Bates Motel on Universal, Vera Farmiga, Freddie Highmore, PREVIEW

Freddie Highmore split with Vera Farmiga in Bates Motel
Split personality – Norman and Norma

Rating: ★★★½

Universal Channel: starts Thursday, 12 September, 9pm

Story: Norman and his mother take over a rundown motel in Oregon and seek a new start in life following the death of his father.

WERE ALFRED HITCHCOCK looking to cast beautiful blonde Vera Farmiga in one of his films, it’s unlikely the famously repressed director would give her the role of a homicidal old matron.

Vera Farmiga as Norma in Bates Motel
Vera Farmiga as Norma

And yet, here she is playing the character we last see in his classic 1960 shocker Psycho as a mummified corpse, impersonated by her deranged son as a hectoring harridan. That’s the first surprise in this new prequel series.

It is also based in the current day, which jars at first – a prequel set decades after the original. And Norman, aged 17, played by Freddie Highmore, is a bright charming young guy who has all the girls flocking round him at his new school. Anthony Perkins’ nervy, creepy, candy-chewing taxidermist is nowhere in sight.

Dark backstory of Bates Motel

So it should be obvious by now that there’s no point in being uptight about these apparent discrepancies. The reason to watch Bates Motel is to enjoy a twisting psychological tale in which these characters pass through the dark backstory – and end up as twisted mom and serial killer son.

On the surface, Norman’s mom seems a decent sort, but there are clues that all may not be as it appears. As the local sheriff points out soon after the Bates take over the motel, mom Norma has called her son Norman. Boys are named after their dad’s all the time, she explains.

Yet her possessiveness is clear in other ways. Norma is also reluctant to let Norman hang with the girls at his new school, always finding more chores for him at their new, gothic monstrosity of a house. She even turns passive-aggressive when he wants to join the school track team – signing the form but making him feel guilty about it.

Freddie Highmore and Vera Farmiga, Bates Motel
As Norman says in Psycho, ‘A boy’s best friend is his mother’ 

How did Norman’s father die?

So far, so emotionally suffocating for Norm. We also learn Norma has another son by an earlier marriage – Dylan, an angry, troubled drifter.

Mother also has a yen to keep on the move, and we find out that Norman has attended five schools, never having time to blend in with friends. And then there is the death of his father in the drama’s opening moments – what happened there?

The plot twists further when a disgruntled local abuses mom and son for buying the motel after the bank foreclosed on it. He insists it’s all still his. When he breaks into the house one night, events turn bloody indeed.

Norman and Norma in Bates Motel
Before the madness – son and mom

Bates Motel is basically a mood piece, the makers (Carlton Cuse, Kerry Ehrin and Anthony Cipriano) citing the surreal Twin Peaks as their inspiration. It is also most likely to appeal to a young audience who may well be into an offbeat tale of teen alienation.

So, Hitchcockian it ain’t. But Bates Motel looks as though it will definitely be having some fun with the Master of Suspense’s last really great film.

Cast: Vera Farmiga Norma Bates, Freddie Highmore Norman Bates, Max Thieriot Dylan Massett, Olivia Cooke Emma Decody, Nicola Peltz Bradley Martin, Nestor Carbonell Sheriff Alex Romero,  Mike Vogel Deputy Zack Shelby,  Keegan Connor Tracy Miss Watson, Ian Hart Will Decody, Jere Burns Jake Abernathy

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