It's a very bloody season we are in when it comes to American television, two of cinemas most notorious serial killers have made the jump from the big to small screen. Both depictions of our much loved killers, have been re-imagined. The story of Norman Bates has jumped forward fifty odd years to the present, where our psycho killer is an innocent child, experiencing the first feelings of love, in the wake of the death of his father.
Freddie Highmore stars as a young Norman Bates in Bates Motel, as the series opens he is certainly more normal and less awkward than the Norman the audience has grown up with. Vera Farmiga stars as Norma Bates, a character we have seldom spent time with. From episode one, the power of Norma is felt, which in the opening episodes is the only familiar ground we feel in the series.
Death strikes at the Bates Motel no sooner than it's new residents have arrived, and the events are fairly familiar that lead up to the first killing. The series claims to show a depiction of the relationship between mother and son, and this we see from the offset, but there are few other similarities with the Psycho movies other than in name and location. This being said, the series has had a strong start, and has some surprising new strands of story.
Over in the land of Hannibal we are again in unfamiliar territory. Set pre-Manhunter or Red Dragon whichever you prefer. Hugh Dancy follows in the footsteps of William Peterson and Edward Norton to play Will Graham. The weirdness of Will Graham is magnified dramatically in this new adaptation and it's definitely a show of two sides. In Episode one the show is halfway through before we meet Hannibal Lecter, he is not the shows killer, but an advisor bought in by the F.B.I. head Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne), as is Will Graham. While he is not the killer, he certainly has a hand in everything, and every killer they encounter.
Mads Mikklesen does not quite ring true in the role of serial killer Lecter, certainly not from the offset, maybe he needs to grow into the character. While it's certainly more graphic, the show feels nothing more than an elaborate spin off of CSI, not helped by the casting of Fishburne.
What keeps you watching is the evolution of Will Graham, dog lover extraordinaire, his weirdness is also his strength, with each uncomfortable fumble, the audience become more drawn to him than Lecter, weirdly in some ways he feels more like the dangerous one because his cards are held closer to his chest.
Both shows have something going for them, but the test will come in the coming weeks, as the shows writers stand the risk of falling foul of the familiar American drama pitfall in which many shows end up looking like the same one. How many people can Norma kill before the community she has moved in becomes a ghost town, will audiences tire of Lecter's lack of action? Both shows could go either way, but neither have the strong start shows need to survive in the cutthroat world of American television.
UK audiences can catch Hannibal from June on Sky Living. Bates Motel is yet to be picked up by a UK network, presumably the channels are waiting to see how the series pans out.
Bates Motel Trailer