Bates Motel Review...or...Hitchcock Hates Chicks
During its five year run, Bates Motel has shown that today’s television is better than the so-called great films of the past. The Hitchcock classic Psycho has been reimagined as a five year descent into madness for the iconic Norman Bates. As the show winds to a close, it has separated itself from the narrative of the film in significant ways. The recent episode “Marion” featured the Bates Motel take on the film’s iconic shower scene. The self-referential overload of the scene highlighted the best aspects of the scene while adding new, knowing contours.
But the most jarring change made by the show corrects one of the film’s most troubling aspects when considered in a contemporary context: It’s articulation of Hitchcock’s misogyny. The Bates Motel version of Psycho victim Marion Crane, played by rea-life domestic abuse victim Rihanna, actually survives her stay at Bates Motel and drives off into the night to an ending that, while perhaps not happy, doesn’t involve being sliced up in a shower.
Instead, Norman’s victim is Marion’s boyfriend, the married Sam Loomis. In the film, Loomis is the symbol of traditional, strong masculinity and he subdues mentally unstable, crossdressing Norman in the end. This time around, though, the adulterous Loomis is on the receiving end of a kind of vigilante justice from Bates. Loomis, as portrayed in Bates Motel, certainly doesn’t deserve to be killed. So Norman is a psycho murderer…no two ways about that. But Loomis doesn’t deserve to be the hero either. The show corrects a variety of problematic gender representations that plague Psycho.
Riverdale and Teens Gone Not So Bad, Really…
By now, the idea of taking something old-fashioned, wholesome, or “All-American” and making it “dark” is cliché. So the new CW series Riverdale came with the baggage of trying to be all cool and hip for the kids. The new take on the Archie comics, though, is part of a larger effort to rebrand the classic comic series. A recent storyline in the comics, for example, saw the Archie gang fighting zombies turned loose by Sabrina the Teenage Witch (no, Melissa Joan Hart, that’s a bad Melissa Joan Hart). So Riverdale is not dark for the sake of the CW…it’s part of a broader reinvention strategy.
The show has its flaws, to be sure. An affair between Archie and his teacher (a 30-something Ms. Grundy)? Really? Dawson’s Creek called from 1998. It wants it’s edgy storyline back. And relying on 80s and 90s teen/youth icons to play the beaten-down-by-the-world parents of Archie and his friends seems too precious. Luke Perry, Molly Ringwald, Skeet Ulrich, Marisol Nichols, that one chick from Twin Peaks…it’s all a bit much. Speaking of Twin Peaks, the show certainly wears the influence of the groundbreaking 90s series on its sleeve. And speculation revolves around Sabrina showing up and letting loose the supernatural…thus flipping genres mid-stream. For that alone, the show would deserve to be commended.
But beyond all its playing with its influences, Riverdale does a lot right on its own terms. Cheryl Blossom is the best character in post-Buffy television. The show works with the idea of small towns having a seedy underbelly. But in Riverdale, that underbelly is brought about primarily by irresponsible, dangerous corporate tycoons…a clear nod to contemporary concerns over corporate abuse and political power. Also, the show presents a very well-developed narrative of a bully being redeemed in the character of Veronica Lodge. Further, Veronica and Betty’s friendship trumping both of their interest in Archie is a welcome shift from the “females as competitors” narrative that the comics often relied on. Riverdale kind of walks the same ground that 13 Reasons Why tries to navigate. But it does so without going down a hopeless, contrived road.
Trial and Error: Making a Murderer...Funny
If two things deserve mocking, it’s the true crime genre and the faux-documentary style of “look at the camera all awkward while it whips around all awkward and junk.” The new NBC sitcom Trial and Error really only mocks one of these: The true crime genre. It just uses the Office/Parks and Recreation mockumentary style to do so. But, hey, one out of two ain’t bad. The mockumentary sitcom form is tired by now and it’s use here kind of highlights how worn out it is. Still, it services a very funny, relevant story.
The show revolves around a quirky, small-town college professor (played by John Lithgow) who is accused of murdering his wife. His attorney, a “Northeasterner,” (the town’s code for a Jewish person) deals with the requisite culture shock as he tried to prove his client’s innocence. This proves hard with a lead investigator who was kicked off the town’s less than competent police force and an assistant with a dizzying array of medical conditions. Factor in a crooked cop and a prosecutor cravenly motivated by political ambitions and you have a perfect stew to lampoon the culture of criminal justice that seemed so frightening in the Netflix series Making a Murderer.
The plan for the show, if it gets renewed, is to do a different case every season in an anthology style. This provides a lot of opportunity to tackle a lot of the absurd contours of the true crime genre. But please some other format besides the Office style. That was cool like ten years ago. Now it’s even more infuriating than those Making a Murderer cops and lawyers. Oh and the show has sex prints too. Sex prints may be the best thing ever!