Pop Culture Odds and Ends

It is time once again for your bi-weekly round up of pop culture stories that you may have missed. I like to think of these roundups as pop culture cheat sheets for people. If you see a story that you think should be included, please feel free to pass it along to me on the blog’s Facebook page (like me!), Twitter (follow me!) or in the comments. I’m always interested in reader feedback. And a special welcome to all my new blog followers – thanks for reading!

Let’s get some of the sad stuff out of the way first:

Now on to the more sublime:

  • Vin Diesel announced that Fast and Furious 7 will be released on July 11, 2014. The sixth installment of the franchise will open nationwide on May 24th of this year.
  • A new red-band trailer has been released for Netflix’s new original series Hemlock Grove. As this comes from director Eli Roth, it is most decidedly NSFW:

 

  • Speaking of Adam Scott (the actor, not the golfer):

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  • Vulture also imagines Mad Men as a kid’s Saturday morning cartoon spinoff, Mad Men Kidz.

lil don

 

  • Apparently the Academy didn’t received the memo from the American people – the producers for this year’s abysmal Oscars ceremony will be back.
  • Tonight may be the last episode ever of Southland, which would be a real shame.
  • If you go to see Iron Man 3, stay through the credits (and if you want to know what happens now, click here *spoilers*)
  • The winner of random video of the week: Macaulay Culkin singing “Kokomo”:

 

  • A prequel to the film adaption of The Mortal Instruments is already being planned, despite the fact that The Mortal Instruments hasn’t even been released yet.
  • The fictional Veep and the real life VP met:

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  • The casting for the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy continues to intrigue me. The newest member of the cast is The Walking Dead’s Michael Rooker.
  • Watch Community and Mad Men‘s Alison Brie recreate some popular memes (her grumpy cat is pretty spot on):

 

  • Grantland looks at the career arc of friend of the blog, The Rock (I’m assuming, if he knew this blog existed)
  • Ryan Murphy has a deal with HBO. I can only imagine what he’ll do when not restricted by basic cable.
  • The Awl debates which song is worse: the Brad Paisley/LL Cool J song “Accidental Racist” or Ray J’s song “I Hit It First” about Kim Kardashian. I vote for the latter – though misguided, Paisley was at least trying to do something good. Ray J is just a jerk.
  • Oy. Amanda Bynes continues her quest to be the craziest of them all with this new video that she posted on YouTube:

 

  • Patrick Duffy is game for a Step-by-Step reunion.
  • I am a grown-up, so I didn’t watch the MTV Movie Awards, but if you are curious who won or what people wore I have you covered.
  • Funny or Die has released their Steve Jobs movie, iSteve (starring Justin Long).
  • Jon Hamm was on Seseme Street, apparently in attempt to see if he could make me love him more:

 

  • See Jaime Foxx as Electro on the set of The Amazing Spiderman 2. Or is it The Amazing Spiderman: Ghost Protocol?
  • Snoop is a busy guy – he also collaborated with Miley Cyrus

 

  • Interesting – the same kid who played a young Don Draper on Mad Men also played a young Michael Bluth on Arrested Development and a young Ice Truck Killer on Dexter.
  • Steve Carrel made an appearance on last night’s Deadliest Catch’s new pre-game show, The Bait.
  • New trailer for Man of Steel:

 

  • This Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle/Entourage parody is better than either of these shows separately:

 

  • NBC’s never ending quest to beat every good idea they have into the ground continues – a kids version of The Voice is allegedly in the works.
  • Here’s a Conan double shot. First up, Conan hosts a roundtable discussion with some of his former colleagues from The Simpsons’ writers’ room.

And now the mashups and super-cuts:

  • A super-cut of fake websites featured on TV shows:

 

  • Love this – the synopsis of every romantic comedy ever made. It’s funny because it’s true:

 

  • A supercut of Tyrion Lannister’s best lines on Game of Thrones (NSFW )

 

  • A homemade version of the final race from The Fast and the Furious:

 

  • And finally – an Anchorman/”Thrift Shop” mashup:

 

Have a wonderful Wednesday!

Some Thoughts on Bates Motel

Psycho is an iconic film; even if you have never actually watched the Hitchcock classic (though what’s stopping you – go watch it!), you most likely could describe the infamous shower scene and would recognize the musical score used.

 

Norman Bates and his relationship with his mother figure prominently into the psychology of Psycho, but the new A&E drama Bates Motel examines this mother-son bond more closely by showing what the Bates family was like when Norman was a teenager and his mother was very much alive. Well is debatable.

The chronology of Bates Motel is a little confusing; though the television show takes place before the events of the 1960 film Psycho, Bates Motel is set in the modern day. People have cell phones and iPads, yet the motel and the Bates family home have a distinctive vintage feel. I’ll admit that this isn’t exactly the show that I thought I was getting, but after watching the pilot I think that Bates Motel definitely has potential.

The series begins with Norman (Freddie Highmore) discovering his father dead under what appears to be somewhat mysterious circumstances; while Norman is incredibly distraught by this discovery, his mother Norma (Vera Farmiga) seems fairly nonplussed about the whole thing. This is the first indication that things in the Bates home are a bit off. Flash forward six months and Norma has used the life insurance check to relocate from Arizona to California. She has purchased a motel and the accompanying residence that have been foreclosed upon in White Pine Bay and hopes that she and her awkward son can start a new life.

It is clear from the first episode that this is a series that is “inspired” by Psycho, but will tell its own stories as well. White Pine Bay may not be the sleepy town that Norma originally thought it was; there are dark secrets hidden in this town and an undercurrent of violence and depravity is simmering just below the surface. The newly named Bates Motel may house more secrets than the transformation of Norman from naïve teenager to cross-dressing serial killer.

What I particularly liked about Bates Motel is that while there are some slight nods to the future that beholds Norman, the show is very deliberate in how the relationship of Norma and Norman develops. There are examples of Norma’s controlling nature, but if you didn’t know who her son would grow up to be nothing seems THAT out of the ordinary. Plenty of people have slightly overbearing parents and don’t wind up hacking a woman up in the shower. Bates Motel is a much more subtle show than American Horror Story; both shows deal with troubled people, but American Horror Story is about as subtle as a heart attack. You immediately know who is good and who is bad and the fun is in watching the insanity play out. Bates Motel has a nuance to it that draws you in. Norma and Norman seem like fairly ordinary people and several times throughout the pilot you feel sympathy for both characters. Bates Motel is more like an onion – there are multiple layers to this relationship between mother and son and everything will not immediately be discovered. The intrigue is in seeing how things went so terribly wrong and the show is wisely going to take its time in doling out information.

The lead actors really make these two characters come to life. It would be easy to play Norman and Norma Bates as completely over the top, but both Farmiga and Highmore give quieter and restrained performances. Farmiga is no surprise – she was nominated for an Oscar for her fine work in Up in the Air and has been excellent in everything that I have seen her in. In some ways, she has the easier of the two roles as Mrs. Bates is something of a blank slate; we don’t know much about her from Psycho, so there is greater creative license. Highmore will be familiar to viewers from his work in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Finding Neverland and he does the role of Norman Bates justice. His accent needs a little work (Highmore is British), but he otherwise makes Norman a sweet and shy boy that you can believe is the early incarnation of the man that Anthony Perkins made so legendary. The two actors play nicely off each other and I look forward to seeing this relationship develop.

My only real concern is the concern that I have with all prequels: can they make the story interesting in and of itself, even if the viewer knows where everything is headed. The problem I find with a lot of prequels is that they seem superfluous; they fill in some blanks, but with the outcome preordained they tend to feel like they are just killing time until reaching the inevitable conclusion that everyone knows is coming. This is especially problematic for a television show that does not have a definitive number of episodes. I think that the strategy and structure set out in the pilot for Bates Motel is promising. By making the show about more than just the mental unraveling of Norman and by proceeding cautiously, the show may prove to be interesting in and of itself rather than just filling in the backstory. I’m curious if they can sustain this, but I like what I’ve seen so far.

Some other thoughts:

  • The show has an impressive TV pedigree – the executive producers are Carlton Cuse (Lost) and Kerry Ehrin (Friday Night Lights).
  • Speaking of Lost, one of the Pine Bay sheriffs is played by Nestor Carbonell, who Losties will recognize as Richard Alpert.
  • I have to say, it was a nice change of pace for the show to not immediately make the popular kids at the high school into terrible people. I get that high school is lousy for a lot of people, but not everyone is a “mean girl.”
  • Interesting wrinkle in this version of the Psycho universe: Norman has a half-brother that is estranged from their mother. We don’t meet him in the pilot, but he does apparently appear in some episodes.
  • There is a sexual assault in the pilot that isn’t necessarily graphic or gratuitous, but viewer discretion may be advised.
  • Vera Farmiga is the older sister of Taisa Farmiga, who starred in the first and upcoming third season of American Horror Story. The Farmiga sisters obviously are drawn to some creepy stuff.

Though it’s only the first episode, I think that Bates Motel has set the table for what could be an interesting television program. It isn’t exactly the story that I thought that they would be telling – the modern day setting really threw me off – but in the end I think that they are taking this in a more compelling and sustainable direction. Making Norman and Norma Bates fairly likable and relatable people will result in the ultimate breaking point on the horizon being that much more fascinating and powerful.

Bates Motel airs on A&E Monday nights at 10 pm (ET). The pilot is available online and will re-air throughout the week.