Sunday, April 13, 2014

Series streaming: BATES MOTEL's addictive enough to induce a good, if guilty, binge....

Adult fans of Vera Farmiga and Nestor Carbonell and younger fans of Freddie Highmore and Max Thieriot have no doubt already checked in to the BATES MOTEL. Ms Farmiga, in fact, is so good in this surprisingly deft cable TV series -- just now beginning its second season on A&E (the first season is streamable via Netflix) -- that she gives the series the kind of class that no other actress I can quickly think of could begin to bring to the table. Farmiga, above and below, does this effortlessly, via her usual manner of being absolutely in the moment, no matter how bizarre some moments turn out to be.

In Bates Motel -- a kind of modern-day/present-tense prequel to the Norman Bates (and his mom) that moviegoers first met in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho -- the "moments" (well, actually, the entire series) get so crazy that they leave any soap opera you've witnessed dead in the dust. (This must be the reason why soap operas as we've known them have all but died: Cable TV has cribbed their sex, sin, love, death and general nuttiness then goosed it all to the nth degree, while giving it glossy writing, acting and production values and -- most important -- smart, often-ground-breaking story lines that keep us glued.)

Ms Farmiga grounds this series, and what a pleasure it is to watch her go through her paces. The actress can, and often does, turn on a dime while keeping things believable. Mr. Highmore, above, lends the show youthful energy, sweetness and (on occasion) shock. Younger viewers who may not be familiar with Psycho need not worry: There's no necessity to have viewed the source. Older folk who have, however, will enjoy how Bates Motel uses the things we remember so well -- the motel room, the large stairway inside the house and a certain upstairs bedroom -- to jog our memory on one hand, while giving these objects a new and different look and purpose.

The series begins following the death of Norman's dad/mom's husband, as the mother and son move to a beautiful seaside town in what looks like northern California. The town turns out to be a bright and perky cess pool, as we learn once the episodes begin to mount up. The police prove more hindrance than help (that's Mr. Carbonell, as the sheriff, below, and Mike Vogel, above, as his deputy), while Norman doesn't fit in well at school -- though he does manage to catch the eye of two pretty students, as well as one hungry teacher.

Quite soon into the picture comes Norman's half-brother and Norma's (yes, that's mom's name) other son, played quite well by Mr. Thieriot (below, with Farmiga), who adds a little sexy sass and a new plot line or two to the mix -- as does the hotel's previous owner, who doesn't much take to this family twosome who now owns his old stomping grounds.

Best not to question a few of the series' odder events and looser ends. These are good for surprise, shock and some suspense, even if they defy reason now and again. As much as we come to like Norman and his mom (and we do), it is also clear that there is something deeply wrong here. By the final episode, the Norman we thought we knew and the Norman we see now, are beginning to merge.

Season One of Bates Motel, with ten approximately-42-minute episodes, can be seen on Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and probably elsewhere. We'll hope that Season Two, now playing on cable TV, complete with annoying commercials, ends up here, too, commercial-free.

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