On the outskirts of the small town of White Pine Bay sits the “newly renovated” Bates Motel. On March 18, A&E premieres “Bates Motel,” the series that will serve as a prequel to the fabulously horrific Alfred Hitchcock psychological thriller “Psycho.”
The new series produced for A&E Network by the redoubtable Carlton Cuse (“Lost”) and Kerry Ehrin (“Friday Night Lights”) will follow young Norman Bates and his mother Norma as they move into their newly acquired motel in Northern California after the death of Norman’s father. Viewers will watch as Norman, played by the up-and-coming Freddie Highmore (“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Finding Neverland”), and his mother, the Oscar-nominated Vera Farmiga (“Up in the Air”), try to resettle in a town that is not what it seems.
The show is filmed on location in Vancouver, chosen for its great range of scenery, from the coast all the way to the plains. Looks can be deceiving, however, as underneath the beautiful landscape lies something dark, malevolent and moody. Here is “Bates Motel,” the actual motel and the eponymous series that will allow fans of the 1960 Hitchcock film to explore Norman and Norma’s profound backstory. Viewers can watch as the show will lead them into the depths of the somewhat incestuous mother-son relationship that comes to form as mother and son fight for survival in this secretive town. It will be known just how important Norma is in the destruction of Norman’s teenage identity and how pivotal her role is in creating the monstrous “psycho” that Norman becomes.
While Cuse and Ehrin want viewers to fall in love with these intricate and multi-dimensional characters, the friction between them is meant to be unbearable, yet at the same time undeniably enticing.
“That tension of knowing what their fate is and sort of seeing how they get there was something that we, as storytellers, just thought was really compelling,” Cuse said at the Television Critics Association in Pasadena, California.
Both leading actors similarly express their thoughts on what they want for their characters: Farmiga values Norma’s maternal valiance and views the Bates’ story as “a beautiful love letter between a mother and her son,” while Highmore wants people to sympathize with Norman and recognize that his upbringing likely figures prominently in the man he is to become.
“Is he who he is and will he always become the person that he will become, or is it because they move to this dodgy town and there’s a sort of weird relationship between or certainly close, intimate relationship between Norma and Norman,” Highmore said. “And that challenges the audience to think, ‘Well, if I was in that situation, if I had had the upbringing that Norman had had, would I be slightly different?’ You know, we all go a little mad sometimes.”
Mad, however, might be just a bit of an understatement in Norman’s case. Fans and newcomers alike can watch in anticipation as they enter a new world of discovery and are given an inside look into Norman’s fascinating psyche. Viewers are let in on new and endless possibilities as to exactly how Norman Bates became the serial killer that people have come to know and maybe even love. What is important to realize however, is that while “Bates Motel” may be inspired by “Psycho,” it is not paying homage to the movie and it will not follow the film to the tee.
“We just wanted to sort of take these characters and the setup as inspiration. We don’t really view any of [the original movie and its remakes and previous adaptations] as canon,” Cuse said. “And, in fact, the mythology that you think is what dictates the relationship between Norma and Norman is probably not what it’s going to turn out to be.”
People also should not be expecting to see any supernatural happenings around White Pine Bay. While superhuman and supernatural-themed shows are wildly trendy on television with the likes of “American Horror Story,” “True Blood” and even Cuse’s old series “Lost,” “Bates Motel” is meant to be a pure psychological thriller, just as the movie is. It is driven by character storylines that are deeply entangled within this chiller of a series.
“It’s very grounded,” Ehrin said.
Followers can also expect to see recurring characters including Nestor Carbonell’s (“Lost”) Sheriff Alex Romero, the “moral” center of the town, Dylan Massett (Max Thieriot), Norman’s half-brother, and a circle of women by whom Norman is both drawn in and, in a manipulating manner, draws in. These women include Bradley Martin (Nicola Peltz), the popular girl who befriends Norman, Emma Decody (Olivia Cooke), a peculiar yet intelligent girl with cystic fibrosis who develops a crush on Norman, and Miss Watson (Keegan Connor Tracy, “Once Upon a Time”), Norman’s Language Arts teacher. It seems the show already has a knack for concentrating on Hitchcock’s (and therefore Norman’s) obsession with and conniving tendencies toward women.
“Bates Motel” also comes as a refreshing shake-up for the classic A&E programming, which typically features documentaries and the newly added reality television programming with the likes of “Hoarders” and “Storage Wars.” Procedural dramas like “The Glades” and “Longmire” are exceptions to this rule. Regardless, “Bates Motel” should be a welcome addition. The series premieres Monday, March 18 at 10 p.m. on A&E. With its first episode titled “First You Dream, Then You Die,” it looks as though “Bates Motel” will live up to its great expectations.