A TV series such as Bates Motel, based on a film as iconic as Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), would appear to have the odds stacked against from the off. However, this ten-parter – starring Vera Farmiga, Freddy Highmore and Max Thieriot – manages the unenviable task with surprising aplomb. The result is a show respectful to the memory of its illustrious predecessor, yet confident enough not to be overshadowed by it. Long before Marion Crane booked into her empty motel room that fateful night, Norman Bates (Highmore) and his mother Norma (Farmiga) were making a killing at their isolated Californian abode.
The trouble with so many TV shows and films which have taken their inspiration from other mediums through which their subject matter became first known, is that they appear to have been so apprehensive of the project that they end up playing it safe; let’s lift large sections of plot, numerous characters, even dialogue verbatim from the original. Thankfully, this isn’t the case with Bates Motel. Inevitably, there are elements present derived from Hitchcock’s film and its numerous sequels – Norman and his mother, the hilltop mansion presiding over the infamous motel like a brooding eagle, as well as the recognisable layout of the said house right down to its kitchen which played a central role in Richard Franklin’s Psycho II (1983).
However, there are also enough fresh touches thrown into the mix that the result seems neither stale nor hackneyed. Here, Norman has an older half-brother, Dylan (Thieriot), from his mother’s first marriage, who has his own demons to deal with as well as helping Norman with his. The dark-haired teen who would grow into the poster boy for moody loners everywhere also finds first love – one of his female friends provides a subtle thread to his later fixation with taxidermy. We also discover the reasons behind his close bond with his mother, which provides the show with enough horrific elements to keep even hardcore gorehounds happy. It’s difficult to imagine how Bates Motel could come close to achieving the disturbing air which still shrouds Psycho. Even so, this new drama has introduced enough twists to warrant Universal commissioning a second season.