This spring both NBC and A&E are airing series revolving around two of the most iconic characters in horror; Hannibal Lecter and Norman Bates. Both are prequels set in modern day, and yet only one of the shows really works while the other feels like a flop.
"Hannibal" airs on NBC, and follows FBI special investigator and criminal profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) as he tracks down psychopaths with the help of Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen). The show is based on characters from the Thomas Harris novels and takes place prior to the events in the book "Red Dragon."
Developed by Brian Fuller ("Pushing Daisies"), the show works really well in a contemporary setting, for it would be too much of a hassle to try and set the show in the 1980s.
Before watching the first episode of "Hannibal," the only thing I knew about the show was Dr. Lecter was being played by the James Bond villain from "Casino Royale" and not Anthony Hopkins.
I feared they were trying to make a prequel that would stay in continuity with the movie franchise, but thankfully that wasn't the case whatsoever.
The beginnings of the relationship between Graham and Dr. Lecter is the primary focus this season and we the audience are in suspense knowing what we know about the feeding habits of Dr. Lecter and when they might be revealed.
Without having any connections to the films whatsoever, "Hannibal" is a fantastic show so far which makes me nervous because NBC has a bad track record of canceling shows before they're able to reach their prime. It feels that people are still iffy about watching the series because it might seem to be a rip-off of the films and that could hurt the show in the long run, with fans never getting to see "Red Dragon" being the premise for season 4.
On the other side of the spectrum we have "Bates Motel" from A&E and Universal Television. A prequel to Robert Bloch's novel and Alfred Hitchcock's movie "Psycho," the series revolves around a young Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) and the relationship with his mother Norma (Vera Farmiga).
Also set in a contemporary setting, "Bates Motel" reminds me of the CW's "Smallville," where instead of a new super villain appearing every episode there's a spooky grizzly murder instead. A sure lot of weird things are happening in this small Oregon town and somehow the Bates are connected to them.
It's known that Norman Bates has a weird Oedipus Rex type of relationship with his mother, but that doesn't make it any less creepy in a modern-day retelling. It almost feels as if A&E and Universal are welcoming the audience to root for this taboo type of behavior, when in fact I found myself unsettled and repulsed by it.
With the series following Norman Bates throughout high school, immediately the cliches run wild; Norman is different and quiet for most of the time, hot girl likes Norman but has a jock boyfriend, the weird cute girl also likes Norman. It feels like every other high school drama on television, only starring a future transvestite serial killer with mommy issues.
While I couldn't stomach watching another episode of "Bates Motel," apparently I'm in the minority for A&E announced just last week that they've ordered a second season. Thanks, but I think I'll just stick with Hitchcock's film adaptation if I'm craving some Norman Bates.
Even though both "Hannibal" and "Bates Motel" are their own separate beasts, the real question is, are they needed? I argue that "Hannibal" is needed because it has an edge over the current "CSI:" franchises by having characters from "Red Dragon" and "Silence of the Lambs" to make things more interesting. Having those characters live-on in the medium of television has so much potential and possibilities, that if NBC plays their cards right they could have another Emmy-winning series on their hands.
"Bates Motel" is just creepy and not in a good way.