Bates Motel isn’t a remake, and it isn’t an homage. Hell, it’s not even a prequel. During a Q&A following the screening of the pilot episode, writer/producer Carlton Cuse seemed eager to remind us of that fact. I believe he did so with good reason. If you approach this show with a Psycho mind-set, you will, at the very least, be disappointed. But, even with all those caveats, this certainly exists in the same universe as Psycho.
Norman and Norma buy a motel after Norman’s father dies. Upon reveal of said property, you see that it’s a carbon copy of the film’s motel. The house is so painstakingly recreated that I got chills as the camera lingered on the infamous staircase. And while we have yet to be shown the office, I’m willing to bet it’s just as evocative. So after seeing all this, and hearing Cuse’s words, my brain began to lack the ability to wrap around what was being attempted with this series.
We have our characters, and our set, but we’re in a modern setting, and this isn’t necessarily an origin story. For example, they might not actually build the road that diverts traffic away from the Bates, even though the first episode teases it.
The only way for me to properly reconcile this information is to think of it in terms of fan fiction. This is an in-canon modern AU. Basically, our characters have been dropped into a modern setting, and they are, for all intents and purposes, the characters we know and expect. They just exist in a different time period and aren’t locked into the canon established by Psycho.
Your willingness to divorce yourself from the source material will weigh heavily on your enjoyment of the pilot. If you dig the pilot, you’ll most likely be intrigued enough to see where it goes. I know I am based solely on the bold, and rather shocking, choices and foreshadowing in that first installment. At this point, Bates Motel has the ability to get awfully dark and interesting. My main concern is, since all bets are off and there’s no guarantee the show will end where the film begins, they could push too far. Suddenly we’d have the ever-escalating adventures of Norma & Norman, with each season seeing their antics and drama reaching more bizarre heights. Let’s hope the doesn’t come to pass and the series stays more character driven; Farmiga and Highmore can certainly handle it.