'Bates Motel,' an eccentric prequel to Psycho 

A prequel series based on Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 horror masterpiece about a misfit's murderous fixation on his mother? The eccentric Bates Motel gives you reason for hope, starting with the actress cast as the mother: Vera Farmiga of Up in the Air.

Farmiga has a gift for bringing out a character's complexity, and Lord knows Norma Bates is complex. On the one hand, she's a strong, intelligent woman, buying a rundown motel to support herself and her 17-year-old son, Norman (Freddie Highmore), after her husband dies. On the other hand, she has a controlling streak, not to mention a penchant for killing and cover-ups.Norman takes all this in with his nervous, sensitive eyes. He's easy to like in the pilot, and the filmmakers toy with our sympathies, just as Hitchcock did. Will this Norman grow up to be a twisted murderer, as in the movie? The series is set in the present, with several new elements, so it's hard to predict how the plot might change.

For now, Norman is appealing enough to attract girls at his new school. "You're kind of weird," one of them says in the pilot. "Weird good."

I'd say the same thing about Bates Motel. Weird good.

Bates Motel, the series, starts 9 p.m. Monday on A&E. Read more TV stuff by Dean Robbins every week on Primal Screen.

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