Creepy and cockeyed, unholy and unnerving, Top Of The Lake is riveting stuff. Alas, the only way in which the word “riveting” might be employed in connection with Bates Motel is if you decide to do it to your head after watching an hour. After three sequels and a mind-bogglingly pointless shot-for-shot remake by Gus Van Sant, I didn’t think any further indignity could be inflicted on Alfred Hitchcock’s squirmy masterpiece Psycho. But I stand corrected.
Freddie Highmore ( The Art Of Getting By) haplessly stars as budding sociopath Norman Bates and Vera Farmiga ( Up In The Air) as his smothering mother Norma in this bit of exploitation blather that is perhaps the ultimate statement on nonlinear storytelling, a prequel set in 2013 to a film set in 1960.
Having started with a bad premise, producers Carlton Cuse ( Lost) and Kerry Ehrin ( Friday Night Lights) then made it infinitely worse by rejecting the loneliness and isolation that were the nucleus of Hitchcock’s film. In his telling, the Bates Motel, the murderous lair in which weary and unwary travelers lost their lives in Psycho, wasn’t even located in a town.
But Cuse and Ehrin have invented one for their show and turned into a Twin Peaks-style wormhole from which pops up every worldly matter of evil, and unlike Top Of The Lake, nothing is subtle. Top Of The Lake gives away its dire secrets only under pressure and after considerable misdirection; Bates Motel is like an Easter parade of slasher-flick villainy. Rapist goons! Narcotraffickers! Sex-slavers! Pray that we can stop this before season two, Bates Motel: Hitler & The Kardashians.