'Bates Motel': Check in with Caution

When A&E first announced its newest scripted drama, a Psycho prequel set in modern day (Bates Motel, 10 p.m. Mondays), I was intrigued. But for a couple of characters audiences already know turn out to be incredibly messed up, this N

When A&E first announced its newest scripted drama, a Psycho prequel set in modern day (Bates Motel, 10 p.m. Mondays), I was intrigued. The boyish Freddie Highmore (the Charlie to Tim Burton’s Chocolate Factory) seemed like an interesting pick for the odd, young Norman Bates, and if Vera Farmiga could charm the pants off/break the heart of Clooney (and, thus, all of us) in Up in the Air, surely she could play a convincingly creepy mama. But for a couple of characters audiences already know turn out to be incredibly messed up, this Norma/Norman duo falls flat.

The choice to set this re-imagined Psycho in contemporary times is confusing. In the March 18 premiere’s first couple scenes, all context clues (the Bates’ clothing, car, electronics) lead the audience to believe we’re in the ’50s. Then we see Norman at a bus stop wearing white ear buds as he gets approached by a group of inexplicably hot, definitely modern girls. Certainly this technique should paint the mother and son as an odd couple, in a time and world of their own, but as it plays out onscreen, it just seems needlessly bewildering.

And then there’s the rape scene. What could have been a terrifying and poignant moment just seemed like an obvious attempt to be edgy and move the plot forward. If Norman hadn’t snuck out of the house to go to some weird weeknight rave with the aforementioned babes, he might have been able to prevent the attack. While he got there in the nick of time, he must now cope with the guilt of his mother’s rape (and the fact that she killed the man), no doubt an important piece to this puzzle of a relationship. But this moment is ruined when, without taking a moment to grieve, Norma insists they cannot call the police and must dispose of the body themselves. “Who’s going to book a room in the rape-slash-murder hotel?” she asks nonchalantly. 

So much of the plot seemed unbelievable or went unexplained, but not in a gripping, effective way; instead, the suspension of disbelief was lost on me (and I eat up the zombies on The Walking Dead!).

Sure, the premiere left us with plenty of questions, I’m just not sure I’m engaged enough to stick around for the answers. Maybe A&E should just stick to Intervention and Duck Dynasty.


Survivor: Caramoan – Fans vs. Favorites (8 p.m., CBS) – The game changes with the disproportion of strength between Gota and Bikal. A tribe shake-up goes down, sparking new conflicts and new alliances. 

Workaholics (Season Finale, 10 p.m., Comedy Central) – Alice introduces an automatic calling system at TelAmeriCorp, causing Blake to worry about the future. Could the dudes be replaced by machines?


Glee (9 p.m., Fox) -– Guilty pleasures!

Project Runway (9 p.m., Lifetime) – The designers create ready-to-wear spring fashions. The winner’s look will be sold at Lord and Taylor and appear in the department store’s window. 

The Ben Show (10 p.m., Comedy Central) – Ben goes back home; Austin Flowers auditions; special appearances by Jason Ritter (Mr. Cyr, swoon!) and Brian Littrell (BSB for life!).

Nathan For You (10:30 p.m., Comedy Central) – Nathan advises a mom and pop gas station to sell gas at $1.75 a gallon and a caricature artist to become the “king of sting” with offensive drawings.


The Walking Dead (9 p.m., AMC) – It’s time for Rick to hand over Michonne to the Governor as a peace offering, but both sides have ulterior motives. It looks like at least one major character won’t make it to next week’s finale.

Shameless (9 p.m., Showtime) – Jimmy wants to return to med school in Michigan. Fiona: Let him go! Frank plays both sides of the fence to capitalize on his newfound fame.

Phil Spector (Premiere, 9 p.m., HBO) – Al Pacino stars as the titular music producer convicted of shooting and killing actress Lana Clarkson. The fictionalized film focuses on Spector’s relationship with defense attorney Linda Kenney Baden (Helen Mirren) during the 2007 trial.


RuPaul’s Drag Race (9 p.m., Logo) – The queens bring the drama as they act in a telenovela-style challenge with the questionably relevant Wilmer Valderrama.

180 Days: A Year Inside an American High School (Miniseries Premiere, 9 p.m., PBS) – A two-part look into the daily life of Washington Metropolitan High School students, parents and faculty gives a unique perspective to the American public education system. Catch the conclusion at 9 p.m. Tuesday.

CONTACT JAC KERN : [email protected] or @jackern

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