“BATES MOTEL” Season One (Blu-ray Review)
TWIN PEAKS fans rejoice, for with the hit A&E show BATES MOTEL you now have the almost-as-oddball town of White Pine Bay to explore. With its mountainous backdrop, foggy rain-filled days and a populace full of mysterious folk that all seem just a little… off, the show is in many ways the logical network TV successor to David Lynch’s cult favorite.
Season One is now available on DVD and Blu-ray (from Universal) and while some have voiced concerns about the fact that this Bates family origin story has a contemporary setting, this writer strongly suggests you let that initial hang-up go immediately. Producers Carlton Cuse (LOST) and Kerry Ehrin (FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS) drew inspiration from Hitchcock’s seminal PSYCHO but clearly wanted to create a dramatic world of their own, calling it a “spiritual kin” to shows like the aforementioned TWIN PEAKS and THE X-FILES. Starting with the mysterious death of Norman’s father in episode one, each of the ten ensuing installments are brimming with suspense. From the violent appearance of the former motel owner to the hidden sketchbook of sex slaves (you even get your own set of sketchbook collector cards included with the Blu-Ray version!) and the not-so-secret pot growing economy, this town and the people in it are not what they seem on surface.
Freddie Highmore (Tim Burton’s CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY) does a fantastic job bringing Norman Bates to life. While he claims he didn’t set out to mimic Anthony Perkins’ portrayal of Norman, the mannerisms are spot-on. His awkward movements, long lingering glances and a few imagined two-way conversations with his mother are a perfect indication of what is to come for this troubled kid.
Vera Farmiga (THE CONJURING, ORPHAN) was rightfully nominated for an Emmy for her portrayal of Mrs. Bates’ manic persona, and she impressively swings from doting mother to manipulative temptress to terrified victim depending on what will serve her best. During the 45-minute Paley Center discussion with the cast in the bonus features, Farmiga is rather defensive when it comes to the implication that there is something inappropriate going on between Norman and his mother. She argues that their intimacy is innocent and that Norma is simply protecting her son as best she can.
For the first half of Season One, I would have disagreed with her notions, as the scenes between the two often play out like an old married couple with their happy snuggling mixed with jealousy and passive-aggressive manipulation. Farmiga’s sexiness is not lost in this role and when she holds Norman a little too long you feel uncomfortable for both of them. However, a mid-season revelation is put forth that will have you rethinking their relationship and revisiting a few key scenes. The final four-episode arc brings one of the most enjoyable additions to the show, the fantastically creepy Jere Burns as the enigmatic Jake Abernathy. When his version of being polite is to leave a “gift” of a decomposing body on your bed, you know he is going to be a treat to watch.
And the show isn’t all gloomy darkness. There are some refreshingly light moments courtesy of Norman’s quirky friend Emma (Olivia Cooke), including her first experience getting high via a pot cupcake and the deadpan description of Norman’s blonde love interest Bradley (Nicola Peltz, unfortunately the one flat performance in the show) as a “locomotive of sexual energy.” Emma is a wide-eyed innocent girl with CF who genuinely connects with Norman. As one of the most relatable characters on the show, you just want to hug her when she is inevitably hurt.
Whether you watched BATES MOTEL during the first season run on A&E or are coming at it fresh, Universal’s handsome double disc package is worth a purchase. Bonus features include the aforementioned Paley Panel, along with 22 Deleted scenes. We can’t wait for round two…