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In Response to RE: New Shows A & E Bates Motel and NBC's Hannibal by nyadrn
ALDERGROVE, BRITISH COLUMBIA — Say what you will about Norma Bates’s notorious motel and her unusually vigilant child-rearing practices. The woman makes a darn good breakfast.
That conclusion is drawn not from speculation but from experience: I am the only person ever to survive a night at the most recent reincarnation of the Bates Motel. Oh, and a shower too. But more on that later.
The Bates, the setting for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic, “Psycho,” is a dreary motel that doesn’t see a lot of customers, and those who do stop, like Janet Leigh (Anne Heche in the 1998 remake), sometimes never check out, at least in the drop-the-key-at-the-front-desk sense. It has been reincarnated on a quiet road here, about an hour’s drive southeast of Vancouver, for the purposes of filming “Bates Motel,” a sly drama that begins on March 18 on A&E and is among the season’s most widely anticipated shows. The gloomy Bates family house has also been reconstituted behind the motel, on a hill that was bulldozed into being expressly for that purpose.
It all looks startlingly like the original set, except that the house — really just a facade — has no roof. (That is added digitally for the show.) It has to conjure the “Psycho” version because “Bates Motel” is a prequel to that story. It’s about the lives of Norma Bates and her son Norman before mommy became mummy.
This is treacherous territory of course. Mucking with a classic always risks offending someone, or everyone.
“There are so many ways for it to be done badly,” said Kerry Ehrin, who along with Carlton Cuse of “Lost” is the main executive producer of the series. “But at the end of the day the subject matter is just so seductive. I think that at a certain point we couldn’t not do it.”
A&E apparently thought so, too; it skipped the pilot phase and went directly to a 10-episode order, at a time when Hitchcock seems to be having a cultural moment. There was the movie called “Hitchcock” last year starring Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren, about the making of “Psycho.” And there was “The Girl,” on HBO, about Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren.
The “Bates Motel” project picked up more steam when Vera Farmiga, a best supporting actress Oscar nominee for the 2009 film “Up in the Air,” signed on to play Norma. Ms. Farmiga, fragile looking but with pale blue eyes that bore a hole in whatever they’re focused on, brings a subtle, edge-of-sanity determination to a role that easily could have been a cartoon. Norma is a character all moviegoers think they know — she’s a batty harridan, right? — though, discounting the various “Psycho” sequels, none have ever seen her alive. Yet Ms. Farmiga wasn’t interested in doing Norma Dearest.
“To me, like that court-appointed lawyer, I wanted to defend this character,” she said during a break from shooting in the freezing rain. “I saw it as defining who the woman was.” So who is she? “She’s a magnet for disaster, but she’s so resilient, and that’s what I love about her.”