Bates Motel…The latest evidence that people will tell any story as long as it’s not a new story. The idea that the teenage years of Psycho’s Norman Bates (a character that first became a part of pop culture in 1960…and hasn’t evolved or strengthened his reach on it since) would be fascinating to anyone has less to do with story-telling and more to do with a network wanting cash. Will the ratings be good? I have no idea (it would seem like the source material may be lost between generations, holding little meaning for that coveted teenage demographic), but following the formative years of a psychotic killer and his weird relationship with his mother isn’t something you can build a show around. In other words, even if the show starts out well, how can it really grow? [Dexter does flashbacks to his past, but those have always been the least compelling thing on the show.]
I could see where Freddie Highmore might seem like the right actor to play an overly buttoned-down, secretly dangerous wuss, but his portrayal of the inner lunatic beneath Norman isn’t fully convincing. Vera Farminga is certainly formidable as the overbearing, sick Bates mother, and while she’s easily the best thing on the show, I’m just not sure that’s enough. The suspense seems telegraphed (as when a character threatens them…gee, I wonder what will happen to him or when young girls enter the mix…gee, I wonder if they’ll eventually be in danger), so I can’t recommend the show’s plotting or its plot. In the ultimate insult to Hitchcock, the show is actually kind-of stale, and it’s pretty sad when a movie made in the 60’s can seem radically more subversive, unsettling (Psycho can still give you the willies), and daring compared to it. Grade for the pilot: C-
Top of the Lake…The new Sundance Channel mystery that’s a little bit The Killing, and a little bit…a better version of The Killing. This moody, slow-building drama will deal with the disappearance of a pregnant, 12-year-old New Zealand girl whose father just happens to be the local hooligan (he’s the nearest thing to a crime boss but he just comes across as an angry, charmless drunk…played by the king of angry, charmless drunks, Peter Mulligan). Somehow or another a terse, grim Holly Hunter and a group of abused women play into the mix, and TSC’s marketing for this show hints at spookier elements to come (symbolized by an albino woman whispering, who we see only in the background of the first two episodes).
It’s hard to tell if this will ultimately be good or an anti-climactic letdown (The Killing’s pilot held promise before it quickly spun its wheels into oblivion). Either way, the New Zealand flavor and beautiful cinematography——–note for The Killing’s third season: this is atmosphere, not just endless shots of rain———will be something to savor until we find out for sure. I’m also enjoying the show’s original tone which veers between moody drama and quirkier scenes. Grade for the two-hour pilot: B
Deception…This NBC show started off terrible, and I quit watching it after the pilot. Maybe it says something that I could miss ten episodes and still know exactly what’s going on in tonight’s season finale, which will likely double as a series finale. [If you don’t want spoilers, quit reading now.] They finally revealed Vivian’s killer, and it was…drum roll please…her dad, played by Victor Garber. As is per usual with this show, they handled this in the most slap-dash and shoddy way possible, but only we (and a dirty cop he’s using) know that he did it.
Season two would apparently deal with an investigation into him set up by former chief suspect, a senator played by John Laroquette (it’s good to see him working again, but it’s a bad sign when even the poor man’s Kevin Spacey can’t make this show interesting). And if the show somehow manages to stave off cancellation, they’d be wise to replace Laz Alonzo’s detective or quietly write him out. Grade for season finale: C-