Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Idiot Box - Movies To TV Edition: "Bates Motel" And "Hannibal" Pilot Reviews

I don't usually do TV show stuff on this blog, not because I have any particular animus for the medium, but simply because movie reviews and film related subjects have just naturally come to dominate my thinking, what with the weekly movie-centric podcast I do, and my efforts as an amateur screenwriter occupying most of my time and energy not blogging. For what its worth, I agree with the sentiments of many that the last decade or so has shaped up to be something of a television renaissance, with dramatic serials capable of telling much deeper and complex mosaics than any film is capable of on its own, even if so many have turned against shows like Lost that arguably began this trend. So to ease in to what I hope to be more TV related articles, I thought I would start with two pilots I recently watched, both based on film properties, and both diametrically opposed to one another in terms of quality.

The first is Bates Motel, a new series on A&E based on the Psycho films, though unrelated to the previous attempt at a television series with the same name starring Bud Cort. It's produced by one of the creators of Lost, though admittedly its the one you're probably less excited about, Brisco County Jr. notwithstanding. I remember enjoying the Cort version, which I've only seen once after it was released as a film upon not being picked up for series. After watching this new iteration and knowing that it has a full series commitment, I'm frankly amazed they even bothered. With such an interesting world filled with so many twisted characters and potential morbidity, it seems strange that the producers would choose to tell the most boring possible story they could, and in the most hackneyed way possible, with the various elements evocative of the classic film series treated merely as cheap and unsuccessful fan service that only highlights the unnecessary changes to make it hip, modern, and insufferably dull.

Freddie Highmore and Vera Farmiga are good as the murderous mother and son, or at least they would be if they were given material to suit their talents. I can easily see them both as Norman and Norma respectively, I just wish they were in a better show. I just don't know who this Bates Motel is designed to appeal to. I imagine die hard fans of the original would be instantly put off as I was by the useless modern touches like cell phones, ipods, and teen angst (especially when other elements like the cars, fashion, and architecture seem deliberately old fashioned), and I imagine potential new fans will be alienated by the references to a horror franchise long before their time that many in the current generation, if they've seen them at all, would find quaint compared to the torture porn of today. More than all of that, is the simple fact that nothing really happens that is even the least bit surprising. We have the predictable twist of murder and secrets and uncomfortable (possibly incestuous) family dynamics, but nothing new to pique my interest, and nothing remotely interesting enough to convince me to move on to episode two.

By contrast, the more recent premiere of another movie based series, this one centered on the character Hannibal Lector during his time as a police consultant before the events of Red Dragon (or Manhunter for the purists) is, despite a few glaring flaws, both delightful and intriguing. Hannibal, title notwithstanding, is actually much more the story of Will Graham, the expert profiler specializing in serial killers most recently played by Edward Norton, and CSI's William Peterson before that. Here the more introspective nature of the character is played up to the hilt, showing the toll of a person regularly delving into the minds of murderers, and while I chafed at the TV cliche of autism substituting for a superpower of perception, overall it still works, making for an engaging protagonist. Mads Mikkelsen's Lecter is perhaps a bit too subdued as the titular psychopathic cannibal, but then I imagine if he hammed up the villainy more, it would make the set up of all these cops trusting him as an adviser that much less believable, so I guess it works for this approach to the story.

I had my initial doubts about the potential for this one, as it didn't seem like the kind of thing that would really lend itself to a serialized model, even in the post-Dexter television landscape. My doubts were instantly assuaged knowing that Bryan Fuller was attached, especially after his deft handling of another seemingly impossible to adapt property just last year with The Munsters. Regrettably that amazing pilot was not picked up and now lives on as a fun hour on Hulu, and if one thing makes me sad watching this show it is the reminder that I can't watch new episodes of that one too. Then again, a preview for the upcoming season did hint at Eddie Izzard in a feature role, apparently as a killer behind glass filling a role much like the one Lecter will play years after the events of this series. If I can point to one major flaw, it is that the structure of the mystery is a bit hard to follow. I find that even as I grow tired of the typical police procedural format, this show's clear attempt to shake up the formula stylistically can get annoying, and I miss the traditional pace they are trying to avoid. Still overall this first outing promises a lot of potential that I'm eager to see play out.

I haven't seen any further episodes of Bates Motel to know whether or not it has gotten any better, and I don't really care enough to seek them out in order to find out. Perhaps when the first season wraps up, if and when it comes to Netflix or some other service I already subscribe to, where I won't have to exert any extra effort to watch it, I might give it another chance. As of now, I don't have any reason to be excited by the prospect. Hannibal on the other hand has already become one of the few shows I plan on watching week to week along with the returning Doctor Who and Game Of Thrones, which I might just be posting about in the near future. In the meantime, keep watching out for more daily updates on movies, tv shows, video games, a rapidly growing podcast network, and other pop culture nonsense. See you soon.
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