In the midst of a television horror renaissance that includes hits like The Walking Dead and American Horror Story, A&E's Bates Motel and NBC's Hannibal have scored love from both critics and audiences.

Both are present-day-set prequels to classic horror films--Psycho and The Silence of the Lambs. That unique spin on these familiar mythologies is intriguing enough. But it's what the shows do with what we already know that make them as fascinating as they are unsettling.

Plus, fans of the shows and the films won't be able to help but wonder if two iconic female characters will ever pop up...or even be referenced.




Bates Motel is not set in Fairvale, California as in the original, but in equally fictional White Pine Bay, Oregon. I suppose the reason for change involves the Pacific Northwest and its constant ability to lend an eerie aura to any setting (see Twin Peaks, The Killing, etc.). In fact, if Twin Peaks and Psycho had a baby, here you'd have it.

Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) and his mother, Norma (Vera Farmiga) have moved from Arizona after the unexplained death--although we're fairly certain we know--of her husband and Norman's father. They've purchased a rundown motel and the spooky old house that towers over it. Immediately, the town's sheriff is suspicious of Norma. And this is even before she really gives him something to be suspicious about.

We all know as much of the Bates story as Psycho allowed. But now this infamous dysfunctional family--which also includes Dylan (Max Thieriot), another son of Norma's and Norman's half-brother--is merely another facet of offbeat and vaguely disturbing White Pine Bay, a town that was loaded with secrets before Norma and company got there.

The show works because of this angle. How much of the Bates mythology is still uncharted and would it be enough to sustain a series? It also works because of Highmore and Farmiga. His look and physical performance instantly recall Anthony Perkins' legendary characterization of Norman, while she is a sensation as Norma, humanizing what we believed to be a monstrous character but also giving us cautious glints of psychosis that we know will intensify with the passage of time.

Oh, and so far, no character has taken a shower.

(Bates Motel airs on A&E Monday nights at 9 Central.)




This one made me nervous. I haven't seen a sequel--or prequel--to The Silence of the Lambs that even comes to close to re-creating the claustrophobic and disturbing terror of that classic. They've all been horrible--going so far as to committing the blasphemy of making Hannibal Lecter into a parody of himself. Huge mistake.

Right now, two episodes in, NBC's Hannibal has avoided that egregious error.

The series' protagonist is special investigator Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), a troubled but gifted criminal profiler who works the FBI's most gruesome serial killer cases for Behavioral Sciences chief Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) and WITH the brilliant forensic psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen), who--I believe--sticks to a special diet.

The series uses what we know as we follow Will and Dr. Lecter in their investigations into heinous murders--a serial killer who murders young long-haired brunettes who look like his daughter and a man who buries his victims alive so that their eventually decomposing bodies will help him grow mushrooms were the subjects of the first two episodes.

But Lecter is Lecter and this is all just a game to him. Will Graham is merely leading him to depraved human beings he finds fascinating. Solving these crimes and bringing these psychopaths to justice is the least of Dr. Lecter's concerns.

Taking a known commodity like Hannibal Lecter and incorporating him into a crime procedural in the manner in which they do it is clever strategy. Time and ratings have shown that this popular television genre isn't going away anytime soon. I'm intrigued by Hannibal and look more forward to each new episode than the one before.

(Hannibal airs on NBC Thursday nights at 9 Central.)


The one thing fans of both Bates Motel and Hannibal will inevitably be looking for is the time when these prequel series begin to approach the films that preceded them. For Psycho afficianados, that's going to be a long wait if it even happens at all. Marian Crane and that famous shower are so far in the future based on where we are now in Bates Motel that we may never even get wind of her or her spectacularly bad bathing experience. Besides, that could prove dangerous, as partially remaking the inimitable original would come into play.

As for Hannibal, Dr. Lecter--as far as we know, to this point--has yet to be involved in a crime. He's a free man. In The Silence of the Lambs, he's been locked up for years. A lot of Dr. Hannibal Lecter history has yet to unfold. Taking everything into account, despite Hannibal being set in present day, Clarice Starling is probably still in middle school.

We have a long way to go. But, so far, the trips for both shows have been fun.