Guilty Pleasure No. 40: Parking Wars


Strange show, Parking Wars.

Between 2008 and 2012, A&E aired 104 episodes of Parking Wars.  Even though the show’s no longer in production, episodes still seem to air on nearly a daily basis.  If you can’t find it on A&E, check on FYI.  If you can’t find it on FYI, check WGN or TBS or any of the true crime networks.  Nearly seven years after it stopped producing new episodes, Parking Wars airs so frequently that one could be forgiven for thinking that it had never been canceled.

It was an odd show.  It was a reality show, one that allowed viewers a chance to see what it was like to be a part of the parking authority.  You read that correctly.  This show was devoted to perhaps the least useful members of law enforcement.  The first two seasons focused exclusively on the employees of the Philadelphia Parking Authority.  Since the members of the PPA were all municipal employees, I’m going to assume that the show’s producers had to get permission from the city to follow them as they worked.  One assumes that the hope was that the show would improve Philadelphia’s image.  That’s why it’s interesting that the main lesson to be learned from those first two seasons of Parking Wars appears to be that everyone should stay the Hell out of Philadelphia.

Seriously, it’s hard to imagine that anyone would book a flight to Philly after watching an episode of Parking Wars.  Not only do all of the traffic cops come across as being assholes but so do most of the citizens that they meet over the course of their day.  Everyone comes across as being a jerk.  On the one hand, you have the motorists who regularly ignore posted signs and who often have no hesitation about double parking or blocking traffic.  At the same time, the show’s parking cops tend to the biggest bunch of self-important pricks that I’ve ever seen.

Each episode is usually divided into three sections.  In Ticketing, we follow some civil servant in a uniform while they walk up and down the street, looking for anyone to whom they can give a ticket.  While they do this, they talk to the camera about why their job is important and why people shouldn’t hate them.  It usually only takes a minute or so to realize that we’re not exactly dealing with the most eloquent or witty group of people here.  Typical words of wisdom: “People think I’m picking on them but ….. I’m just doing my job.  If they hadn’t broken the rules, I would not be writing them a ticket.”  Never mind that, half the time, the parking meters are broken or that the “No Parking” sign has weathered so much abuse that it can barely be read.  Whenever someone asks a legitimate question about why they’re getting a ticket, the show responds with a silly sound effect.  “Only dummies question authority,” the show is saying.  On those occasions when someone actually proves that they’ve been wrongly ticketed (and it happens more than a few times), they’re told to call a number or go to court and get it dismissed.  “Once I start writing the ticket, I can’t take it back,” the parking cop explains, as if that somehow excuses any inconvenience that anyone else might suffer.

The 2nd section of each episode often took place at the impound lot, where the citizens of Philadelphia would go to get their cars after they had been towed.  The impound lot sequences basically highlight everything that intelligent people hate about bureaucracy.  I’ll always remember the woman from Delaware whose car was impounded in Philadelphia, due to a mistake made by the Delaware Highway Patrol.  Even after the woman got a signed letter from a judge in Delaware exonerating her and saying that her car shouldn’t have been impounded, the lot supervisor said that the car couldn’t be released because the state of Pennsylvania still had her on its impound list.  When the woman was told that she could hire a tow truck (at her own expense) and have the car towed to Delaware, the lot workers were shocked when the woman angrily announced that she wasn’t going to pay any more money just because of someone else’s bureaucratic snafu.  When Pennsylvania finally did get its act together and announced that the woman could have her car back, one of the lot workers had the nerve to say, “Y’know, my supervisor went to a lot of trouble for you.”  (From what we saw on the program, it appeared that the supervisor made one phone call, mostly to get confirmation that she should refuse to release the woman’s car.)  The look the woman from Delaware gave that worker pretty much said it all.

Finally, an episode would usually wrap up with a sequence about booting.  The booting sequences dealt with the people who drive around and randomly search for people with multiple unpaid tickets, so that they can put those big yellow locks on people’s tires.  On the one hand, the booting sequences were a bit less annoying that the ticketing and impound sequences because most of the people getting booted did owe several thousands of dollars in parking tickets.  On the other hand, it wasn’t hard to notice that the boot crew usually only seemed to search for cars in lower-class neighborhoods.  It was rare you ever heard anyone suggest maybe going to a rich neighborhood and seeing if anyone there needed a boot.  Instead the people being booted were often the very people who would need a car if they were ever actually going to get the money necessary to pay their tickets.

Throughout it all, the show punctuated every action or comment with a combination of zoom lenses and silly sound effects.  If someone declared that they needed their car for work, we’d hear someone dramatically go, “DAMN!” on the soundtrack.  If the parking cop pointed out a sign that said no parking, we’d get a zoom to the sign along with a smack-smack sound effect.

Even though the show is less than ten years old, watching it can be strange today.  Parking Wars was clearly made before the era of #MeToo.  If the parking cop is a woman, one can be sure that we’ll get at least a few interviews with the citizens of Philadelphia talking about how cute she is.  If the parking cop’s a man, one can be sure that he’ll take the time to leer at any passing women while the camera zooms in on what part of her body has drawn his attention.

Eventually, it would appear that the city of Philadelphia figured out that being advertised as being one of the worst cities on Earth was perhaps not the boon for tourism that they thought it would be and Parking Wars started to focus on other cities.  When they started to film in Detroit, we were introduced to a parking cop named Pony Tail.  Pony Tail was perhaps the most obnoxious character to ever be unleashed on the brave viewers of A&E.  Pony Tail was the type of creep who would brag about how he was punishing evil doers (because being parked at an expired meter is a sure sign of evil) but who would then spend his entire segment pouting after a random passerby yelled out, “Parking Authority sucks!”

Things got even worse once the show expanded to New York and started to feature “independent” towing companies.  If it could be said that the parking cops were at least enforcing the law, the independent towing people were just straight-up assholes.  Whenever they towed a woman’s car and responded to her complaints by calling her “sweetheart” or “honey,” you just wanted someone to jump in and smack the Hell out of them.

And yet, oddly enough, Parking Wars was (and is) addictive viewing.  I can’t speak for everyone but for me, it’s a show that I almost hatewatch.  It confirms everything negative thing that I’ve ever felt or suspected about the people in authority.  If you believe that most people will let even the slightest bit of power go straight to their head, this is the show for you.  If you distrust the government and think that most bureaucrats are petty tyrants, Parking Wars is a show that will confirm your every suspicion.  The best moments of Parking Wars are the ones that suggest that maybe the show’s producers were secretly poking fun at the parking authority’s delusions of grandeur.  I’m talking about the moments when the ticketed got their chance to yell at the ticketers and the ticketers, for the most part, were reduced to weakly saying, “I’m just doing my job….”  Could it be that Parking Wars was one of the biggest practical jokes in reality show history and perhaps Pony Tail and the folks at the Impound Lot were being punked without even realizing it?

Probably not but it’s fun to think about….

Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings
  28. Swimfan
  29. On the Line
  30. Wolfen
  31. Hail Caesar!
  32. It’s So Cold In The D
  33. In the Mix
  34. Healed By Grace
  35. Valley of the Dolls
  36. The Legend of Billie Jean
  37. Death Wish
  38. Shipping Wars
  39. Ghost Whisperer

Guilty Pleasure No. 38: Shipping Wars


Do you remember Shipping Wars?

It’s okay if you don’t.  I have to admit that, up until yesterday, I had pretty much forgotten about it.  Shipping Wars was a reality show that aired, for three years, on A&E.  From 2012 to 2015, the show followed independent contractors as they transported various weird things across America.  It was produced by the same people who did Storage Wars and, like that show, a good deal of emphasis was put on the various contractors competing against each other to get the biggest contracts and secure the most profitable paydays.  As I said, I had pretty much forgotten about the show until yesterday.  That’s when I came across a Shipping Wars marathon on the FYI channel and I was immediately reminded of just how addictive this stupid show could be.

A typical episode of Shipping Wars would open with all of the shippers (as they were called) hanging out in their trucks and staring at their laptops.  All of them competed for shipments in timed auctions held on uShip.com.  (Basically, the entire show was a commercial for uShip but I’m too much of a capitalist to care.)  Typically, each episode featured two auctions.  Once the shipper had won their auction, it was then up to them to transport their cargo to a new location without destroying it or arriving late.  That may sound simple enough but it was rare that anyone managed to pull of either one of those requirements.  That can only mean that it’s either really difficult to transport stuff or that all of the shipper on Shipping Wars were amazingly incompetent.

Of course, the camera crew would follow each shipper as they made their journey.  The shippers who did not win the auction would randomly pop up to offer up sarcastic commentary on how their rival was doing.  The commentary was notable for how thoroughly petty it often got.  For instance, if a shipper got caught in a rain storm, you could just bet that someone would remark, “It looks like your approval rating’s about to go underwater.”  If a truck got a flat tire, the commentary would usually be something like, “Way to check your tires before getting out on the road, dumbass!”  What they shippers lacked in wit, they made up for in pure spite.

Spite defined most episodes of Shipping Wars.  One of the remarkable things about that show is that absolutely no one ever appeared to be in a good mood.  It wasn’t just the shippers who seemed to be terminally annoyed.  The people shipping the stuff often seemed to have an attitude.  The people who received the stuff almost always turned out to be jerks who tried to get out of paying the full amount that they had agreed to pay.  And the shippers themselves were always in a thoroughly crappy mood.  Roy Gabler, one of the most prominent of the shippers, was infamous for referring to almost everyone he met as being an idiot.  Shipping Wars presents a portrait of America where everyone has a chip on their shoulder and absolutely no one ever bothers to say thank you.  Since I hate the forced sentimentality of most reality shows, I’ve always appreciated the fact that literally everyone in Shipping Wars was just out for themselves.

The other fun thing about Shipping Wars was seeing some of the things that needed to be transported.  One of my favorite episodes featured a wedding cake that was driven across country in an unrefrigerated trailer.  Needless to say, the cake did not survive the trip.  The  previously mentioned Roy Gabler had an affinity for transporting weird things, like classic movie props and, in one episode, a water tower.  Nothing fazed Roy.  No matter what he was transporting, he was always equally annoyed.

Unfortunately, Roy died shortly before the start of what would be the show’s last season.  Shipping Wars never recovered from the loss of Roy’s perpetually annoyed tone of voice and it was canceled in 2015.  As I discovered last night, you can see reruns on FYI.  Or maybe you can just go on uShip and ask if anyone’s willing to move a cursed house from Texas to Vermont.

That should get their attention!

(For the record, the above clip is a parody but it still perfectly captures the feeling of Shipping Wars.)

Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings
  28. Swimfan
  29. On the Line
  30. Wolfen
  31. Hail Caesar!
  32. It’s So Cold In The D
  33. In the Mix
  34. Healed By Grace
  35. Valley of the Dolls
  36. The Legend of Billie Jean
  37. Death Wish

TV Review: Bates Motel 2.5 “The Escape Artist”


 

Bates Motel The Escape Artist

After I posted my extremely laudatory review of last week’s episode of Bates Motel, I received a very interesting comment on Facebook from the veteran horror director and screenwriter Alan Ormsby.  (Among Ormsby’s screenplays: the excellent Deathdream and  Deranged, a film inspired by Ed Gein who, as any Psycho fan knows, also inspired Robert Bloch to first create Norman Bates.) In his comment, Ormsby pointed out something that I had failed to take into consideration.  Whereas Bates Motel presents Norman as suffering from a split personality as a teenager, Psycho established that Norman didn’t “become” Norma until, after years of abuse, he snapped and murdered his mother.  Norman became his mother because he didn’t want to face the reality of his crime.

That’s quite a contrast to the story that is currently being told on Bates Motel.  Whereas Mrs. Bates was the villain of Psycho, she’s become the protagonist of Bates Motel. Whereas the film’s Mrs. Bates was a demonic force who, even after her death, continued to possess her son, the show’s Norma Bates is often times portrayed as just trying to protect both her son from an increasingly amoral world and the world from her obviously disturbed son.

Now, I know that a lot of people are going to argue that Bates Motel is just a TV show and that it’s best not to give it too much thought and they’ll probably start tossing around words like “canon” and “fanfic.”  They’ll say, “Just relax and don’t worry about it.”

But what fun is that?

So, how to explain the difference between the way Norman and his mother are portrayed on TV and in the film?  I’ve come up with a few possible explanations.

1) The doctor at the end of Psycho could have misdiagnosed what happened with Norman and his mother.  As played by Simon Oakland, the doctor was awfully glib and seemed to come from the overdramatic Dr. Phil school of psychology.  After the shocking discoveries at the Bates Motel, everyone needed an explanation and the doctor was happy to provide one as long as he got paid upfront.

2) Bates Motel could be taking place in a parallel universe, one that plays out right next to the Psycho universe, with certain elements occasionally crossing over.  Maybe, when Freddie Highmore’s Norman finally gets around to looking through the peephole behind the painting, he’ll find Anthony Perkins staring back at him.

3) Maybe the Norman Bates of Bates Motel is not actually the Norman Bates of Psycho.  Maybe the TV show will end with Norman and his wife Emma staring down at their newborn son, Norman, Jr.

4) Or maybe Norma is destined to be murdered by her son and that son is destined to take on her identity, run the Bates Motel, and eventually murder both Marion Crane and Milton Arbogast.  However, maybe that son is not going to be Norman but instead, it’s going to be Dylan.  After all, Dylan has been through a lot of emotional and mental turmoil since he tracked down his mother.  Who is to say that he didn’t finally snap and, after killing both his mother and his younger brother, ended up taking on both of their identities?

Obviously, the most plausible solution is the first one but I’m partial to the idea that Bates Motel is taking place in a parallel universe.  That would certainly explain a lot.

As for this week’s episode, it was a rather low-key affair, especially when compared to everything that went on last week.  But you know what?  That’s okay.  Bates Motel has reached the point where not every episode has to have fireworks.  In its second season, Bates Motel seems to be a lot more confident about what type of story its trying to tell and therefore, it can get by with a few episodes that are mostly about appreciating the performances and the show’s off-center vibe.

That’s not to say that things didn’t happen.  Actually, a lot of things happened but none of them were quite as memorable as Norman waving a knife at his uncle while taking on Norma’s personality.

Perhaps the episode’s most dramatic moment was Dylan getting run down in the middle of the street while firing a gun at a car full of rival drug dealers.  (I don’t find the whole drug war to be all that interesting but I do find it amusing that, in the small town of White Pine Bay, nobody ever seems to notice people shooting at each other in broad daylight).  At first, this panicked me because, as played by Max Thieriot, Dylan is one of my favorite characters on the show.  But, it turns out that not only was he not seriously injured but, after being taken to the hospital, he also got to meet his boss and — gasp! — she’s a woman!

We also found out tonight that, on the other side of the drug war, is the Ford Family.  And guess who is in charge of the Ford Family?  None other than Nick Ford, the friendly but slightly sinister guy who has promised to help Norma stop the bypass.  This week’s episode ended with the implication that Nick killed the councilman who was so rude to Norma at the city council meeting.

Speaking of Norma — well, where to begin with what’s going on with Norma?  Not only has she managed to ally herself with a drug lord but she’s also having to watch Norman as he runs around with Cody, a girl who not only has tattoos but who smokes and listens to loud music as well.  On the plus side, Sheriff Romero will apparently be spending several months at the Bates Motel now that the town’s drug dealers have burned down his house.  The scenes between Vera Farmiga and Nestor Carbonell were definite highlights of this week’s episode.  I love the chemistry between the outspoken Norma and the withdrawn Romero.  I’m predicting right now that they’ll be a couple before the final episode of the season and it probably won’t end well.

Vera Farmiga also had another great scene during this episode, in which she responded to Olivia Cooke’s Emma asking her about sex.  Speaking of Emma, she lost her virginity to the cute pot dealer.  Norman has already hinted that he doesn’t consider the cute pot dealer to be a good person so we can probably guess what’s going to eventually happen here.  That said, I’m just glad that Emma finally got to do something that she wanted to do, as opposed to just standing in the background and staring forlornly at Norman.

And finally, Norman is growing even closer to Cody, eventually having sex with her.  (And, again, this is more evidence of my parallel universe theory since the Norman Bates of Hitchcock’s film was a virgin.)   Eventually, he even confessed to her that he often has blackouts.  He also discovered that she comes from an abusive home.

And again, this is probably not going to end well…

Random Observations:

  • Nick Ford’s boat is named “Amnesia.”  What is it with evil people and boats?
  • Did Norman kill Uncle Caleb?  Hopefully, this won’t be another randomly abandoned Bates Motel subplot.

TV Review: Bates Motel 2.4 “Check-Out”


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As this week’s episode of Bates Motel came to an end, my immediate response was to say: “Now, that’s what I’ve been talking about!”

Much as Norman Bates could never quite decide if he was himself or if he was his mother, Bates Motel has always struggled with whether to fully embrace the over-the-top potential of the show’s concept or whether to try to be a more conventional and audience-friendly show.  Those of us who have been watching since the first episode have often been left to wonder whether Bates Motel would ever truly allow its version of Norman Bates to become as mentally conflicted as the version who showed up in Alfred Hitchcock’s film and Robert Bloch’s novel.  I have always been on the side of those who wanted the show to start boldly going over-the-top and to truly embrace its status as a prequel to Psycho.

The first three episodes of the second season provided hints that the show’s producers agreed with me.  Last night’s episode, however, proved it.

The episode’s final moments , which featured Norman (Freddie Highmore) slipping in-and-out of his mother’s personality while waving a knife at his Uncle Caleb (the same type of knife that was used to kill Janet Leigh in Psycho), were so powerful that they tended to overshadow everything else that happened during the previous hour.  Now, in the case of the drug war subplot, I really don’t mind forgetting.  The drug war is probably the least interesting part of the show and I always find myself hoping that each new episode will be the episode that wraps it up.  Both Dylan (Max Thieriot) and Sheriff Romero (Nestor Carbonell) are interesting characters and they’re both played by talented and appealing actors so why not put them in a subplot that is truly worthy of their talents?  Both of these characters are at their strongest when they’re having to deal with Norma and Norman so why waste time with a plot that — so far at least — has nothing to do with either of them?

However, I did enjoy the episode’s other two storylines.  It’s hard not respect just how determined Norma (Vera Farmiga) is to pretend that everything is normal when it’s clear to everyone else that nothing is normal.  As I’ve stated since this show began, Vera Farmiga kicks ass.  As a result, even though we all know that she’s making the wrong decisions and is raising a future serial killer, it’s impossible not to cheer for her.  From the creepy scene where she and Norman talked to each other while laying in bed to her harrowing argument with Dylan to her hilariously awkward date with George (Michael Vartan), this week’s episode was full of classic Farmiga moments.  Incidentally, I still don’t trust George.  He seems like a nice guy but then again, so did Deputy Shelby.

(Speaking of Deputy Shelby, whatever happened to that girl who chained up in his basement?  Is she still running around in the woods?)

Meanwhile, Emma (Olivia Cooke) may have finally found a boyfriend.  She started the episode waking up in a motel room with the cute guy that she met at Bradley’s beachside memorial.  No, he tells her, they did not have sex though Emma later tells the guy that she would like to do it with him but, at the same time, she wants her first time to be special — especially since it might be her only time.  Emma is my favorite character on the show and Olivia Cooke always does a good job playing her, so I’m always glad to see her get to do something but I have to admit that her new boyfriend isn’t exactly an exciting presence.  Typically, when it comes to television romance, we always hope that our favorite supporting character will end up with the show’s main character.  Certainly, Emma still likes Norman but do we really want to see her get together with him?

Especially after what happened last night.

Freddie Highmore really does not get enough credit for his performance as young Norman Bates.  A lot of that is because Norman is written to be something of a blank.  Highmore has to bring to life a potentially soulless character while also working in the shadow of Anthony Perkins’s iconic performance in Hitchcock’s film.  However, especially during this season, Freddie Highmore has really made the character of Norman Bates his own.  That was especially obvious during this week’s episode.  While soft-focus images of his mother being abused flashed through his mind, Norman waved a knife at Uncle Caleb while speaking in Norma’s voice and it worked brilliantly because of Freddie Highmore’s introspective performance.  Freddie Highmore take a potential jump sharking moment and turned it into the climax of the show’s best episode yet.

Did Norman kill his uncle?  That’s something that we’ll have to wait until next week to find out but one thing is for sure.

Bates Motel, much like the characters who run the show’s title establishment, is capable of anything.

Review: Bates Motel 2.3 “Caleb”


Caleb

Well, that’s certainly icky.

Regardless of whatever else may have happened on this week’s episode of Bates Motel, it will always be remembered as the episode where things got even ickier than before.

I’m talking, of course, about the revelation that Dylan’s (Max Thieriot) father also happens to be his uncle, Caleb (Kenny Johnson).  I have to admit that I wasn’t necessarily surprised by this.  In fact, when one thinks about the world that Bates Motel takes place in, there was really no way that Caleb wasn’t going to turn out to be Dylan’s father.  It explains why Norma wants nothing to do with her oldest son and Max Thieriot, Vera Farmiga, and Kenny Johnson all deserve a lot of credit for their performances tonight.

That said, I’m hoping that Caleb — much like Deputy Shelby and so many of the other sleazy men who have stopped off at the Motel — will not be around that much longer because, seriously, he is just so icky!  Bates Motel has a good track record for violently executing sexual predators and I expect that same fate is waiting for Caleb.

If nothing else, Bates Motel seems to be making a good case against men in general.  Is there a single man in Norma Bates’s life who isn’t a deviant of some sort?  Earlier in the episode — before we discovered that Caleb was Dylan’s father — Norma met a guy named George (Michael Vartan).  George seems like a really nice guy but, seeing as this is Bates Motel, I’m still expecting him to have somebody chained up in his basement.

Along with the arrival of Uncle Caleb and Norma meeting George, this week’s other major subplot was Emma (Olivia Cooke) attempting to throw a beachside memorial service for Bradley.  As I’ve stated in the past, Emma is my favorite character so I was happy to finally see her getting to do something.  The memorial service was neatly contrasted with the garden party that Norma attended.  And just as Norma met George, Norman got to know Cody (Paloma Kwiatkowski), who, now that Bradley is gone, is apparently going to be the latest obstacle keeping Emma and Norman from getting together.

Then again, that might be for the best.

Norman and Emma are an adorable couple but, ultimately, he is Norman Bates, isn’t he?

Random Thoughts and Observations

  • This week’s “Vera Farmiga is a great actress who deserves an Emmy moment”: The Grand Canyon joke.
  • The great White Pine Bay drug war is apparently still raging.  Fortunately, I love Max Thieriot or else the whole drug war would be kind of boring.
  • That said, Dylan was kinda lingering a bit while Norma was getting dressed.  Again — icky!
  • The name of the town newspaper is the White Pine Bay Current.  For some reason, that amused me.
  • I felt so bad for Norma when she saw she hadn’t been cast in the town musical.
  • Tonight’s episode was directed by Lodge Kerrigan, who has a great name.
  • One thing that was not mentioned in this week’s episode: The murder of Ms. Watson.  I really hope that the show isn’t going to abandon that mystery just because Sheriff Romero arrested the wrong guy last week.  I have to admit that I’m still holding out hope that Norman did not kill Ms. Watson.
  • It’s interesting to note that Bates Motel and The Following both air on Monday nights.  They’re both unapologetically sordid shows about psychotic murderers and sexual deviants.  However, I love Bates Motel and I absolutely hate what I’ve seen of The Following.  The difference is that The Following is a sincerely misogynistic show whereas Bates Motel seems to actually like its cast of misfits.
  • “You’re in the chorus?  Do you want to be in the chorus?”  Trust me, nobody wants to be in the chorus!
  • That said, I would rather be in the chorus than be on the tech crew.  Poor Norman.

Review: Bates Motel 2.2 “Shadow of a Doubt”


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I have to commend Bates Motel for directly referencing Alfred Hitchcock with the title of its latest episode.  Shadow of a Doubt is not only one of Hitchcock’s finest films but it’s also one that shares quite a few themes in common with Bates Motel.  Like Bates Motel, Shadow of a Doubt deals with  the way an outwardly placid surface can hide all sorts of scary and dark secrets.  At this point, it’s a lot easier to imagine Freddie Highmore’s blankly charming Norman growing up to be Joseph Cotten’s friendly murderer Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt than the twitchy character made famous by Anthony Perkins in Psycho.

Still, it’s hard not to feel that an even better title for last Monday’s episode would have been Norma Bates Sings.

That was pretty much the highlight of last night’s episode and that’s not at all a complaint.  The people behind the show obviously realize just how lucky they are to have Vera Farmiga playing the role of Norma Bates.  The show works best when she’s allowed to take center stage and that’s what literally happens in Shadow of a Doubt.

Norma was singing because she and Norman were both trying out for the town musical.

I loved this subplot on so many levels.

First off, it made perfect sense that Norma, who obviously believes that Norman killed Ms. Watson, would try to find an activity that she and Norman could do together.  This, of course, both allows Norman to be occupied with something other than death and gives Norma an excuse to keep an eye on her possibly dangerous son.

Secondly, and perhaps even more importantly, it seemed exactly like the type of thing that somebody like Norma Bates would get excited about.  Being something of a community theater refugee myself, I couldn’t help but smile when I saw Norman and Norma at the auditions because it felt exactly right.  Everything from Norman’s sullen attitude to Norma’s surprisingly heart-felt (yet endearingly awkward) audition rang true.  During those scenes, Bates Motel went from being that strange little show about a boy who might be murderer to being a very believable and almost touching story about a loving but overdramatic mother and her socially awkward son.

As for the rest of Monday’s episode, I have to say that I was slightly relieved to see Bradley safely get on that bus and head off for a new life.  It’s not so much that I thought Bradley wouldn’t make it as much as I was worried that I’d have to sit through several episodes of Bradley hiding in the basement and Dylan being forced to help search for Gil’s murderer.  Don’t get me wrong.  I think that Nicola Peltz’s performance as Bradley was underrated by a lot of critics and I also think that, as played by Max Thieriot, Dylan is one of the most intriguing characters on the show.  It’s just that I felt that Bradley’s subplot was good for, at most, two episodes.  Bates Motel wrapped it up in two episodes and good for them.

The other big development is that Sheriff Romero arrested a drifter and charged him with Ms. Watson’s murder.  We knew the guy didn’t do it.  The drifter certainly knows he didn’t do it.  And, for that matter, it’s pretty obvious that Romero knows that he’s got the wrong guy too.  However, that is what makes Romero such an interesting character.  He’s less concerned with solving crimes and enforcing order than he is with maintaining balance.  It’s obvious that the entire town of White Pines Bay has found a balance between good and evil, legal and illegal and that balance works for them.  Ms. Watson’s murder threw that balance off and Romero’s actions are more about resetting everything back to normal than anything else.

Otherwise, the townspeople might end up burning somebody alive in the town center again.  (And is anyone ever going to mention that happening ever again or has everyone on the show just blocked it from their mind?)

So, all in all, Shadow of a Doubt was a pretty good episode of Bates Motel and hopefully, it’ll be a sign of things to come for season 2.  My only complaint?  So far, Emma, my favorite character, hasn’t gotten to do anything.

Hopefully, that’ll change in the upcoming episodes.

Personally, I can’t wait to find out!

Review: Bates Motel 2.1 “Gone But Not Forgotten”


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Bates Motel is back!

During its first season, Bates Motel became something of an obsession for me.  I started out skeptical that a television series that also doubled as a prequel Psycho was a good or even doable idea.  As I watched the wildly uneven first few episodes, I was occasionally intrigued and often frustrated.  I always appreciated Vera Farmiga’s wonderful performance as Norma Bates and, as opposed to a lot of critics, I was always aware of the intelligence that lay underneath Freddie Highmore’s blank-faced interpretation of the teenage Norman Bates.  As the series progressed, I was happy to see the wonderful Nestor Carbonell show up as the enigmatic Sheriff Romero.  Even though his character occasionally seemed like he belonged in a different show, I also loved Max Thieriot as Norman’s bitter but sympathetic older brother, Dylan.  I came to realize that Olivia Cooke’s Emma truly deserved a show of her own where she could solve crimes and worry about finding a date for the prom. Even the oddly named Bradley (Nicola Peltz) came to grow on me, even if I never quite bought the idea that she would have been interested in a someone like Norman.

My main complaint during the first season is that Bates Motel often seemed to be struggling to establish an identity.  A countless number of plots and subplots were introduced and abandoned over the course of just ten episodes.  Was Bates Motel attempting to tell the story of how Norman Bates eventually became a cross-dressing motel keeper and voyeur who murdered women while they showered?  Or was it attempting to tell a story about a single mom who, having moved to a strange new town, now had to struggle to keep her family together? How seriously, I wondered, were we supposed to take the show?  Occasionally, the show seemed to take itself very seriously.  Other times, the show instead seemed to be deliberately over the top, inviting us to laugh along with the melodrama as opposed to at it.

As that first season came to an end, I knew that Bates Motel had a lot of potential but, in order to live up to that potential, it needed to figure out just exactly what it wanted to be.

Well, the second season started last night.  It’s hard to say if Bates Motel has truly figured out what it wants to be but, judging from the premiere, it may be on the right track.

When season one ended, Norman was running home in the rain while his teacher, Ms. Watson, lay dead in her bedroom.  The implication was that the blood-covered Norman had killed her but, as smart viewers know, it probably wasn’t a coincidence that we didn’t actually see him do it.

Season two begins with Norma learning that Ms. Watson has been murdered.  When she asks Norman what happened between him and Ms. Watson, he tells her that he can’t remember anything beyond Ms. Watson offering him a ride back to his house.  Norman and Norma attend Watson’s funeral, where Norman sobs hysterically.  Meanwhile, Bradley — who last season discovered that her murdered father had a mysterious lover named “B” (who, we discover, was Ms. Blair Watson) — jumps off a bridge.

Suddenly, we jump forward four months later.  The motel is thriving, Norma has a new haircut, and her only concern — as usual — appears to be her two sons.  Dylan is spending all of his time down at the marijuana farm while Norman is apparently spending all of his free time either in the basement practicing taxidermy or in the cemetery, visiting Ms. Watson’s grave.  When Norman spots another man standing at Watson’s grave, he is so disturbed that he goes to Sheriff Romero.  Romero then tracks down Norma and tells her that Norman is, essentially, weird.  When Norma confronts Norman about this, Norman admits that he’s been lying.  He does remember going to back Ms. Watson’s house.  He even goes so far as to admit that he watched Ms. Watson undress and that he started feeling “strange.”  However, he also denies having killed her.

If that’s not bad enough, Norma also discovers that work has begun on a new highway that will divert business away from her hotel.  When she goes to a city council meeting to complain, the mayor talks down to her.  That’s his mistake because, as any viewer knows, it’s never a good idea to talk down to Norma Bates.  Norma responds by calling out the entire town on their hypocrisy and giving one of those wonderfully over-the-top speeches that have become her specialty.  Vera Farmiga was nominated for an Emmy for the first season of Bates Motel and, as far as I’m concerned, she earned a second nomination last night.  Seriously, the next time some jerk talks down to you, you just do what Norma Bates does and call him a dick to his face.

The episode’s other major plotline followed Bradley, as she was released from the mental asylum that she was sent to after being rescued from the river.  The friendly and somewhat shallow Bradley of last season appears to be gone.  Instead, she’s been replaced by vigilante Bradley. This is the Bradley who, after considering using her father’s gun to commit suicide, instead uses it to execute Gil, the man who ordered her father’s death.  To be honest, I was initially reluctant about buying the idea that Bradley could so easily become a murderer but then it occurred to me that, out of the main characters, Bradley was one of two who didn’t murder someone last season.  (Or did she?  Check out my first random note below.)

The second season premiere of Bates Motel wasn’t perfect.  I would have preferred to have seen a bit more of Dylan and the show’s most interesting character, Emma, was hardly present at all.  But, on the basis of last night’s episode, it does appear that the show’s creators have figured out that Bates Motel is at its best when it follows the lead of a Vera Farmiga’s sincere yet over-the-top lead performance.  Bates Motel is at its best when it shows the self-awareness to cheerfully embrace its melodramatic potential.

That’s what it did last night and hopefully, that’s what it will continue to do for the rest of this season.

Random Thoughts and Observations:

  1. So, who do you think killed Ms. Watson?  The show wants us to think that it was Norman but, personally, I won’t be surprised if it turns out to be Bradley.  Perhaps she killed Ms. Watson and then attempted to kill herself.  When Bradley shot Gil, she certainly didn’t act like someone who committing her very first murder.
  2. Rumor has it that Nicola Peltz will be leaving the show before the end of this season.  That’s another reason to think that Bradley will ultimately be revealed as Ms. Watson’s murderer.
  3. Hopefully, the show won’t forget about Emma.  She’s a great character.
  4. And yes, I will be reviewing each episode of this odd yet intriguing show.  It should be fun!

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