Norman Bates

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So I’ve been watching A&E’s new Bates Motel TV show and I thought I’d share some thoughts on it. The show seems to be getting some popular buzz and if we’re good at anything here at Infinite Hollywood, it’s trying to capitalize on something for our own benefit. Truth be told, I’ve been a bit of a Psycho kick recently, digging out my Big Lots bargain DVD set of the three original Psycho sequels and watching them in the past few weeks. I had planned to review them here, but general laziness supercedes all.

Anyway, coming into A&E’s new take on the old tale of Norman Bates, there’s a lot to compare it to. Frankly, the few other reviews I’ve taken a look at disgust me, because they act as if there was only ever one Psycho film. Look, Hitchcock’s Psycho is a timeless classic, but it’s an absolute disservice to everyone to pretend like that’s the only exposure we ever got to Norman Bates. The following three Psycho sequels are all fine films in their own right and throughout there are some incredible moments (some dumb ones too) but Anthony Perkins was able to craft Norman Bates into a really interesting and misunderstood character, turning in downright fantastic performances in each film.

And that’s probably the biggest problem with Bates Motel, there is no Anthony Perkins. No, I don’t mean the actor (although it’s certainly sad Perkins is no longer with us, I would have loved a Psycho 5) but rather there’s no one who can command the screen quite like him. Perkins’ magic, was that he could make you very interested in what he was doing, even if the movie he was in wasn’t all that great. Nobody does steely eyed lunatic, quite like Perkins did.

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Freddy Highmore shouldn’t necessarily be compared to Perkins, despite the obvious reasons to want to, but Highmore has problems of his own to worry about beyond comparisons. In the first episode, Highmore exposes his British accent two or three times. Seriously, how did A&E let that slip? He’s also a tad too babyfaced and generally likeable. I suppose that could work if he eventually does become a ruthless killer, but with a show of this nature you risk turning the audience off by making him suddenly turn on a dime. There does seem to be a bit of a darkside hiding behind those eyes, so maybe he can make it work.

This of course leads us to another problem with the show overall and that’s turning Bates into a hero or a good guy. This is something that plagued the later Psycho sequels, although sometimes it was used to great effect in that Bates couldn’t change his stripes even when he tried. This show doesn’t have that working for them, however, as we’re seeing Norman before he’s a “psycho” and again it starts to put the whole premise into dangerous territory.

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