With Fox’s The Following already airing on Mondays, as of March 3rd, when A&E debuts the second season of Bates Motel and the first of Those Who Kill, Monday is basically Serial Killer Night on television. Granted young Norman isn’t quite there yet, but we all know how that ends up.
Sticking with A&E’s lineup, at this point Bates Motel is the better of the two shows. While it wasn’t exactly must-see TV, the first season was sometimes bonkers, sometimes creepy, and always watchable. It also boasts excellent performances from Freddie Highmore as Norman and Vera Farmiga as his mother Norma.
The second season picks up right where season one left off (but only briefly). Norman was at the home of his teacher, Miss Watson. It appears she is coming on to him, and the next thing Norman knows, he is running home with blood on him. Back inside her own residence, Ms. Watson is dead. Around this time, Bradley (Nicola Peltz), who broke Norman’s heart, leaps off a bridge after partaking in some drinking and driving because she is so distraught over her father’s secret letters and apparent infidelity.
Cut to four months later. Bradley is about to be released from a mental hospital. Business at the Bates Motel is booming. And Norman, much to Norma’s chagrin, is obsessed with taxidermy and spending all his free time in the basement. He excitedly tells his concerned mother that the beaver he is working on is the biggest project he’s taken on without assistance.
The bulk of the episode deals with Norman’s fixation on Ms. Watson (he visits her grave way too often) and Bradley’s attempt to learn who killed her father, which involves Dylan (Max Thieriot). Out of respect for Norman, Dylan has been avoiding contact with her, but when she asks his boss about her father’s death, he advises her to let it go.
The show is at its best when it fully embraces its crazy side. Watching Norma scream at a large group of people at a town council meeting is a perfect example. She chastises pretty much everyone there and declares that “housewives need to stop whining about their kids reading books about ax murderers and whores.” Farmiga is great when Norma goes full crazy. Her scenes with Highmore are also a strength. They have a compelling dynamic and it’s fun to watch them bicker about his driving skills and fascination with “dead beavers.”
Not as interesting is everything involving Bradley. It’s difficult to care about her father’s affair or her desire to learn who killed him. The show isn’t as good when Norma and Norman are not on screen. Thankfully that doesn’t happen often, and if this episode can be trusted, the second season should be as much of a guilty pleasure as the first.
Those Who Kill, based on a Danish series of the same name, comes with quite a pedigree. Brian Grazer is an executive producer along with Glen Morgan, who developed it for American television. The pilot was directed by Joe Carnahan. The lead is the extremely talented Chloe Sevigny. We should be in for something special right? Sadly, not quite. From the very beginning of the first episode the show has a been there, done that feel to it. It’s a feeling that lingers for the next 48 or so minutes.
Catherine Jensen (Sevigny) is a new homicide detective in Pittsburgh. After only six months on the job, she gets a case involving a decomposed body found in an old factory. The victim, dead at least two years, was a prostitute. After soliciting the help of a forensic psychologist named Thomas Schaeffer (James D’Arcy), the two begin to investigate the case. They stumble upon a whole bunch more dead bodies in the factory.
A serial killer is abducting and murdering women whose lives are in transition, women who are trying to better themselves. We see him subdue and kidnap a college student and bring her to an abandoned building, where he keeps her in some kind of homemade torture chamber.
There are a lot of serial killers on TV now, and unfortunately Those Who Kill does little to distinguish itself from the pack. There’s the troubled cop who doesn’t play by the rules; the academic obsessed with serial killers; female prostitutes and drug addicts as victims; a crazed killer who waxes poetic about not being afraid. It’s all so trite, and with all the talent involved, it shouldn’t be so stale.
The one moderately intriguing aspect, and it receives very little screen time in the pilot, centers around Jensen’s belief that her stepfather (Bruce Davison) might be a serial killer. Other than that, there’s not much to recommend here. Granted it’s only a pilot, but a pilot is supposed to grab you and make you desperate to watch more. This one fails to do that.