The beginning of summer is a very exciting time for Netflix viewers, as a bunch of new seasons of great shows opens. In the past month only, we’ve had the launches of Bloodline (season 2); Orange is the New Black (season 4) and Bates Motel (season 3).
When the latter first came out, three years ago, many critics had serious reservations about it. They wondered what they were going to see after all. What was pitched to the press sounded like an easy, unnecessary and, more than anything else, disrespectful product to the memory of the great Hitchcock. Why write a prequel to one of his most famous and popular movies – Psycho – made more than 50 years ago?
The critics were in for a pleasant surprise, though. The show turned out to be great fun. One of the most entertaining and well-written horror shows currently available on the streaming service.
Of course, the main actors, Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air) and Freddy Highmore (Finding Neverland), who play, respectively, the domineering Mother (with a capital letter!) Norma, and her tormented younger son, Norman, deserve most of the credit for the show’s success. The near-incestuous relationship between Mother and son – which the writers have been tasteful enough not to make explicit so far – is the throughline from which a number of interesting subplots branch out every season.
Vera Farmiga’s performance is nothing less than dazzling. She portrays every possible nuance of this plagued woman with a terrible past, trying to make a fresh start after her husband’s accidental death, by moving to a small town in Oregon and opening a motel. The town, however, and the strange guests that keep popping up at the hotel seem determined not to give her a break.
Highmore’s Norman, the son – who has probably become mentally unstable not only for sharing the experiences his mother went through, but also because of her obsessive love – is portrayed very sensitively, giving us a very convincing idea of what the original Norman Bates, played by Anthony Perkins in the iconic movie, must have been like in his youth.
Despite being a prequel to Psycho, the story takes place in modern day America. Through seasons 1-3, we have followed, among other things, the busting of hidden plantations of weed – whose commerce is the staple of the town’s economy; the mysterious murder of a high-school teacher who had tender feelings for the sweet Norman; and the return of Norma’s estranged brother – who fathered her oldest child. There seems to be a lot more in store.
More than the dark and, sometimes openly weird, storylines, however, what seems to draw viewers to the show is the constant atmosphere of suspense maintained in each episode, the stunning photography, and the charismatic supporting cast.
Writers versus producers
Shows like Bates Motel, which do not play safe, are, of course, the realm of great writers, not producers. Their freedom to take risks makes all the difference, constantly raising the bar for TV/Streaming products, which seem to be on an irreversible course towards excellence, unlike what has been happening to Hollywood movies. The viewers are grateful!