2017 In Review: 10 Good Things Lisa Marie Saw on Television in 2017

So, here I am.

I’m sitting here and I’m trying to make out my annual list of the good things that I saw on television last year and I just realized something.

I didn’t watch much TV last year.  Oh, don’t get me wrong.  The television was often on, in order to provide background noise.  I’m not a huge fan of silence.  But it was usually just tuned to something random.  It was rare that I ever said, “Oh my God, I have to watch this.”

Oh well.  Let’s see what I can come up with:

  1. Twin Peaks: The Return.  I already devoted an entire post to how much I loved Twin Peaks: The Return.  But literally, this was probably the only show that I really looked forward to watching on a weekly basis.  This was the only show that I thought about between episodes.  And this is the only show that continues to haunt me now that it’s over.
  2. The original Twin Peaks.  The first two seasons of Twin Peaks are available on Netflix.  Jeff, Leonard, and I spent a month watching and reviewing them.  Twin Peaks was definitely responsible for some of the best things that appeared on this site last year.
  3. The Finale of Bates Motel.  This one of the best finales that I’ve ever seen.  This show, which I think everyone expected to fail, instead became one of the best shows on television and it ended perfectly.
  4. Degrassi.  I’ve had some issue with the last few seasons of Degrassi but it’s still my favorite Canadian television show.
  5. The Deuce.  David Simon’s look at Times Square in the 70s may not have reached the level of The Wire but it was definitely better than Treme.
  6. Episodes.  Showtime’s Episodes was never a good show but it certainly was fun to hatewatch.
  7. Veep.  Even though this was definitely the show’s weakest season, Veep still provided some of the best political satire around.
  8. That episode of South Park where Donald Trump dared the North Koreans to nuke Tweek’s home.
  9. All of the shows on ID and Crime and Investigation Network.  All of the true crime programming may be disturbing but it’s also undeniably addictive.
  10. Chiller.  Chiller shut down on December 31st.  I’ll miss it.

And finally, the worst thing that I saw on television in 2017:

The Murder of Laci Peterson.  This multi-party A&E documentary was an obvious attempt to 1) duplicate the success of O.J.: Made in America and 2) exonerate Scott Perterson for the murder of his pregnant wife, Laci.  Laci’s name may have appeared in the title but she was mostly an afterthought as the majority of the show’s running time was devoted to Scott’s creepy sister and her attempts to spring him from prison.  Heavy-handed, manipulative, and way too smug for its own good, the show did inspire a lot of people twitter to declare their belief in Scott’s innocence.  (The show’s argument, by the way, was that Laci was murdered by a Satanic cult because, as one Modesto detective put it, Meth addicts are very superstitious.)

Tomorrow, our look back at 2017 continues with my picks for the best novels of 2017!

Previous entries in the TSL’s Look Back at 2017:

  1. 2017 in Review: Top Ten Single Issues by Ryan C
  2. 2017 in Review: Top Ten Series by Ryan C
  3. 2017 In Review: Top Ten Collected Edition (Contemporary) by Ryan C
  4. 2017 In Review: Top Ten Collected Editions (Vintage) by Ryan C
  5. 2017 in Review: Top Ten Graphic Novels By Ryan C
  6. 25 Best, Worst, and Gems I saw in 2017 by Valerie Troutman
  7. My Top 15 Albums of 2017 by Necromoonyeti
  8. 2017 In Review: Lisa Marie’s Picks For the 16 Worst Films of 2017
  9. 2017 In Review: Lisa Marie’s Final Post About Twin Peaks: The Return (for now)
  10. 2017 in Review: Lisa Marie’s 14 Favorite Songs of 2017
  11. 2017 in Review: The Best of SyFy by Lisa Marie Bowman

2016 in Review: 10 Good Things I Saw On Television In 2016

Of all my 2016 in review posts, this is probably going to be the most difficult for me to write.

Last year, when I tried to write about some of the good things that I saw on television in 2015, I started things by confessing that I hadn’t been watching as much television as usual and that I was having a hard time coming up with a worthwhile list.

Well, in 2016, I watched even less television than I did in 2015.  And what I did watch, I usually didn’t care much for.  2016 was dominated by that stupid presidential election and it didn’t take me long to discover that watching too much television would result in me having to sit through hundreds of political commercials.  When it came to watching television, I spent a good deal of 2016 clicking on the mute button.

Of course, I watched all of the reality shows, but even that was largely because I was contracted to write about them at the Big Brother Blog and Reality TV Chat.

I also spent a good deal of time watching classic films on TCM.  I live tweeted most of the movies that premiered on Lifetime and the Lifetime Movie Network.  I did the same during those rare occasions that a new movie showed up on SyFy.

But, beyond that, I found myself with less reason than usual to watch television.  Maybe I’m maturing.  Maybe my tastes are changing.  Maybe I’ve just grown bored with TV in general.  Or, perhaps, 2016 was just a really bad year.

Who knows?

Still, with all that in mind, here are a few good things that I saw on television in 2016!

1) American Crime Story: The People v. OJ Simpson

The television event of the year!  I watched every episode and I was absolutely enthralled.  This brilliantly acted show is probably destined to be remembered as the only worthwhile project that Ryan Murphy was ever involved with.

(“But Lisa, what about American Horror Story…”  American Horror Story sucks.  Don’t even get me started on Scream Queens…)

2) Veep continued to be the most brilliant comedy on HBO.

I know that some people felt that Veep wasn’t as strong this season as it had been in previous seasons.  Well, those people can go to Hell.  Veep is not only a brilliant comedy but it’s also probably the most realistic political show on TV.  Considering the cult-like adoration that voters have for their candidates and towards the government in general, the unrepentant cynicism of Veep provided a much-needed wake up call to the brainwashed masses.

3) Speaking of Veep

Without a doubt, this was the best campaign commercial of 2016:

4) Stranger Things

Thank you, Netflix!

5) Agent Carter

The 2nd season of Agent Carter was just as wonderful, stylish, and empowering as the first.  Of course, the show as promptly canceled, leaving us with just a grand total of 18 episodes.

6) Speaking of cancellations…

American Idol finally came to an end!  Don’t get me wrong.  Like a lot of people, I used to be enthralled by American Idol.  For the first few seasons, I watched every episode.  I voted nearly every week.  I got really emotionally involved.  But, especially over the last few seasons, American Idol was becoming more and more irrelevant.  It soon came to represent everything that people like me hate about cultural conformity.  Vote For The Worst ceased operations, leaving me without a safe place to talk about how annoying it was whenever anyone would use that Hallelujah song for an audition.  A steady stream of boring judges didn’t help either.  American Idol finally came to an end last season.  I watched the final episode.  I can’t remember who won.

7) Bates Motel Continued To Take Brave Risks

Occasionally frustrating, sometimes infuriating, and often quite brilliant, Bates Motel remained one of the most consistently fascinating shows on television.

8) Vinyl crashed and burned

It may seem petty to describe a dramatic failure as being something good that I saw on television.  But, seriously, Vinyl was such a hubris-fueled trainwreck that it was impossible not to feel a little Schadenfreude as it fell apart.

9) Westworld

The anti-Vinyl.

10) The unicorn was saved.

According to Case, the life of a unicorn was saved when People of Earth was renewed for another season.  Yay!



Tomorrow, I’ll continue my look back at 2015 with my ten favorite non-fiction books of the year!

Previous Entries In The Best of 2016:

  1. TFG’s 2016 Comics Year In Review : Top Tens, Worsts, And Everything In Between
  2. Anime of the Year: 2016
  3. 25 Best, Worst, and Gems I Saw In 2016
  4. 2016 in Review: The Best of SyFy
  5. 2016 in Review: The Best of Lifetime
  6. 2016 in Review: Lisa Picks the 16 Worst Films of 2016!
  7. Necromoonyeti’s Top Ten Albums of 2016
  8. 2016 In Review: Lisa Marie’s 14 Favorite Songs of 2016

For everyone who has been hoping for an Omen/Psycho crossover event…

…there is hope!

A&E, the network who produced Bates Motel, a sorta prequel to Psycho, is now producing Damien, a sorta sequel to the original Omen.  (Apparently, all of the sequels and the remake are being ignored.)  So, I guess would have a cross-over event where Norman Bates met the son of the Devil.

But until that happens, here is the trailer for Damien.

2014 In Review: 20 Good Things That Lisa Saw On TV In 2014

So, I’m sitting here and I’m trying to make out my annual list of good things that I saw on TV over the previous year and I’ve just realized something.

I did not watch as much TV as usual last year.

It wasn’t a conscious decision on my part.  Up until this very moment, I was actually thinking that I watched too much TV last year.  But, honestly, 2014 was a busy year for me.  Between work and dance and family and romance and writing and seeing movies and shopping and being sick and getting well and the manic states and the depressive states, I just didn’t have as much time as usual to devote to television.

In fact, the only shows that I always made it a point to watch were two reality shows and that was mostly because I write about them over at the Big Brother Blog and the Survivor Blog.

That takes me by surprise because I love television.  I’ve never made any secret of that fact and I’ve never felt guilty about it.  When I’m writing, I find it helps to have the TV on in the background.  As well, knowing that a certain show is always going to be on at a certain time tends to help me deal with my Obsessive Compulsive tendencies.  I’ve always felt that, in a perfect world, I would have my own TV network.  It would be called the Lisa Marie Network (LMN) and I would be in charge of programming every single minute.

But, for whatever reason, in 2014, I didn’t watch as much as usual.  So, don’t consider the list below to be a comprehensive list of everything that was good on television last year.  Instead, consider it to just be 20 good things that I was lucky enough to see.

So, here’s the list!

1) Too Many Cooks on Adult Swim

You knew that I’d have to start out with this one, especially considering that I still find myself randomly singing the theme song.  “When it comes to the future, you can never have too many cooks!”

2) Figure Skating at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics

I actually enjoyed watching most of the 2014 Winter Olympics.  (Except, of course, when Bob Costas was there with his fucked up eye.)  But what I especially loved was watching the figure skating.  How couldn’t you love the chemistry between Charlie White and Meryl Davis or the amazing grace of Yulia Lipnitskaya or Ashley Wagner’s refusal to hide her disgust with the judges?

Figure Skating - Winter Olympics Day 1

3) Veep

Without a doubt, the funniest show on television.  Anyone who idolizes a politician should be forced to watch it.

4) Community ended its network run on a decent note

After a rough fourth season, Community made a comeback of sort during the fifth season.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to keep NBC from canceling the show but still, it was good to see a few more decent episodes of Community before the show moved over to Yahoo.

5) True Detective

True Detective has been praised so much that I really don’t have much more to say about it, beyond the fact that I found it to be endlessly fascinating.

6) Sharknado 2!

So, I wasn’t necessarily a huge fan of the first Sharknado.  (I was even less of a fan of the way the media seemed to believe that Mia Farrow was the first person to ever live tweet a movie, especially considering how lame most of Mia’s Sharknado tweets were.)  But I loved Sharknado 2!  Sharknado 2 was everything that the first Sharknado was supposed to be and more!

IZ in Sharknado 2

7) The Old People TV Networks

This is the year that I really made an effort to explore all of the channels that I have available to me.  What I discovered is that there are a lot of stations that are apparently dedicated to exclusively showing shows that were made long before I was even born!  For a history nerd like me, coming across these networks is a bit like accidentally digging up a time capsule.  Add to that, I’ve discovered that old TV shows make for perfect background noise.  I call these networks the Old People TV networks but I do so with affection.

8) Seeing my friend and fellow movie blogging Irish gal Kellee Pratt in the audience whenever TCM rebroadcasts that interview with Maureen O’Hara.

9) Opposite Worlds on SyFy

Opposite Worlds was a reality show that was broadcast on the SyFy Network.  Contestants were divided into two tribes.  One tribe lived in the luxurious future, complete with a fully automated house.  The other tribe lived in the past, which basically meant wearing furs and staying in a cave.  The two tribes competed every week.  Many contestants were seriously injured.  I was hoping that Samm would win, mostly because I share her struggle.  But I was okay with Frank eventually winning.  He turned out to be a nice guy.

(By the way, SyFy, I’m still waiting for a second season…)

10) Bates Motel

Bates Motel got better and better during its second season.  I still think Olivia Cooke needs a spin-off where she solves crimes.


11) True Blood ended before it totally went the way of Dexter.

To be honest, True Blood was definitely showing signs of its age.  I wasn’t really happy with the final season but I was relieved to see that it still ended on a better note than Dexter did.

12) Flowers in the Attic

2014 got off to a great start with Flowers in the Attic, one of the best movies to ever show up on Lifetime.

13) Lizzie Borden Took An Axe

In fact, the only that kept Flowers in the Attic from being the best Lifetime movie was the fact that Lizzie Borden premiered a week later.


14) The Way The Saved By The Bell and Aaliyah Movies Brought Us Together As A Nation

For two nights, our often troubled country was united by the power of mass snarkiness.

15) Coverage Of The Fact That Paul Rosalie Was Not Eaten Alive

There was something greatly satisfying about how, after spending weeks promising that he would be, Paul Rosalie failed to be eaten alive by an anaconda.  I think one reason I especially enjoyed this fact that I didn’t actually watch the special.  I thought the whole thing sounded stupid and crass.  That made the subsequent ridicule all the more satisfying.

16) Key and Peele

Without a doubt, the funniest sketch comedy program on TV today.

17) Talking Dead

To be honest, the only reason I watch The Walking Dead is so I’ll be able to understand what they’re talking about on The Talking Dead.

18) Daft Punk At The Grammys

It was great to see the Robots enjoying themselves.

Pharrell Williams, Daft Punk, Nile Rodgers

19) Weather On The Local News

“Folks, we’ve got a storm system approaching but don’t worry.  Channel 4 will keep your 4warned…”  Some things never change.  I’ve reached the point where I can find the humor in watching our local meteorologists panic every time that it starts to rain.  This past year, whenever I was stuck inside while a light drizzle fell outside, I knew that Pete Delkus, Larry Mowery, and David Finfrock would be there to amuse me with their dire warnings of a weather apocalypse.

"A storm's coming!"

“A storm’s coming!”

20) Degrassi!

Degrassi endures.  And we’re all the better for it.


On one final note: GetGlue, R.I.P.  For five years, I enjoyed checking into tvs, movies, books, and emotions on GetGlue.  Sadly, GetGlue (or TV Tag as it came to be known) went offline on January 1st.  Goodbye, GetGlue.  It was fun while it lasted and I’ll always remember that week when me and that guy from Indonesia were violently fighting over who would get to be the guru of pepper spray. (GGers will understand.)

Tomorrow, my look back at 2014 continues with my ten favorite novels of the year!

Previous Entries In The TSL’s Look Back At 2014:

  1. Things Senor Geekus Dug In 2014 Off The Top Of His Head
  2. 2014 In Review: The Best of Lifetime and SyFy
  3. 2014 In Review: Lisa’s Picks For the 16 Worst Films of 2014
  4. 2014 In Review: 14 of Lisa’s Favorite Songs of 2014
  5. 2014 in Review: Necromoonyeti’s Top 10 Metal Albums of 2014

TV Review: Bates Motel 2.6 “Plunge”

Bates Motel The Plunge

Now, I know what you’re saying.

“Gee, Lisa — late much?”

Well, yes, this review of the latest episode of Bates Motel is rather late and for that I apologize.  I have spent this week dealing with the world’s worst cold.  Seriously, it has been pure misery!  However, as I sit here rewatching “Plunge” and working on my review, I think that I may finally be on the road to recovery.

In short, I think I’m finally well enough to take the plunge and review this week’s episode!

This episode was all about people taking “the plunge,” both figuratively and literally.

For instance, Emma — after being goaded by both her new pot-dealing boyfriend and Norman’s latest unlikely girlfriend, Cody — removed her oxygen tank and took a plunge into freezing water and nearly died as a result.  Fortunately, Norman Bates was on hand to pull her out of the water and save her life.  On any other show, this would lead to the rebirth of Norman and Emma’s romance but, since this is Bates Motel, Norman ends up going so overboard in his anger towards Cody and Emma’s boyfriend (who I know has a name but I can never remember it) that he quickly goes from being a hero to being the guy who freaks everyone out.

(On a personal note, I have to admit that this whole sequence freaked me out because I don’t swim and, as a result, I very much found myself identifying with poor Emma.)

Norma, meanwhile, takes a plunge into municipal politics.  With the encouragement of her new friend Christine (who I don’t trust) and Christine’s brother George, Norma lobbies to be appointed to the city council.  The Mayor — whose name is Rob — agrees while making it clear that he’s mostly appointing Norma because of who she knows (i.e. Nick Ford).

To a certain extent, you have to wonder just how naïve Norma is.  At the start of this episode, Norma confronted Nick and told him that she didn’t want to work with him anymore.  Nick, more or less, told her that she didn’t have much choice in the matter.  Now, she’s been appointed to the city council and you have to wonder if she realizes just how much of a pawn she has actually become.

Speaking of being a pawn, Dylan has taken the plunge of moving in with Jodi Ford Wilson (Kathleen Robertson), Nick’s daughter and the head of one of the two drug cartels that are currently at war.  Is White Pine Bay really big enough for two drug cartels?  The drug war, to be honest, feels like it belongs in a totally different show.  But, I like Max Thieriot so I can’t complain too much.

Sheriff Romero, who is still living at the Bates Motel, took the plunge of informing Norma that, from his motel room, he has a view of her whenever she undresses in her bedroom.  The awkward flirting between Norma and Romero has been one of the highlights of the second season.

Finally, Norman took the plunge of trying to get his driver’s license.  However, Cody told Emma that Norman suffers from blackouts and Emma responded by calling Norma and telling her (at the exact moment that Norma is watching Norman taking his test).  Norma responds by running over to the car and telling Norman’s driving instructor.  The end result: Norman can’t give his driver’s license and now has another reason to both resent and be dependent upon Norma.

Random Observations:

  • Vera Farmiga kicks ass.  I know that’s become a running theme as far as my Bates Motel reviews are concerned but seriously, she really does.  This week’s Vera Farmiga highlight was the scene where she literally ran down a hill to jump onto Cody’s car.
  • Speaking of kicking ass, just how scary is Michael O’Neill in the role of Nick Ford?  That man can make a simple hello sound like a threat.
  • “Who’s Rob?”  That’s okay, Norma.  I’m not always sure who my mayor is either.
  • I found myself wondering which three senators George helped to get elected.
  • “There are reasons he should not drink.  Medical reasons.  And that’s all I’m going to say.”
  • Norman’s flashbacks while hiding in the closet were disturbingly effective.
  • Wouldn’t it be neat if it turned out the Mayor was related to Nick Ford as well and his name was Rob Ford?
  • If I was Norman’s mom, I probably wouldn’t like Cody either.  Seriously, mother’s worse nightmare that one is.  That said, I relate to the character.  I went through my Cody phase when I was younger.  I think everyone has.
  • George gets extra cool points for liking The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
  • Bates Motel has been renewed for a third season!  So, we’ve got at least one more year of White Pine Bay melodrama to look forward to.



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”


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”


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”


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”


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!