When you think of Psycho’s Norman Bates, with his peeping and his cross-dressing and his stabbing, there are few actresses out there who would think, “Yes. I definitely want to play that guy’s mother.” (This goes double considering what Mrs. Bates looks like at the end of the movie.)
Vera Farmiga, who lives in Ulster County, is that kind of an actress. She currently stars as Mrs. Bates — whose first name, we learn, happens to be Norma — in a new, before-the-events-of-Psycho series, Bates Motel, which debuted over the weekend and will air on A&E Mondays at 10 p.m.
The series is about Norman Bates’ relationship with his mother as a teenager, but it’s not a straight-up prequel. For starters, the show is set in the present day, playing with the Psycho timeline.
Farmiga is a perfect choice to play Norma, as she’s always been brave about her roles — especially when it comes to motherhood. “If you look at my career, I’ve made a career out of playing mothers,” she told New York’s Vulture. “If you actually take a look at it, from Orphan to Down to the Bone, it’s like I have. I always gravitate to those portraits.”
She also tells Vulture that she was attracted to the role of Norma Bates because “it was kind of a queer and wonderful new rendering of maternity as far as exploring what it means to be a mother in its victories and defeats and longing and love and agonies.”
But, the big question: Is Bates Motel any good? According to the critics, Farmiga has the creepy mom thing down cold. Here’s a look at what they had to say:
“The most believable character — and the real reason to check in to Bates Motel — is undoubtedly Farmiga’s Norma. To say the star of The Departed, Up in the Air, and (the sadly underseen) Source Code is one of the most talented actresses around doesn’t add much to the sum of human knowledge. But it bears repeating, and Farmiga sells the hell out of Ma Bates, eschewing the temptation to go Mommie Dearest broad and instead gifting her possessive, resilient, sexy, and yes, possibly insane matriarch with the same subtle shading she has previously lent her big-screen work.” — Clark Collis, Entertainment Weekly
“Farmiga (“Up in the Air”) gives flirty, passive-aggressive, manipulative, wonderful life to Norma Bates — a character who doesn’t appear (alive, at least) in the original film… but casts an enormous shadow over it.” — Alan Sepinwall, Hitfix
“The show is working in some dangerous mommy-issue-cliche territory here, but it seems to be making an effort to complicate our view of both mother and son. Norma is a suspect character, but Bates Motel also shows that she has reason to be wary of the rest of the world, and Farmiga compellingly shows that her manipulation and coquettishness are weapons of both offense and defense.” — James Poniewozik, Time
“Farmiga gives Norma multiple layers, from the supportive, genuinely loving mother to a brutally manipulative Lady Macbeth who uses reverse psychology and twisted logic to convince Norman that his obedience to her is only sensible.” —J.C. Maçek III, PopMatters
Interested? Check out a (TV-14) “First Look” below: