Created by Carlton Cuse and Kerry Ehrin
Distributed by Universal Studios
This past March, this writer was lucky enough to have previewed the first three episodes of A&E’s “Bates Motel”, their new drama series based upon the Psycho franchise (read my initial review here). As a die-hard fan of both the book and film series, I was surprised to find that I absolutely adored the show, and hoped that the quality would stay high throughout the series’ duration. Fortunately, it’s done just that, and has garnered high enough ratings to secure a second season which will air sometime in early 2014. For now, though, Universal has released the first season onto Blu-ray with a gorgeous presentation. And, even if it’s quite light on the bonus features one might usually expect from a set like this, it’ll still be a must-own for aficionados of Psycho, or just plain great horror television.
First, a quick recap: “Bates Motel” essentially acts as a contemporary origin story for young Norman Bates (Highmore), catching up with he and his currently quite alive mother Norma (Farmiga) as they first purchase the eponymous motel and California Gothic mansion which are inextricably linked to our poor anti-hero (this being early days, he isn’t yet the oblivious murderer we know from Bloch and Hitchcock…or is he?). The two quickly settle in and find that White Pine Bay, the idyllic town they now call home, is full of dark secrets and darker people. Though they would both be content to simply live their lives peacefully, the people and events which surround and envelop the Bates family will ensure that Norman’s long, slow path to madness and murder will be horribly inevitable.
Still, the show isn’t all doom and gloom. Surprisingly, even for as dark as the show can be (and yikes, can it be), “Bates Motel” is often infused with a sort of oddball humor throughout, mostly thanks to its sharp, witty writing and a healthy number of supporting characters (all of which help to affect any episode’s tone and enhance what one would imagine could be an otherwise simple tale of a young man’s descent into insanity). Rather than being a by-the-numbers prequel, the show juggles numerous plotlines, all exposing the seedy underbelly of the otherwise beautiful White Pine Bay, making the show not entirely unlike another grimly amusing television show from a couple of decades ago (the “Twin Peaks” connection has been made more than once by the show’s creators). As a result, “Bates Motel” is a bit more ambitious than simply rehashing Norman’s backstory from Bloch’s novel or the woefully underloved Psycho IV: The Beginning, and finds much more to mine here than the inescapable tragedy at the show’s center.
Across the board, this show is a success. The actors are all superb – with the standouts being Farmiga, who’s stunning as Norma, and Highmore, who references Perkins enough to keep fans happy while managing to make the character his own. Solid work is also put in by Thieriot, who shapes his antagonistic character into someone the audience can’t help but like, and Carbonell (read our interview with him here, who takes what might have been a one note, untrustworthy character and makes him fascinatingly nebulous (to say nothing of Cooke, whose portrayal of the CF-afflicted Emma has made that character an essential part of the Psycho mythos, in my opinion).
The direction is always top notch, keeping each episode stylish and brisk. The writing, too, is often just wonderful – full of great dialogue and tense plotting that would make Hitchcock cackle. However, though it should be obvious by now that I pretty much adore this show, I found Episode 7 – (“The Man in Number 9”) to be a complete misfire, what with its many tonal missteps, bouts of bad dialogue, and utterly out-of-character choices. It felt as though I was watching another, far inferior show during this ep. Fortunately, this disappointment was only a one-off.
As mentioned, Universal’s Blu-ray release is pretty impressive from a technical standpoint. The image is gorgeous, doing justice to both the show’s beautiful daylight exteriors and its shadowy nights. The level of detail is impressive, the colors bold, and the blacks nice and inky. The provided DTS 5.1 audio track, too, does a fine job of bringing the viewer right into White Pine Bay alongside its residents. Sadly, there isn’t much here in the way of bonus features, though the release is hardly barebones.
Included here are a handful of deleted scenes from various eps, most of which are quite brief and were understandably cut (though a nice, final episode bit between Norma and Dylan really should have stayed put). There is also a forty-five minute presentation from a Paley Center panel discussion. This is a fantastic addition to the set, and features all of the principals onstage fielding questions from moderator Shawn Ryan, the creator/showrunner of the vastly underrated FX program “The Shield”. It’s a great talk, featuring a good deal of insight into each of the actors’ approaches to the material and their characters, along with a discussion of the show’s origins from showrunners Cuse and Ehrin. If you like the series, this feature is a must-see (even though it’s curiously presented in a 4×3 ratio). Lastly, there is a set of cards included within the Blu-ray case, featuring artwork from one character’s sketchbook (which plays a crucial role in the show’s plot throughout its first half). Overall – not a terrible package, but it’s still a pity that we couldn’t get a commentary or two, or so much as a brief featurette on the show’s production (heck, even the widely available “First Look” used to promote the premiere might’ve been a nice inclusion). Ah, well. Perhaps we’ll get a Deluxe Edition double-dip just in time for Season 2’s premiere early next year.
Ultimately folks, if you haven’t yet given this series a chance, now’s the time to do so. “Bates Motel” stands as a brilliant reimagining of an iconic character. And, speaking as a longtime fan of the franchise, I couldn’t be happier with this iteration or more excited to see where the next season will take us.
I love this show.
4 1/2 out of 5
2 out of 5