Bates Motel: it’s all in the atmosphere


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.

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Bates Motel

The actors

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.

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British Actor Freddy Highmore

 

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.

The subplots

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!

Au revoir

Jorge Sette

 

Why “Orange is the New Black” will make TV history


We had The Sopranos, Mad Men and Breaking Bad. All these shows made history by breaking new ground in televison,  focusing on the excellence of scripts, stunning acting and great premises.

The Sopranos dared to show in our living rooms  how disturbingly  “normal” a Mob family could look as seen from the inside, and thus struck a powerful blow on corporate America by likening the lifestyle and “business” methods used by Mob leader Tony to those commonly employed by CEOs of huge companies throughout the world.

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Mad Men is all about contrasting society’s habits and especially womens’s  position in the workplace by focusing on a a group of advertisers in the 1960s – the coolest professional category at the time  –  and having us analyse the context with today’s eyes. Has it changed that much? Do men, although behaving more subtly, still have the same demeaning attitudes towards women in the workplace?  Food for thought. In addition to that, for those who work in the area of marketing, as I do, it’s fascinating to see how simple and direct it was for those Madison Avenue guys to lure and entice customers back in the sixties, when companies kept all the power of communication, especially through television,  as opposed to the shift and landslide caused but the Internet and social media these days, which have given the customer a lot more voice and power in dealing with product/service sellers.

Mad Men

Mad Men

Walter White, the iconic protagonist of Breaking Bad, taught us that not all human beings are stable enough to maintain a solid and permant state of sanity and acceptable social behavior intact when exposed to extreme circumstances and under brutal pressure (in his case, the fact that cancer would eventually kill him and leave his family – wife and two kids – financially unprotected, after years of slaving away as a chemistry school teacher). He decides then to use his brilliant knowledge as a scientist to start a new and illegal business, becoming the fearless and cold-blooded  drug dealer Heisenberg. Again, it’s been said that watching the show would easily substitute for a formal business course at Harvard! More than that, however, it demonstrates the lengths a person will go and the changes in personality that may occur as the result of one’s feeling abused and wronged by the institutions of one’s community.

Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad

Now we are watching another one of these groundbreaking series American TV has been lavishing upon us for the past 15 years or so. They are becoming even more daring as they stand on the shoulders of previous giants. Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, for example, under the pretext of depicting the life of the inmates of a women’s federal prison, explores the feminine universe in all its details. The prison reflects of course what goes on with women in the American society as whole. With a lot of humor and irony, but also delicacy and poignancy, the show discusses the nuances of real (as opposed to stereotyped) lesbianism and homophobia, the violence and prejudice against minorities (women, blacks, latinos, homosexuals, immigrants, religious cultists and transexuals) and, not less interestingly,  how power is gained, maintained and lost at different times in a community. The show is very political in bringing to light the different kinds of negotiations and shady deals one has to strike at all hierarchical levels to survive and keep one’s dignity and rights in society. I will not say anything about the ensemble of great actors who compose the cast. Suffice it to say that the acting is superb and the actos’ looks are initially revolting – until you grow accustomed to them and realize that’s what real people look like. Unlike the fake ” ugly ” looks worn by the likes of Meryl Streep in Ironweed or Charlize Theron in Monster, the women in OITNB look rather common, it’s just that we are not used to seeing them on TV. I have just read an article on the Internet pointing out that the show is effectively changing peoples’ negative opinions and attitudes towards the minorities it featured. Besides great entertainment, what more can you expect from a TV show? Well done!

Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black

Do you watch Orange is the New Black? What do you think of it? Please leave a comment in the appropriate section of the blog before you move to another page.

Au revoir

Jorge Sette