Check in to Bates Motel

Have you seen “Bates Motel?” It just finished its second 10-episode season on A&E (the first season’s 10 episodes are available on Netflix) and is an imagined prequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s black and white 1960 classic “Psycho.”

Whether you’ve seen the film or not, “Bates Motel” is well worth watching. If you haven’t seen the film, please do. It’s a classic that deserves to be called a classic. I’ve seen it at least a dozen times and it never fails to impress. Because I’m a fan of the film, I had my misgivings about the TV show. My doubts vanished after the first five minutes. The show is excellent.

This Psycho prequel starts when Norman Bates is 17. After his father dies in an accident, Norman reluctantly moves with his beautiful mother Norma to the West Coast, where she has purchased a house and motel in foreclosure, for them to live in and run. The first episode is brutal, with a rape and a murder and a cover-up and odd police and a sex ring and a mysterious town and suspicious townsfolk. The show is moody, occasionally funny in a macabre way, frequently deeply creepy, and always well written. Most of all, the acting is amazing. Vera Farmiga’s charm has escaped me in the past (“Up in the Air,” “The Conjuring”) and now, if I could kiss her feet I would, and I don’t like feet. To quote my sister, “Vera acts with her skin.” You can feel her feelings. Even if not a muscle in her face is moving, her eyes somehow register four emotions in the space of seconds. As Norman, Freddie Highmore is almost as great as Farmiga. If you are familiar with Anthony Perkin’s Norman Bates, you can see the grown-up-Norman-to-be in Highmore’s face, posture, bounce, speech, mannerisms. When these two powerhouses are in the same scene, cliché though it may be to say it, magic happens. Sometimes it’s almost scary. And talk about tragic flaws and fruitless attempts to lead a normal life and escape your destiny. It seems it ain’t gonna happen.

All of the supporting characters are multidimensional and well cast. The show takes plot turns I haven’t been able to anticipate, and I’m usually good at guessing things. Whether you’ve seen “Psycho” or not, this is a great show on its own. But if you know what’s in the future for Norma and Norman, it’s adds yet another layer of dread.

Holly Caster has lived in Nyack with her playwright husband, two kids, and two cats for over 10 years. She is by trade a writer and by nature a fan of theater, movies, books, history, & art.