Check out 'Bates Motel'

Posted: March 14, 2013

* BATES MOTEL. 10 p.m. Monday, A&E.

"WE OWN a motel, Norman Bates!" crows Norma Bates (Vera Farmiga) in Monday's premiere of A&E's "Bates Motel."

What could possibly go wrong?

I spent decades avoiding "Psycho" - so that I could continue to take showers - and even I knew the answer to that one.

I finally broke down last weekend and borrowed the 1960 classic from my amused, Hitchcock-loving son, who's never quite understood why "The Birds" traumatized me as a child.

So, I'm not the target audience for a contemporary look at the adolescence of the character that A&E calls "the most famous serial killer of them all." But I, at least, get why someone might want to try to show what the psychiatrist in "Psycho" only got to tell: how Norma made Norman into the man he became.

And though I may not be totally on board with the whole Freudian blame-the-mother thing, neither, perhaps, is "Bates Motel," which portrays Norma as not just a lot hotter than you might have imagined, but also as a woman whose problems are not entirely in her own head.

For that, she can thank writers Carlton Cuse, of "Lost," and Kerry Ehrin, who's written for "Friday Night Lights," "Parenthood" and even "The Wonder Years." They've cast Norma as both victimizer and victim, a mother maybe a bit too attached to her younger son, Norman (Freddie Highmore, of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"), but also trying to make her way in a hostile new environment.

Highmore, who at first exudes all the sweetness of a classic high-school-show nerd, is gradually revealed to have a few issues. Though, to fully realize that, you'll need to make it past the first hour, which includes a horrific rape scene. (It also includes a visit from the local sheriff, played by "Lost" immortal Nestor Carbonell.)

There being miles and miles to go before Marion Crane can be expected to check in, "Bates Motel" plays for time by having mother and son set up shop in a town where theirs aren't the only secrets.

Whether other people's secrets will prove to be as interesting as the intimations of Norman's not-so-sweet future remains to be seen. And yet they'd better be.

Because even Hitchcock might have had trouble keeping us in suspense until his killer graduated from high school.

On Twitter: @elgray


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