Tag Archives: Bates Motel

Steven Bochco’s back with Murder in the First on TNT

'Murder in the First' premieres Monday on TNT.

Kathleen Robertson and Taye Diggs star as San Francisco police detectives investigating a pair of apparently connected killings in ‘Murder in the First,’ premiering Monday on TNT.

Ten-time Emmy winner Steven Bochco returns to primetime in his wheelhouse – the cop/courtroom drama – with Murder in the First, an uneven but promising new series premiering Monday night on TNT.
The iconoclastic writer and producer could use a hit right now. Since his groundbreaking NYPD Blue ended its ABC run after 12 seasons in 2005, he’s had two ratings failures. The excellent Geena Davis political drama Commander in Chief (ABC, 2005-06) lasted only a single season, while the quirky legal dramedy Raising the Bar eked out a 2008-09 two-season run on TNT.
Murder in the First borrows the same basic format as Bochco’s 1995-97 ABC courtroom drama Murder One, in that it follows a single case over the course of this 10-episode season. What seemed revolutionary in 1995, however, now seems commonplace. In fact, given Bochco’s career-long reputation as an artistic maverick, the most surprising thing about Murder in the First is how unsurprising it is.
Taye Diggs (Private Practice) and Kathleen Robertson (Bates Motel) star as San Francisco Police detectives Terry English and Hildy Mulligan, respectively, who are investigating two seemingly unrelated murders in the premiere episode. One involves a junkie shot to death in his seedy flophouse apartment. The other victim is a beautiful (and very nude) blonde found dead at the bottom of a staircase inside her home.
In short order, however, Terry and Hildy discover that both victims had intimate ties to an unlikely but high-profile suspect: Silicon Valley boy wonder Erich Blunt (Tom Felton from the Harry Potter movie series), whose technical wizardry has transformed him into the world’s youngest billionaire.
Erich’s initial arrogance when confronted by the detectives starts to crumble as compelling circumstantial evidence against him begins piling up, so he hires super-attorney Warren Daniels (Emmy winner James Cromwell, American Horror Story: Asylum) to represent him in court.
If Erich is the prime suspect, however, Terry and Hildy find another person of interest in Bill Wilkerson (Steven Weber, Wings), Erich’s driver and pilot, who also had had a sexual relationship with the dead woman.
TNT sent the first three episodes of Murder in the First for review, which was a smart move, because Monday’s episode is not especially compelling. In the span of a single hour, the premiere tries to introduce a staggering number of characters as well as laying out the basic details of the two murders. Concurrently, a secondary storyline shows Diggs’ character coming apart under the strain of caring for her terminally ill wife (Anne-Marie Johnson, In the Heat of the Night), a tedious subplot that only serves to distract us from the central mystery.
Robertson is terrific as Hildy, a single mom who is smart, focused and given to wisecracks. Diggs is fine, but his character’s personal story feels arbitrary and grafted on.
Based on the three episodes of Murder in the First I’ve seen, it’s Felton who turns in the most galvanizing performance. Now 26, the British actor spent most of his teen years playing nasty Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies, but he has matured into a confident grown-up actor who skillfully plays things right down the middle as our principal suspect, keeping us guessing from scene to scene as to whether Erich is a sociopathic killer or just an innocent jerk. He also has potent chemistry with Robertson in scenes where each is trying to charm the other to find out what he/she knows.
By the end of the third episode, I was pretty firmly invested in Murder in the First, which sports a large ensemble that also includes Richard Schiff (The West Wing), Raphael Sbarge (Once Upon a Time), Nicole Ari Parker (Revolution) and Currie Graham (Raising the Bar). If this show feels like a throwback for Bochco, maybe he just figured if it’s not broken, why fix it?
Tom Felton in 'Murder in the First.'

British actor Tom Felton stars as a young Silicon Valley billionaire who becomes the prime suspect in a double murder in TNT’s new drama ‘Murder in the First.’

Those Who Kill joins Bates Motel on A&E

'Those Who Kill' premieres tonight on A&E.

James D’Arcy and Chloe Sevigny star in ‘Those Who Kill’ premiering tonight on A&E.

Just when I think the increasingly threadbare serial-killer crime genre is in the process of fading, along comes another show like Those Who Kill, which premieres tonight on A&E Network following the Season 2 premiere of Bates Motel.
Set in Pittsburgh but based on a successful Danish TV series, Those Who Kill stars Golden Globe winner Chloe Sevigny (Big Love) as recently promoted homicide detective Catherine Jensen. Jensen is a prickly type who frequently ticks off her colleagues with her boundary-crossing style, especially after she insists on teaming up with forensic psychologist Thomas Shaeffer (James D’Arcy). Schaeffer, we soon learn, has an unfortunate history with Catherine’s boss, Frank Bisgaard (James Morrison), who holds Schaeffer responsible for botching one of his own cases in the past.
Still, after Schaeffer leads Catherine (with almost comical speed) to the burial ground her latest quarry is using for his victims, she’s confident he’s the man for the job – even though he has an unsettling knack for connecting a little too deeply with the killer’s psyche.
If Schaeffer is a bit strange, though, Catherine is a pretty odd duck herself. She keeps pictures of the homes of serial killers John Wayne Gacy and Jeffrey Dahmer on her living room wall, and is convinced that a member of her own family is behind the unsolved disappearance of her older brother, who vanished several years ago.
This is the kind of back story that gives an actress several interesting notes to play. I just wish Sevigny didn’t feel compelled to play all of them at once. Sevigny always has been a very … well, let’s say “generous” actress, but her performance in tonight’s premiere is just all over the place, with far too many shrill notes verging on hysteria. Since series pilots often feature broad performances as the cast tries to fill in the rough outlines of their characters, I’m hoping she will dial it back in coming weeks, because frankly I’d hate to live in any large city where this high-strung loose cannon was packing heat.
On the plus side, D’Arcy – a British actor who copes with an American accent reasonably well – is very interesting in his role, and veteran actors Bruce Davison and multiple Emmy winner Kathy Baker will appear in future episodes. Also, the guy running Those Who Kill behind the scenes is Glen Morgan, whose past work on The X-Files leaves me cautiously optimistic for this new show’s prospects.
Fun fact: D’Arcy played Anthony Perkins in Hitchcock, the 2012 theatrical biopic starring Anthony Hopkins in the title role. Which leads us, not a moment too soon, to the welcome return of A&E’s hit thriller Bates Motel, in the time slot immediately preceding Those Who Kill.
As fans may remember, Season 1 faded out on the image of Blair Watson, the high school advisor of Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore), lying dead on the floor of her home, her throat cut. Earlier in the episode, we had seen Miss Watson giving Norman a ride in her car during a torrential downpour. As Norman waited for her to drive him back to the Bates Motel, Miss Watson adjourned to her bedroom to change clothes. Her door slipped ajar, giving Norman a provocative glimpse of the teacher partially undressed. Cut to Norman running home, hellbent for leather, and into his mother’s arms.
Season 2 opens with Norma (Vera Farmiga) getting a robo-call from the school principal informing her of Miss Watson’s death. She asks Norman again about what happened the night before, but all Norman is able to recall are disjointed fragments, none of them particularly stabby.
Flash forward four months, and business is booming at the Bates Motel. Norma is almost – dare I say it? – happy, although she worries that Norman is becoming morbid, practicing taxidermy in the basement when he isn’t making regular trips to Miss Watson’s graveside. (Before you think Norma finally has sharpened her parenting skills, think again: She’s worried Norman’s behavior will make people think she’s a bad mother).
Soon, however, Norma has another distraction to fret about: Work is about to begin on the dreaded highway bypass, long delayed for lack of funding, which would re-route tourists away from the motel. She is not pleased.
That’s only scratching the surface of tonight’s season premiere of Bates Motel, but suffice it to say that, among other things, by the time the hour is up we have reason to wonder whether Norman really did kill Miss Watson. More to the point, Farmiga and Highmore slip back into their mother-son roles effortlessly, picking up one of the most amazing double acts you’ll find anywhere in prime time.
'Bates Motel' returns tonight on A&E.

Max Thieriot (as Dylan), Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore return tonight in ‘Bates Motel’ on A&E.

Elegant Sundance thriller ‘The Returned’ is magnifique

A small mountain town is rocked when former residents inexplicably return from the dead none the worse for wear in 'The Returned' on Sundance Channel.

Claire (Anne Consigny, seated left) cuddles her daughter Camille, who inexplicably has reappeared four years after a fatal bus accident, in ‘The Returned’ on Sundance Channel.

If you’re in search of some Halloween entertainment that’s rewardingly creepy yet short on violence and gore, look no further than The Returned, a critically acclaimed eight-part French series premiering (with subtitles) Thursday on Sundance Channel. Widely pigeonholed as a “zombie drama,” this 2012 series sidesteps pretty much all the trappings of that genre in favor of providing more cerebral, yet still very unsettling, chills.
The first episode opens with a school field trip that goes horribly wrong when a bus from a small mountain town suddenly veers off a roadway high atop an immense dam and carries its teenage passengers to their deaths far below. Four years later, the families and friends of those young victims have begun to put their lives back together again, until the night Claire (Anne Consigny), hears a noise in her kitchen and is stunned to discover her teenage daughter Camille (Yara Pilartz), who died in that bus accident, calmly putting together a sandwich. The girl, who looks exactly the same age as she did the last time Claire saw her, murmurs an apology for being late, explaining that she had suffered a blackout on the trip and then awoke on the mountainside near the road. Camille’s a little disoriented but otherwise none the worse for wear – even her clothes are tidy – and she calmly proceeds to have a bubble bath and get ready for bed as the shaken Claire calls her estranged husband, Jerome (Frederic Pierrot), and summons him to her side.
Meanwhile, this same weirdness is playing out all over the small town, as loved ones and other acquaintances who died under unrelated circumstances start stepping out of the shadows and back into the lives of the people they once knew, who are understandably freaked out by these incidents. In each case, the “returned one” has no sense of lost time or memory of his or her passing, just a sense of confusion at the changes that have occurred since then.
A sensation in Europe, The Returned, which is adapted from a feature film by Robin Campillo called Les Revenants, already has captured the attention of American producers, with Carlton Cuse, the show-runner for A&E Network’s Bates Motel, in talks to develop an American version of the show for that same cable channel.
Beautifully filmed, The Returned unfolds at the kind of deliberate pace one normally associates with arthouse fare. Don’t tune in expecting big “booga-booga!” shocks that make you jump, just a mounting sense of unease that something is terribly wrong in this little town, as the human “survivors” – including Camille’s twin sister, Lena (Jenna Thiam), who is now 4 years older than Camille – try to adjust to their inexplicable new reality. I’ve only seen the first episode at this point, but there’s nothing to suggest the “undead” characters are suddenly going to develop a ravenous hunger for brains. Nevertheless, hey, no promises.
Clotilde Hesme and Pierre Perrier star in 'The Returned' on Sundance Channel.

Engaged to marry another man, Adele (Clotilde Hesme) is stunned when her deceased lover Simon (Pierre Perrier) suddenly re-enters her life in ‘The Returned.’

Summer chills from Stephen King

Adapted from a hernia-inducing bestseller by Stephen King, Under the Dome – a summer series premiering tonight on CBS – is set in the rural Maine town of Chester’s Mill, a picturesque spot that could be the backdrop of a Norman Rockwell painting … if David Lynch painted under the name Norman Rockwell.
As in so many sleep burgs, Chester’s Mill harbors some unsettling secrets, some sexy, some sinister. A few locals have noticed mysterious propane tanker trucks pulling into town, but who is stockpiling it, and why? Local politician Big Jim Rennie (Dean Norris, Breaking Bad) seems to know, and worse, he seems to know how to use that information to his best advantage.
Elsewhere, we see a shadowy out-of-towner, Army vet Dale “Barbie” Barbara (Mike Vogel, Bates Motel), hastily burying a corpse in a makeshift forest grave, and waitress Angie McAlister (Britt Robertson, The Secret Circle) trying to end a dead-end affair with a handsome but unstable player (Alexander Koch) who doesn’t like to be told no. Oh, and the stressed-out sheriff (Jeff Fahey) has a pacemaker installed in his chest. Uh-oh.
Still, to the untrained eye, things appear to be tickety-boo in Chester’s Mill right up until a previously calm morning is shaken by an abrupt tremor and the church bells start pealing at a deafening level, just seconds before an enormous but completely transparent dome slams down around the town with a force that renders a hapless cow into carpaccio on the hoof.
The barrier tingles to the touch, yet is otherwise invisible, although nothing can pass through it, including phone, TV or radio transmissions. Where did it come from? Is it the work of some government, either domestic or foreign? Will it eventually go away? If not, will the people inside eventually suffocate? (Spoiler alert: probably not, because in tonight’s premiere, you can’t help noticing an inexplicable amount of wind blowing through this supposedly hermetically sealed-off town).
Much like King’s disappointing 1999 miniseries Storm of the Century, Under the Dome explores how a small community unites and/or comes apart at the seams when separated from the rest of the world and confronted with a deadly challenge. Since I haven’t tackled this hefty novel, I have no idea where the storyteller is going with this yarn, but tonight’s first hour is well-acted and boasts some very cool special effects, including the arrival of the dome, a trucker turning into an accordion on wheels when it slams into the invisible barrier and, of course, that poor bifurcated bovine.
The cast, which also includes Rachelle Lefevre (A Gifted Man) and teen actor Colin Ford (best known for playing Jared Padalecki’s younger alter ego in Supernatural flashbacks), is solid, even if their characters come across mainly as types more than three-dimensional human beings in the premiere episode.
All in all, there’s enough here to keep me tuning in to see more. I’m doing so with some trepidation, though, because more than once King has handed us a dazzling premise that fizzles in its execution and resolution. Fingers crossed!

‘Hannibal’ a less than satisfying feast

Hannibal - Season 1
Several weeks ago NBC sent out the first few episodes of its highly anticipated new thriller Hannibal to TV writers, and I’ve been trying to sort out my feelings about it ever since.
As you’ve probably already heard, the new series is a prequel of sorts to Thomas Harris’ bestselling books featuring the cannibalistic serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a role most closely associated with Anthony Hopkins’ Oscar-winning turn in The Silence of the Lambs. Its title notwithstanding, however, Lecter isn’t actually the main character in the new NBC series, which premieres tonight. Instead, the show revolves mainly around criminal profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), who excels at his job because he has an uncanny knack for seeing into the minds of serial killers.
It’s draining work and, as the series opens, Will is at the end of his rope emotionally. Suffering from exhaustion and recurring nightmares, he threatens to quit, so his boss, Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne), enlists the help of someone to keep an eye on Will’s mental state: renowned psychiatrist Dr. Lecter (Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen, Casino Royale). That sets up the show’s tantalizing premise. As Will pursues serial killers week after week, unbeknownst to him and his colleagues, he’s teamed with one of the most twisted psychos of them all.
Hannibal springs from the fertile mind of Bryan Fuller, the brilliant writer-producer whose self-acknowledged fascination with death and mortality has turned up in some form in nearly all of his previous projects: Dead Like Me, the dark 2003-04 Showtime fantasy about a band of reapers, the spirits who harvest the souls of the dead; Pushing Daisies, the endearingly whimsical 2007-09 ABC romantic comedy about a soulful piemaker and the girlfriend he brings back from the grave; and Mockingbird Lane, Fuller’s attempted reinvention of The Munsters that NBC abandoned after airing the show’s sumptuous pilot last fall as a Halloween special. What all those projects had in common was a supreme confidence in mixing tones, an ability to interject comedy, albeit sometimes black, into the most macabre contexts.
Hannibal, on the other hand, is Fuller’s first foray into straight-on horror and, as such, I find it far less interesting than his previous projects. There is a grave (no pun intended) beauty to some of the scenes, which have a sense of almost churchlike ritual, yet the thing doesn’t hold together very well. Will, for example, keeps being haunted by images of a giant stag in his dreams and occasional hallucinations, but after the umpteenth enigmatic appearance of that damn deer, I started to suspect that this “mystical” image was there just to give me the unearned impression that all of this had A Deeper Meaning.
There are also occasional credibility gaps. A serial killer who carves up his victims and contorts their bodies into obscene parodies of angels is found an apparent suicide via the same process, yet none of the investigators seems to have a problem believing the grotesque injuries could possibly have been self-inflicted. In another scene, Lecter inexplicably manages to escape from a house that is tightly surrounded by police, with no subsequent explanation of how that happened.
Dancy makes Will’s psychic pain palpable, but his exhaustion often translates onscreen as torpor, which doesn’t help a show that already has some significant problems with dramatic pacing. As for Mikkelsen, I’ve seen a few other reviews that praise the sly wit and charm of his performance, qualities that I simply don’t see. Mikkelsen’s Lecter has nothing to do with the creepily avuncular vibe Hopkins brought to Silence of the Lambs and, to me, the character here comes across transparently as a guy who’s harboring some pretty dark secrets.
As for the violence, well, it’s very violent. Blood abounds at the crime scenes, as when a father slashes the throat of his own teenage daughter on-camera. And it takes a strong stomach not to get a little queasy as we watch Lecter in his kitchen lovingly preparing his gourmet dishes out of organs that are recognizably human (would you prefer your lungs medium rare or well done?).
I’m by no means a horror fan, but I have no trouble handling it if it’s wrapped up in a complex, character-driven context such as Showtime’s long-running serial-killer drama Dexter or AMC’s it’s-not-really-about-the-zombies thriller The Walking Dead or A&E’s splendidly acted new Bates Motel. Hannibal, in contrast, so far strikes me as relentlessly bleak and joyless and, frankly, it leaves me feeling depressed. If that’s what Dr. Lecter is serving, I’ll have to take a rain check on this dinner.

You’ll want to check out ‘Bates Motel’

In the opening scene of Bates Motel, the compelling new “contemporary prequel” to Alfred Hitchcock’s iconic 1960 horror film Psycho that premieres tonight on A&E Network, 17-year-old Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) jerks awake in his bed as, behind him, a 1940-ish black-and-white Rosalind Russell movie plays on an old-model TV set. Norman seems disoriented, even drugged, as he hauls himself from his bed and staggers unsteadily down the hall. In the kitchen, an unattended steam iron hisses in disuse, while a meal on the stove simmers messily on the brink of burning. He makes his way into the next room, a garage/work space, to find the bloody and lifeless body of his father lying on the floor.
As a freaked-out Norman races down the hallway to the bathroom where his mother, Norma (Vera Farmiga), is taking a suspiciously leisurely shower, we share his disorientation. Where are we? No, more to the point: WHEN are we?
Flash forward six months from wherever the heck we are. Norma is driving Norman from their former home near Scottsdale, Ariz., to the coastal town of White Pine Bay, Ore., where Norma has bought a ramshackle motel for the two of them to manage. The property, as well as the adjacent house looming above, are virtual clones of the buildings from the Hitchcock film, so it’s only as Norman sits waiting for the bus to take him to school on his first day and we see him listening to music on his smartphone that we realize we’re really in the present day.
It’s an interesting creative decision and one that some critics already have jumped on as a flaw in an otherwise provocative series, but that sense of time being out of joint seems to be very much by design. How else to explain why that distinctly non-digital TV set in the original Bates home in Arizona is tuned to a classic movie channel or, even more striking, there are vinyl LPs playing on a ’60s-style hi-fi console in Norma and Norman’s sinister abode adjacent to the motel?
Given that the show’s two executive producers – Carlton Cuse and Kerry Ehrin – hail from such Emmy-winning shows as, respectively, Lost and Friday Night Lights, I’m inclined to cut them some slack for now, especially since Bates Motel is anchored by two absolutely spellbinding performances by Highmore and Farmiga.
In terms of degree of difficulty, I have to award points to Highmore, the former British child actor who tore your heart out as the little son of doomed Kate Winslet in 2004’s Finding Neverland and took the title role in Tim Burton’s uneven 2005 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Now lean and lanky at 21 in real life and managing a credible American accent, Highmore is inspired casting in a role that previously has been inextricably associated with Anthony Perkins. The show’s creators have indicated in interviews that they hope viewers will grow attached to Norman and his mom in a way that de-emphasizes the grisly events that will, eventually and inevitably, follow and Highmore does a splendid job of playing a younger Norman Bates who is both already seriously damaged yet heartbreakingly salvageable at the time the events in this series play out.
The reason his sad fate is sealed is spelled out by Farmiga’s uncompromising and multifaceted portrayal as a woman who wants to be all things to her son: protector, companion, confidante, even surrogate lover. Watching her scenes, you get a sense that this actress, who has been plugging away for so many years without the appreciation she deserves, recognized a career-changing role when she saw it, because she delivers an utterly fearless performance. Her Norma is determined to keep Norman bound to her in a you-and-me-against-the-world dynamic, and what she does to assure that is one of the creepiest things about Bates Motel.
By the end of the premiere episode, we’ve seen (probably) two murders, a violent attempted rape, plus evidence of a sex slave ring, with hints to follow that this Pacific Northwestern community is so kinky that somewhere there’s a diner that serves a damn good cherry pie (Cuse has freely acknowledged that Twin Peaks is an integral part of the show’s DNA).
This early 2013 TV season includes such other serial killer projects as the popular but probability-stretching The Following on Fox and NBC’s upcoming and very bleak Hannibal, but it’s Farmiga and Highmore’s dazzling double act that will keep me checking into Bates Motel week after week. It’s wonderful to see A&E, once a front-runner in terms of original dramatic programming, raise itself out of the muck of low-budget reality shows to deliver such an audacious new original. Bravo.