Halloween Scene: Bates Motel Episode 1 “First You Dream, Then You Die”

bates motel

I gave up watching a show I actively enjoy — yes, The Devil’s Ride, even though I complained about it’s realness recently — in favor of checking out Bates Motel on A&E. I’ve been writing about this series for what seems like forever over on Spinoff Online and yet I was still curious to see the results. A big part of that comes from the source material, just last year I watched all four of the Psycho films and got a weird, giddy thrill not only when Norman and Norma pulled up to the hotel, but even more so when they went inside and it looked perfect. I was also curious to see Carlton Cuse’s next offering. He was one of the driving forces behind Lost, a show I still hold in high esteem, so I wanted to see what he’d do next.

Bates Motel takes a Year One approach to the world of Psycho, showing how Norma (Vera Farmiga) and her son Norman (Freddie Highmore) made their way to the infamous Bates Motel. SPOILERS FOLLOW. The show literally starts with death, that of Norman’s dad and then jumps six months into the future as she surprises him with the purchase of the motel. Norman’s a bit odd, but we discover that he tends not to make connections with people because his mom moves him around so much. He meets a group of girls who seem to like him right off the bat and even invite him to study with them. His mom says no, so he sneaks out  and meets up with them, but they really take him to a weird house party. While he’s gone, the man whose family the motel used to belong to breaks into the house, attacks Norma and rapes her. Norman comes home just in time and knocks the guy out. When he leaves the room, Norma stabs the crap out of her attacker. The rest of the episode revolves around moving the body to one of the motel rooms, ripping up carpet, talking to cops, Norman dealing with all this at school, the disposal of the body and a super-weird talk between mother and son where he tells her that she’s his entire world. You get the idea pretty quickly about exactly who you’re dealing with in these characters. The looming mysteries revolve more around how those characters will interact with the people of the town, the mysterious and dangerous sounding older son who we only hear on the phone and why a young girl is being kept chained up in a mysterious locale by unknown forces.

Having watched the first episode, I’m not really sure how I feel. I’m thrown off balance and not just because of the graphic content of the show. I think the main problem I had with the episode, or possibly the main problem of the series as a whole, is that it lacks a consistent tone. For one thing, the time period feels all-over-the-place. The Bates’ dress as if they’re straight out of the 50s, they only talk about or watch old movies and the setting is so firmly entrenched in that time period that you get thrown off a bit when Norman is shown listening to an iPod and meets other kids who are more of the modern times. I knew from writing about the series that it was set in the present, but the show didn’t convey that until well into the first episode, something that probably threw more people off than it needed to. The real question here, though, is why they went with that vibe and that reveal. Was there a point beyond homage? If so, I’m not sure what it was. It doesn’t seem wise to throw your new audience so many random curve balls this early in a series, especially if there isn’t a clear payoff for them. I already get that we’re dealing with weirdness, it’s written on every single character’s face.

I also felt like some things were presented in such a way — like the teen party scene — that look over-the-top and kind of crazy. But then a few moments later you have a very real, visceral and mostly on-camera attack on Norma that doesn’t flinch or look away. That moment was uncomfortable enough as it was for obvious reasons, but even more so if your brain let you think, “… but, two minutes ago I saw a girls in neon clothes jumping on a bed under a backlight, now…this?” I haven’t watched much horror based television but this show does seem to be taking some cues from Twin Peaks which really is its own beast. While that series kept a very consistent tone all around — one that allowed for all kinds of weirdness, but all presented in a serious manner when necessary — this one seems to go from wacky to ultra-real and serious without much grace, almost looking like scenes from different movies cut together.

Before moving on to one of the show’s other problems, I want to talk a little bit more about the rape scene. I was as uncomfortable watching that scene as everyone else, but while it was playing out I also found myself wondering how the plus/minus evaluation for it played out in the writers room. You could have had the exact same scene with the same outcome had he only been there to attack her and not sexually assault her. I could see them arguing that you’ve got to have a more serious violation going on to make this man’s murder more palatable for young Norman, especially Norma’s argument that they can’t go to the cops because she’ll be  a laughingstock (she’s counting on his desire to protect her). I think you could have gotten there if Norman had walked in on this guy just about to stab his mom. There’s three reasons I didn’t like the scene. First off, it’s just plain uncomfortable to watch in a way that I don’t want to be uncomfortable while watching horror (I do not watch rape revenge movies,generally speaking). Second, it felt like lazy writing, as if they couldn’t think of a different way to justify murder and manipulation. We’re talking parents and children here, wanting to protect one another is built-in. And third, I think that scene might have turned a lot of people off the show as a whole, including my wife who watched along with me even though she does not like horror or have any special affinity for Psycho.

Another huge problem and an element that contributes to the show’s odd tone is Freddie Highmore’s inability to hide his British accent consistently. There’s times where he hides it well and just sounds like a soft spoken young man, but other times, usually when he’s angry, he sounds like a pub-drunk Brit. I think he does a good job of capturing the confused sexuality and overall repressed nature of Norman Bates, but the kid can’t sound like he’s his mother’s son. That’s a huge problem, one that can break the show for a lot of people. As with the time trickery and the weird tone, these are the kinds of things that can knock people out of the story. They might be small annoyances for some, but they can easily add up to become a too-distracting aspect of the show for some people to get involved in.

I was talking to my wife earlier today about the show and she said she wasn’t int it. She summed it up pretty well: she’s crazy, he’ll do anything for her, I know where this winds up, do I care how it gets there? That’s a really good question. As I mentioned above, it looks like they’re throwing a whole town of crazy at the Bates’ to see what happens. I’m not sure if that’s a set-up I’m super interested in. With something like Dexter, I can be into the overarching stories of the series as well as the murder-of-the-week stuff, but as of right now, it doesn’t seem like Bates has as much that makes me want to come back for more especially if it continues to wallow in such terrible human behavior.

At the end of the day, I’m still not sure about how I feel about the show. I’m still an old school, DVR-less viewer which means I’ve got to actually pick and choose which shows I want to watch. I might give Bates Motel another episode or two, but if it continues to feel wobbly, I might just hop back on over to The Devil’s Ride. If people like it I might catch up down the line. I also feel a little wary of A&E, though, because they really sucked me in with Breakout Kings and then left me hanging. Do I want to get into another one of their shows only to have the same thing happen?

Just Finished Once Upon A Time Season One

In case you were unaware, ABC’s Once Upon A Time is available on Netflix Instant. When I saw this I was curious. I hadn’t heard much about the show — which I realized is the result of not talking to people about TV much anymore, one of the bummers of not having in-house co-workers — but the concept sounded interesting: characters from fairy tales are trapped in the real world and one woman is trying to deal with them while we see flashbacks to their previous lives. It sounded like a very Lost set-up, which makes sense when you realize it was created by two writers from that show Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis. I proposed checking it out to the missus, she was amenable, so we gave the first episode a whirl. That was a little over a week ago and we just finished the 22 episode season last night.

To get into a little more detail, the series revolves around Emma, the daughter of Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwinn) and Prince Charming who was sent to our world as a baby just before the Evil Queen (Swingtown‘s Lana Parrilla) cursed the fairy tale world by imprisoning them in a world without magic where they don’t remember their past lives. Emma had her own child who she gave up for adoption and wound up adopted by the EQ in our world. Years later, he’s one of the few people who know the truth, so he tracks his mom down, tells her what he knows and gets her to stick around town.

From there we get  episodic reveals of new characters, backstories in both worlds and growing intrigue. It’s a really well set up series that gives you enough information while also seeding new ones to keep you coming back for more. I was particularly taken by the choice to definitively show the audience that the kid is telling the truth, but having most of the town think he’s nuts, including his biological mom. There are also really creative uses of some very familiar fairy tales, I especially liked how they incorporated Belle and the Beauty and the Beast story. It’s fun because they’re basing their stories on existing mythology while creating a whole new one, kind of like a comic book relaunch/reboot/whathaveyou.

We wound up finishing the first season at around 8:50 PM last night which was unfortunate timing because the first episode of the second season premiered at 8:00 PM. I will admit that I’m a little leery about watching this show as it comes out. The beauty of checking out an entire season on DVD or via streaming is that you see all the pieces in a relatively short amount of time meaning you remember a lot more of the connections. Plus, cliffhangers (either around commercials or between episodes) get resolved a lot faster. I like that immediate gratification.

On the other hand, I have been looking for my new Lost. When I say that I don’t just mean a series with weird elements and lots of drama, half of which is told via flashback. I mean the kind of show I get really excited about every single week, the kind of show I’m deeply invested in and love absorbing. Weird as this might sound, the closest thing I have to that right now is How I Met Your Mother — which is more like Lost than just about anything — and the various Challenges.

A good testament to how much we like the show is that we’re actually planning on giving up a show we usually watch in an effort to get on board with the episodes as they air. Usually we watch The Amazing Race, but as we talked about this very serious decision last night (I kid…mostly), I pointed out that it doesn’t really matter if you miss a season of AR because there’s no carry over. If we don’t like watching OUAT in real time, we can easily switch over and not miss much of anything. So, all we need to do now is watch the season premiere online and we’re good to go next Sunday.

A Few Belated Thoughts On Alcatraz

The new J.J. Abrams show premiered this week. It’s called Alcatraz and the idea this time is that instead of closing its doors like the public was told, every inmate being held there just vanished. Now, the mysterious former prison guard there and current FBI agent Emerson Hauser (Sam Neil) has recruited SFPD homicide detective Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones) and Alcatraz historian Dr. Diego “Doc” Soto (Jorge Garcia) to track the prisoners down as they have started to reappear in the modern day without aging a day. It’s a pretty interesting set up that lends itsself well to both the case-a-week procedural type show as well as the kind of overarching mystery and drama that fans of Abrams’ other shows have come to expect and (sometimes) love.

To be clear, though, this is about as much of a J.J. Abrams show as Lost was, meaning not a lot. As fans of that other series know, that ship was driven by Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof after being launched by Abrams. Similarly, the good ship Alcatraz was created by Elizabeth Sarnoff who wrote and produced on Lost and Deadwood, Steven Lilien who wrote on Boomtown and Kyle XY and Brian Wynbrandt who also wrote on Kyle XY. But the comparisons to other Abrams shows is pretty strong, considering the mysterious premise and Garcia in a lead role.

Of course, like a lot of people I didn’t know any of that going into the series. I just knew it was a mysterious new show with Abrams attached and I was interested. We missed the first episode that played at 8:00PM on Monday, but was able to catch the second episode which is the series’ actual timeslot (thank goodness because I’m not about to stop watching How I Met Your Mother). Even having missed the first episode, I was still able to get the gist–it helps that a voiceover in the beginning pretty much lays everything out for you. I’d like to go back and see exactly how Hauser brought Rebecca and Doc into the fold, but I’d imagine it’s because she was trying to hunt down a killer who wound up being a time-displaced Alcatraz inmate and he was drafted because of his area of expertise. That part isn’t complex, which is good because, as the series bounced between the 60s and the present day, you don’t need a lot of additional baggage this early on to figure out what’s going on.

And there is a lot going on. Hauser knows a lot more than he’s letting on and Rebecca knows that, but can’t get much more information out of him for the time being. The inmate who the captured in the first episode has some kind of key that has yet to be identified. Heck, one of the people who we see in the modern day shows up in the past looking exactly the same age!

Like I said, I’m glad they put this one on at 9:00PM on Mondays because that was one of our few weekday slots that didn’t already feature shows we look forward to every week and I think Alcatraz can make that list. Even since Lost ended, I’ve been looking for another hour long drama with lots of action and mystery to keep me engaged and I hope this is it. As it is, I’m intrigued and appreciate some of the teases and reveals they’ve shown us already with only two episodes in. I am curious to see how they handle this series. Fox can be iffy at best when it comes to letting series’ like this play long enough to grab viewers. I hope they do and that the writers have a solid plan for getting the information to the viewers efficiently. I mean, I like the concept, but I don’t want to see 299 episodes of inmates getting captured to find out what happens.

Halloween Scene: Syfy’s Being Human

With Lost gone, there’s not only a big old hole in my weekly schedule when it comes to thrilling, mystery-filled television, but also a lack of shows that really draw my attention. I have different levels attention when it comes to TV movies. Most shows I just casually watch while reading comics or websites (I can’t do this with a regular book because I need more focus for that). There’s a few comedies that I generally sit and watch with the computer open, not minding if I have to get up and grab a snack or go to the bathroom. The shows that I watch and blog about are more involved because I take notes while watching. But Lost? We had rules when it came to watching Lost. Lights off, computers shut, phone calls banned. I can’t remember if there’s been a show like that before and there definitely hasn’t been one since, especially not Being Human, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad show.

Right away, I have to say that much like other American shows based on British ones like The Office or Life On Mars which I enjoyed the American versions of before seeing the originals, I do enjoy Being Human, but want to check out the original too. If you’re unfamiliar, the show is about a werewolf, vampire and ghost who all share an apartment. While the vampire has been a monster for a while, the werewolf–played by Sam Huntington who I liked a lot in Detroit Rock City and Not Another Teen Movie, two underrated flicks–seems to be fairly new to it as is the ghost who accidentally died in her old apartment (the one the vampire and werewolf moved into to feel more human) and has not been able to move on. Most of the drama from the show revolves around them trying to, ahem, be human in a world that’s clearly not made or ready for creatures of the night.

As far as monster rules go, the show seems to follow them for the most part. The vampire can go out in the sun, but he still needs blood. The werewolf changes every month with the full moon and has to deal with the effects of his change. The ghost is trying to communicate with her ex and seems to discover a new ability every episode from talking to other monsters, to teleporting out of the apartment to physically effecting things and even communicating with the living. So far, the show doesn’t feel super interesting because I’ve see all of this in other movies and TV shows–there’s a lot of Buffy echos–which is why I’ve wound up reading comics through the second half of the first four episodes. Of course the vampires have it in for our vampire hero because he doesn’t want to be part of their weird death club. Of course the ghost who teaches our ghost how to teleport winds up crossing over after he’s taught her what he knows. Of course the older werewolf that our werewolf meets isn’t quite as nice of a guy as he seemed to be. But, for now, I’m digging the show enough to keep coming back. Plus, there’s nothing else on. On the plus side, the effects are pretty good and I’m surprised with the amount of blood they’ve thrown around so far.

While still on the subject of Lost, I must note that Mark Pellegrino–who played the mysterious and mystical Jacob on that fantastic show–plays head bad guy vampire Bishop. He does a great job, bringing that simmering insanity that we got a hint of on Lost and lets it boil a little bit more, basically stealing every scene he’s in.

Casting Internets

Check out this comparison I wrote of the old and new Thundercats for MTV Geek. I’m super psyched for this show and the toys.

Aw bummer, just as I’m getting into the White Stripes, they announce their break-up. Luckily I’ve still got some of their records I haven’t absorbed yet. (via Rolling Stone)

My buddy Alex Segura talks to Robot 6 about comic book PR. Dude knows his stuff.

I found a new blog I love called Crucial VHS! Enjoy the schlock.

Carlton Cuse muses on life after Lost over at the New York Times.

There’s almost no news in this /Film piece other than that Warner Bros. has picked up the rights to do Fletch movies. As a long time fan of the two Chevy Chase movies and the three books I’ve read, I’m pretty in favor of this. The more Fletch the better!

Whoa, go look at this.

Wired.com talks about getting some auteurs in video games, comparing them to movie directors. I’m firmly in favor of that idea, but disagree with the idea that a video game director might need to know how to program. Movie directors don’t need to know how to do everything that goes into the movies they make. That’s the beauty of being a director.

Bloody Disgusting says there’s the sequel to The Strangers, a flick I dug, might start filming this year. I had no idea this was even in the works, but it sounds fun.

Have fun flipping through Gadget Lab‘s gallery of vintage posters. Fun stuff.

Halloween Scene: Legion (2010) & Outpost (2008)

legionI’ll be completely honest, I watched Legion over two days, but separated by probably a week or so and don’t remember a whole lot about the plot. There’s an angel who ditches his wings and a bunch of people in a diner, one of which is a pregnant woman whose unborn child is wanted by some demons. Or something. You’ve got a kind of zombie army, old women turning into wall-crawling monsters and, most importantly, an angel fight at the very end between the good former angel and the current bad angel.

I really shouldn’t even be “reviewing” this movie and didn’t plan on it, but there were a few things I wanted to note. First off, the cast is pretty impressive, featuring Dennis Quaid, Kate Walsh, Kevin Durand (Keamy from Lost, dude makes an awesome evil angel), Paul Bettany, Lucas Black, Tyrese Gibson, Doug Jones and a bunch of others. Second, I wish the story would have been opened up to have larger steaks than just focusing on a few people in a diner. I know that would have made the movie exponentially more expensive, but I feel like I’ve seen lots of stories like this set in out-of-the-way diners. At least it wasn’t snowing. And finally, the movie is worth watching for the final battle between Bettany (the good angel) and Durand. Durand still has his wings and a pretty bad ass weapon that inspired me to put together a list of the best weapons of the past decade, both of which he uses to excellent effect. I wasn’t sure what to expect with dudes with wings, but the director/fight coordinator/special effects guys did a hell of a job using all the elements for a great finale fight. It kind of reminded me of Grant Morrison pitting the JLA against angels in his run on that book and made me hope that director and former special FX guy Scott Charles Stewart could help out if that run ever gets turned into a movie (incredibly doubtful, but a boy can dream). In fact, all the special effects were top notch, which is why I’d like to see this thing on a larger scale.

outpostAfter reading Brian at Horror Movie A Day’s review of Outpost, I immediately added it to the top of my DVD queue. Badass soldiers lead by Ray Stevenson fighting some kind of undead Nazis in a remote location? Sold! And, man, I’m glad I did because I wound up really liking this movie. See, a scientist hires Stevenson to put together a team of mercenaries to take him through the woods/jungle to an old bunker. Once there, the soldiers discover a pile of bald naked men, one of whom is still a live and the scientist discovers a big machine in the basement that the Nazis invented to try and capture the energy of the unified field theory. While Stevenson has things explained to him by the scientist, the rest of the men get paranoid as they’re apparently shot out, phantoms start creeping around and then a full-on invasion force of what looks like zombie Nazis appears in the forest which gets lit up like crazy at night (this is a great effect by the way, looking somehow real and artificial at the same time, and definitely creepy). In fact, the movie has lots and lots of creepy moments between those phantoms and the eventual kills that come from some very solid soldiers designed to kill.

If I’m understanding the science behind the story, the Nazis wanted to capture the essence of the unified field theory (which I in no way understand). They also discovered that that energy had very interesting effects on their soldiers, turning them all but immortal, but, sometimes, out of phase with reality because they’re vibrating on a different level than the rest of the world. I’m working here with a physics knowledge based on a terribly taught high school class I took a decade ago and lots and lots of comic reading. Why the phasing Nazi ghost zombie things don’t just storm the bunker and murder Stevenson and his soldiers straight-up, I don’t know, but this is also asked by one of the soldiers who also doesn’t know, so I guess that’s left up to the audience. Maybe they’re bored and want something to do now that they can get physical.

Even though the movie reminded me a bit of Predator (which I live) and Dog Soldiers (which I didn’t love too much), I still had a great time with it. The plot does a great job of being both a solid action movie and a solid horror movie which plays up on the conventions of both. I actually got some added enjoyment from the flick by pretending that Stevenson was still playing Frank Castle from Punisher: War Zone. Punisher vs. Nazi Zombies? Double awesome.

Mad Men Season 4 “Christmas Comes But Once A Year”

Tonight’s episode of Mad Men was a damn interesting one. First off, I can’t think of another time where I’ve seen a Christmas-themed episode on the first day of August. I thought it might be difficult to put myself in the holiday spirit, but, because the show is so well written, it’s not supposed to put you in the spirit. If anything it just makes you want to go to a 60s advertising agency party, especially one where Joan’s leading the conga line. Hubba hubba.

The episode kicks off by reintroducing us to Glen, the creepy kid who lives in the neighborhood that Don used to live in and Betty still does with the kids and her new husband (not weird at all, I’m sure). You’ll remember him as the boy that Betty gave some of her hair to, which I’m pretty sure makes her the reason he’ll become a serial killer in the 80s. Anyway, the Ossining bunch doesn’t do much but go Christmas tree shopping and have their house broken into by Glen (yet another sign of his obvious future) who throws food all over the place, which is great because the less Betty the better. The missus thinks its his attempt to scare the family into wanting to move, which is something Sally wants. I think it’s so he can show her how close he can get with ease, but then again, I’ve seen a TON of horror movies (and am watching another as I type).

It’s funny, sometimes I take notes while watching shows and early in the episode I typed “I like Don’s relationship with his secretary” because they seemed to have a nice rapport that didn’t cross the line and he seemed like he was taking care of her, saying he’d make sure she got a bonus no matter what. In fact, I was thinking that we never actually saw Don get with one of his secretaries did we? Until about 30 minutes later, that is, after Don had gotten back to his sad man apartment and realized he forgot his keys so she came over and gave them to him. And then gave it to him (see what I did there?). The next day he returns to the trashed office and gives her her Christmas bonus, but it comes off as incredibly awkward, leading her to type a letter I will assume is her resignation, but will obviously have to wait until later to know for sure.

So that’s how the episode ended, but that wasn’t all that happened. Peggy’s dating Carl from Lost which is funny. This is the guy who met Don last episode when he helped bail out the women doing the ham stunt. He’s a total goober and keeps talking about her losing her virginity to him. They finally have sex by the end of the episode and he asks if she feels different to which the missus said something like “He must not be too experienced because she’s had a kid and I’ve heard things change down there after that.” I will concede to her vast knowledge of womanhood on that one. Peggy also gets into it a little with the newly returned Freddy Rumsen (yeah, the guy who got drunk, pissed himself, got fired and wound up providing Peggy with her first office). He’s on the wagon, but he’s old fashioned and kind of sucks at his job.

What else, what else? Ah, yes, the party. First off Trudy was there and it’s always fun to see Alison Brie either here or on Community. The party looked pretty fun, like I said and made me want to go to there, but the scenes between Roger and the guy from Lucky Strike were intense. Lucky Strike Man (Lee) zeroed in on Roger and wanted to embarrass him. Is there a reason on the show we’ve seen for this? I couldn’t remember anything, but my memory is the pits. It was completely worth it though to hear Don and Roger calling him Hitler and doing pretty hilarious German accents the next morning. I wonder why he didn’t focus on anyone else. Also, I wonder if this character is based on a real person or any real events involving Lucky Strike (a real company) and their real advertising agency or if it was all just dreamed up using a now-defunct company. Anyway, I find this element of the show fascinating, like the portrayal of Paris Hilton’s great grandad (there might need to be another great in there somewhere) Conrad Hilton a season or two back. 

It’s funny and a testament to how well the show is written that Don was around three different women, two of which I was certain he was going to sleep with and another I didn’t and he wound up sleeping with that one (the secretary). Don met his neighbor who is a nurse who literally tried jumping his bones at one point on the pretense of helping him out. I also thought he might get down with the psychologist woman whose test he refused to take. I hope she sticks around and maybe even gets Don to open up.