A&E’s upcoming drama “Bates Motel” will draw inspiration from “Psycho,” but it will not be an homage to the classic genre film.
During a recent panel for the dark psychological thriller at TCA, executive producer Carlton Cuse clarified that the series will not follow the cannon of serial killer Norman Bates as carved out by Alfred Hitchcock, but merely use the original 1960 movie as a launch pad to tell a deeply rich and complex story. In other words, as one critic pointed out, it will not be a tale of “How I Stuffed My Mother.”
“We did not want to do an homage to ‘Psycho,’” Cuse said. “In fact, the mythology that you think is what dictates the relationship between Norma and Norman is probably not what it’s going to turn out to be. For us it was really a process of invention, not of trying to kind of stick to what had been done.”
Part of that separation process was the decision to set “Bates Motel” in the present day. “It felt like making that fundamental decision to make the story contemporary gave us the freedom to really take these characters wherever we wanted to,” Cuse noted. “I think there’s a certain amount of baggage that comes from working within the ‘Psycho’ franchise…Making it contemporary was a way to really become liberated from the original movie.”
Watch the Pilot Episode of “Bates Motel” Before It Airs on TV:
Of course, viewers should still expect the inevitable tragic outcome of “Psycho” to be a throughline. It’s that endgame that Cuse and co-executive producer Kerry Ehrin hope will ratchet up the drama. “That tension of knowing what their fate is and sort of seeing how they get there was something that we, as storytellers, just thought was really compelling,” Cuse said.
“Bates Motel” stars Freddie Highmore as the teenage Norman Bates and Vera Farmiga as his neurotic mother Norma, who uproots her family to open a motel in a small seaside town following the tragic death of her husband.
There is no denying that Norma and Norman’s relationship is at times disturbingly oedipal. While some may see Norma as a controlling figure in Norman’s life, Farmiga interprets her differently. “I think she’s a beautiful portrait of valiant maternity,” Farmiga said. “The story is a beautiful love letter between her mother and her son. That’s how I perceive the character and that’s how I portray it.”
How that story goes from a love letter to a tragic tale is one that will take time to unfold, and not one that will be answered simply. “For me, the interesting idea is of people being able to identify with Norman from the start,” Highmore offered. “He kind of indirectly challenges the audience by we all know where he’s going to end up. It doesn’t give anything away to say that he’ll go on to be psycho.
“But is that necessarily because of his upbringing? Is he who he is and will he always become the person that he will become, or is it because they move to this dodgy town and there’s a sort of weird, intimate relationship between Norma and Norman?” he continued. “That challenges the audience to think, well, if I was in that situation, if I had had the upbringing that Norman had had, would I be slightly different?”
With a sly wink Highmore added, “You know, we all go a little mad sometimes.”
“Bates Motel” will premiere on Monday, March 18 at 10/9c on A&E.