A&E

TV review: ‘Bates Motel’

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Highmore deals with the horrors of high school.

The Details

Bates Motel
Two and a half stars
Mondays, 10 p.m., A&E

Bates Motel is a strange creation. It features iconic elements from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic Psycho, including the title location and the ominous house on a hill overlooking it. It stars the teenage version of one of the most well-known characters in horror fiction and cinema, Norman Bates. And yet, it’s set in the present day, and its creators have been adamant that despite all the similarities, their show is not simply the story of how Norman (Freddie Highmore) became, well, psycho.

The problem is that the pilot of Bates Motel doesn’t seem to know what kind of show it wants to be. On one hand, it’s effectively atmospheric, building up the unsettling small-town locale with its vaguely sinister inhabitants. There’s an act of violence halfway through the episode that takes the show into some dark territory, but there are also plenty of scenes of Norman as a typical teenage outcast, trying to fit in with the popular kids at school and befriending a fellow misfit.

Highmore seems a bit out of his depth as Norman, but Vera Farmiga brings a nice menace to the overbearing Norma Bates, still very much alive and busy warping her son’s psyche. It’s hard to tell from the first episode where Bates Motel will go, but by tying the show to such familiar material, the producers have created expectations that they’ll have a hard time living up to.

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