Why ‘Bates Motel’ continues to live on in the fiendish hearts of fans
When it was first announced that someone had the audacity to turn Alfred Hitchcock’s seminal horror Psycho into a TV reboot, we recoiled with the same dread as Lila Crane (Vera Miles) stumbling upon the corpse of “Mother”.
In an age defined by unnecessary reboots of just about any and every beloved piece of content to have ever existed, we (foolishly) assumed that Bates Motel would be just the same. Turgid, recycled slop cashing in on a venerated classic.
But oh boy, were we wrong. From the very start of S1, it was clear that Bates Motel went above and beyond our expectations.
As one new fan of the show recently proclaimed on Twitter: “Late to the party, but totally addicted to Bates Motel at the moment. Never once thought a soap opera based on Psycho was what the world needed, but there you go.”
Basically, the show isn’t to be underestimated on any level. It’s a prequel series to one of the most critically acclaimed films ever made (no pressure) and yet Bates Motel steps up to the challenge impeccably well. It’s a difficult thing to honor the vibe of such a movie while still maintaining and building a fresh world, but that’s exactly what the show does.
With the exception of specific scenes, Bates Motel never tries to directly emulate Psycho, but instead uses the film as the brooding, tense foundations upon which the show rests.
As a result, the ghoulish dimensions of the Psycho canon are respectfully and exquisitely expanded upon to create an astonishing reworking of a familiar tale, complete with lavish set pieces, production design, and costumes that evoke the sprawling evil within the Motel.
However, frenetic beating heart of the show lies within the near-impeccable writing. The ebbing climaxes of every episode always leave you wanting more, while the show’s proclivity for violence, suspense, and some unexpectedly emotional arcs make Bates Motel fiendishly unpredictable.
Which brings us to the immaculate performances of the ensemble cast – but more specifically, Freddie Highmore as young Norman Bates and Vera Farmiga as his erratic mother.
Even at her most silent and seemingly innocent, Farmiga exudes tension and capricious brutality. Her freakouts as Norma Bates are legendary at this point and are a huge reason why many fans are nowhere near close to getting over the show’s final episode in 2017.
However, Highmore also deserves plaudits for his honest take on an unbelievably iconic character. There’s a believability to how the actor plays Norman that makes his take on the role feel like a palpable precursor to how Anthony Perkins plays the character.
Though Bates Motel places the story within a 21st Century context, the show never feels detached from the original story. Nor does it feel like a cheap cash-in. Against all odds, the show manages to toil within the same depraved and often horrifying sanctorium of horror that Psycho did, but it also infuses the narrative with fresh life (and death).
Which is why fans are still crazy about the show and why more and more people are continuing to discover it – and becoming instantly obsessed by it. Bates Motel is a rare blend of soapy melodrama and thoughtful horror that works supremely well at just about every possible level.
With the show currently available to stream on Netflix, more and more viewers are finding themselves drawn into the sick delights of the show years after it first premiered (when they likely rolled their eyes at the initial prospect, just as we did).
However, such shows that blend soap opera style tropes, pulpy emotionality, and savage horror have been increasingly more popular in the interim since Bates Motel premiered in 2013.
Shows like Riverdale, Penny Dreadful, Stranger Things, and even Scream: The TV Series (don’t come for us on that one, S1 is still a trashy horror gem) have continued to blend classic horror tropes alongside the familiar structures of traditional episodic storytelling.
There’s a chance that if Bates Motel was released today, it could have even drawn greater popularity and success than it did back in 2013. Still, we’re just happy we managed to put aside our own qualms about the show to finally enjoy it in 2018.
Bates Motel is a transgressive, moody, and savage little treat that you need to bingewatch immediately if you haven’t already. And to the fans who continue to dote upon it, it’s definitely time to hire out a motel and organize a fiendish little rewatch party.
Just don’t invite Mother.