow up to be a murderous pervert... I can't enjoy shows too much when there are no likable/innocent/sympathetic characters since I can't feel for them. What's the point in watching if you just want bad things to happen to them? lol.
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Mar 22, 2013
The mother is CLEARLY insane or romantically yearning for Norman. You could tell its not just a mother/son bond as she despised her "other" son (phone conversation in which he asked for money). Also the romantic dinner for two, the not wanting Norman to be away from her ala no sports, and she was jealous when a bunch of girls asked Norman out. She definitely killed her husband than took a shower to clean herself off. As norman had said previously this is the 5th!!! time they have moved.
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Mar 22, 2013
I'm surprised you didn't mention the diary found under the bloody rug, or the girl tied to the (radiator?) in the final seen. Obviously that's going to be a major plot development.Otherwise I enjoyed your review.
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Mar 21, 2013
So many chuckle worthy lines in this review. I'm too lazy to type them all out, but awesome man!

Nothing says family bonding like the disposal of a body, am I right?

I agree with the time thing. I hadn't noticed the flat screen TV either, and it did have a seventies feel to it, so when I seen Norman with his earbuds in and the girls came rolling up with their small town Forever 21 gear on and IPods it was jarring. It took a minute to get acclimated to that but I like it.

Nestor Carbonell, for some reason his name kept escaping me and most of the time he was onscreen I kept trying to recall it. That indeed was the longest and loudest pee ever. If possible, he's overdoing the suspicious thing. I rolled my eyes a few times, with the squinty eyes and weird pauses in his speech or whatever.

This does have more of a mini-series feel to it, but I think I may try another episode or two.
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Mar 21, 2013
Psycho was one of the best chiller movies of all time, going back to how it could have started is challenging, the pilot was okay it could have been better without the modernization that was my hit or miss moment , so I will be checking out!!
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Mar 20, 2013
i would like to know if the creators of the show played with the idea of norman dealing the fatal blow to the head of the rapist and then norma just stabbing the dead guy to save/have something on norman so he would never leave her.

i'll watch the show to see how that mother-son relation develops, but the normalcy (no pun intended), with which both tackle the issue of getting rid of the dead body and lying to the police, makes me fearful of the show going way too fast, way too early, in regards to the psychological breakdown norman will eventually go through.
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Mar 20, 2013
I haven't seen this mentioned yet, but I didn't know Norman had a brother? Is this new to this series, or was it mentioned in any of the other movies?
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Mar 20, 2013
99.9% positive it's new for the series. I haven't read the novels, so I don't know if Bloch included a brother there, but I don't think so.
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Mar 20, 2013
This was supposedly how Norman Bates came to become a murderer, with old style clothing and cars - then cellphones? WTH moron writers? I wonder if Hannibal writers will be as dumb (it is NBC, so it's possible)?
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Mar 20, 2013
I was really confused when i saw the iphone. Too bad, that the show is not setted in the 50s, but that would be pretty expensive i guess. I saw David Cubitts (MEDIUM) name in the credits but haven't noticed him in the pilot. Can somebody help me out here, please?
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Mar 20, 2013
Never mind. I think he played the dead dad.

Nestor Carbonell would be a good older Norman Bates too. They look alike.
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Mar 20, 2013
I didn't realise the show was set in modern day until those earbuds and the iPhone popped up, I don't know how I feel about it.
However, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the show, obviously it's not perfect yet but Norma and Norman are fascinating characters there is no denying and I agree with the review that the show could easily elevate itself past just "How Norman became a killer".
p.s. Having Nestor Carbonell (and his face) on my TV screen again is always a pleasure... and I like his hair.
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Mar 20, 2013
I liked it more than I thought I would. Now, if only I could go into every TV show with low expectations. ::sigh::

Anyway, not bad overall. I at least liked it enough to get an hour older watching the next one & see how it goes from there.

...Mostly because I'm fascinated by the pack of cute, social highschool chicks that were drawn to Norman at the bus stop.

What is their ultimate, nefarious agenda?
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Mar 20, 2013
I too cant get over it being set in the modern world it just seems weird with the fancy cars and ipods...i thought it might be Norman's brother who has the kidnapped girl or the creepy looking guy thats friends with bradley or even bradley herself i wouldnt be suprised
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Mar 20, 2013
Clearly the Sheriff is the one holding that girl hostage at the end of the episode. That book Norman found under the carpet is his and that's why he wanted to go in to that room. Or he and Summers were partners. Once it's revealed that the Sheriff is a "Psycho," Norma and Norman will be able to pass off their killings as the Sheriff's.
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Mar 19, 2013
Am I the only one who thought that Sheriff Romero looked an AWFUL lot like Anthony Perkins from the original Psycho?
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Mar 19, 2013
Not bad, not bad at all. I think I actually enjoyed it. It had a nice pacing and tone and had just enough plotting to make this first episode quite entertaining.

"Who is going to book a room in the rape-slash-murder hotel?"
- That line, and particularly how Farmiga delivered it, made me laugh.

The time setting didn't bother me but that may have a lot to do with the fact that I don't remember Psycho very much. I know I've seen it, but not recently.

I didn't think Carbonell's pee-time lasted all that long. It sounded like he emptied himself in a reasonable amount of time, but took another 4-5 seconds to maybe shake himself off and jiggle the chain to flush. Aaaaand I think two sentences on that subject is enough. It certainly was loud though -- a mother, her son, and a police deputy talking about the clean air of Arizona over the loud sound of peeing may have been the creepiest scene in the whole episode, hehe. I also agree about his haircut... he looks a little weird, but I guess that's the point.

The only downside for me might be that every scene with the Norms (I think I prefer that over calling em the Bates) made me think of my own guilt-inducing mother. I want to keep all that repressed, damn it.
More+
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Mar 19, 2013
I'm going to steal "the Norms", if that's okay with you.
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Mar 19, 2013
There's something very Twin Peaks about this. It'll be interesting to see how many side stories pop up during the course of the series, similar to TP. I'm enjoying it thus far, but we'll see how it goes. These kinds of shows can turn into hot messes awfully quickly.
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Mar 19, 2013
I'd be okay with a hot mess so long as it was an entertaining and properly crazy one. There's nothing worse than a boring hot mess.
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Mar 19, 2013
Lets be honest the original movie was, is and will be a cult classic because it created and basically designed the horror genre. The movies last minutes were a mistery and because of that people were intrigued when they were frightened, this show is defined we know already where the path leads and unless they keep the ?????shock factor high we will quickly lose any and all interest . PS the guy had a rape kit+obviously proficient + a cop that snoops around night at 2 + a girl druged and held captive, ....please we know where this leads. Hope A.H. isn't turning in his grave
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Mar 19, 2013
It may've created the slasher subgenre of horror, but it certainly didn't create horror.

And what, exactly, are you referring to when you say the last minutes of the movie's were a mystery? The last minutes of the movie have a psychiatrist droning on about Norman's fractured psyche and his mother before it cuts to a voiceover of the "mother" talking about how she won't harm a fly and them pulling Marion's car out of a lake. There's not a lot of mystery there, beyond needing to flesh out details, which happened over the course of the sequels.
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Mar 19, 2013
Slasher sure but the psycological thriller aspect was new (useing thrill and creating the unexpected turn into the human psyche) And by last minutes i misspoke i was referring to the reveil about the mother and that during the making of the movie the ending was kept from everione to create the surprise element
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Mar 19, 2013
"Unexpected turn to the human psyche" dates back at least all the way to Caligari.
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Mar 19, 2013
I liked the two main characters; I think their relationship is sufficiently creepy. As far as the time difference I felt it highlighted the Bates' out-of-placeness, but that might be because I've never seen the original Psycho. I know the basic storyline just from pop culture though
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Mar 19, 2013
I really liked it. Things like time don't matter to me even though I'm a huge Hitchcock fan. I think the show has potential. I mean, I was actually suprised they had the rape scene so clearly they're not afraid of less than desirable but interesting storytelling.
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Mar 19, 2013
I didnt even notice that it was set in our time until i saw the earbuds, but so far it doesn't even matter because it is washed out and grey i automaticaly attribute it to the original era It works for me
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Mar 19, 2013
It took me 8 years of high school before I could get a girl to sit on my lap but Norman shows up at a bus stop and the hot chicks jump on him? *sigh*
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Mar 20, 2013
I was trying to figure out where the hell those girls came from at the bus stop. They popped out of no where and frightened me.
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Mar 19, 2013
Ugh, I know right? For the whole first year I was at a new high school, all the girls just pointed and laughed at me.



Couldn't they have just told me that guys aren't supposed to wear miniskirts?
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Mar 19, 2013
Well they have to show why Norman goes wonky dont they?
He gets the attention from his teacher (hot), female classmates (hot) and his mother( Vera F was a great casting choice and she plays her character perfectly and also HOT)
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Mar 19, 2013
Summers warning that he knows all the dark secrets of the house, his kit, the rape journal Norman found in the motel, plus Summers insistence that he knows all the cops in town definitely had me thinking Summers was a serial rapist and that the Sherif was/is in on it.
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Mar 19, 2013
Hit the nail on the head with that one
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Mar 19, 2013
I admit I'm hooked and will be returning next week.
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Mar 19, 2013
Me too
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Mar 19, 2013
Tim thinks we're on the same page with the show, so there is that.
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Mar 19, 2013
Totally. Very interested to hear what you and others have to say about some of these other storylines that develop in eps 2 and 3.
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Mar 19, 2013
I'll probably get to them tonight. Nothing on until Justified. Unless the sirens' calls of the new games I purchased over the weekend become too loud to ignore.
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Mar 19, 2013
I thought it was great! I have created a season pass on my TiVo and moved it to the top!
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Mar 19, 2013
Still undecided about this show, but i will watch next week to see where it ends up.
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Mar 19, 2013
OH MY GOD! This was AWESOME! Vera Farmiga is amazing and Highmore is great as well. So well-done! Farmiga better get an Emmy or something for this. I actually think she will. I won't hesitate to say this is the best horror-themed show on TV right now after this pilot episode. I was never THIS crazy about The Walking Dead or American Horror Story and neither hooked me off the bat like this. A lot of times you have to give a show a couple episodes, sometimes more, before they hook you. Not this one. I hope ratings are killer (ha) and this lasts more than one season. I expect it to do well so I'll be shocked if it doesn't. I will admit I didn't know it was set in modern times so that kind of threw me, but I don't mind. Could be interesting. Regardless I cannot wait for more and waiting a week will feel like torture.
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Mar 19, 2013
I hope there will more creepy/suspenseful stuff in future episodes, because for a bulk of the episode it was just like any other teen movie where the kid's mom doesn't want him to go out so he sneaks out to go to a party. It wasn't until Summers broke in that anything really interesting happened. I'll come back though because there's clear potential.
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Mar 19, 2013
EVERYTHING WAS GREAT..except the iphone shit.. My mm and I looked at each other and we were like wtf...
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Mar 19, 2013
As soon as I saw it was in a contemporary setting, I turned it off. What a waste of actors and what could have been a great backstory...
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Mar 19, 2013
I actually like the show... so far. I was surprised that it took place in modern times, but I am looking forward to seeing more.
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Mar 19, 2013
Knowing that it takes place in the present day is really confusing. Enough so that I want to check it out now.
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Mar 19, 2013
no
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Mar 19, 2013
I'm weirdly excited to watch this. Happy to hear you at least kind of enjoyed it.
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Mar 20, 2013
me too it could be something sooooooooooo weird
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Mar 19, 2013
I think the show is taking an interesting approach to this story. I think the best part of the pilot is Freddie Highmore and Vera Farmiga, they have really good chemistry. I will continue to check it out to see how it develops.
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Mar 19, 2013
I agree that they're by far the best part of the show, at least based on the pilot. There's a really solid chemistry between them, and it'll be needed as the show goes on.
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Mar 19, 2013
i left a comment on the exact same article a while ago and it has disappeared - not removed, just totally disappeared
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Mar 19, 2013
Sorry about that. If it's any consolation, we didn't delete it! An unrelated technical difficulty forced us to republish the story, and your comment was an untended casualty. Won't happen again, we promise!
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