Norma and Norman are alternately appealing and disturbing.
The acclaimed Bates Motel (Monday, 8 p.m., A&E) adapts Alfred Hitchcock's horror classic Psycho, as Norma Bates (Vera Farmiga) and troubled son Norman (Freddie Highmore) run a motel in a town with more than its share of unexplained murders. The second-season premiere contains all the perversity you'd expect while still exercising an admirable Hitchcockian restraint. Blessedly, Bates Motel is nowhere near as gross as fellow serial-murderer dramas Hannibal or Those Who Kill (see below).
Four months after his high school teacher's death, Norman is obsessed with visiting her grave. He'd been with her on the night she died and either did or didn't kill her; he blacked out and doesn't remember what happened. As ever, the series delights in teasing us about who did what and why.
Alternately appealing and disturbing, Highmore is a worthy precursor to Anthony Perkins' Norman from Psycho. And as his mother, Farmiga would make Sigmund Freud swallow his cigar -- such is her Oedipal intensity. She somehow causes Norman's odd behavior while at the same time disapproving of it.
"You seem obsessed with morbidity or something," she scolds.
It's that mysterious "or something" that keeps us watching.
Friday, 8 pm (TNT)
This new reality series offers a behind-the-scenes look at corporate America. Each week, a major company invites four job candidates to compete for a six-figure executive position. But one of the applicants is actually working for the company as an undercover agent, with orders to report on the other three to the big boss.
In the pilot, House of Blues conducts a weeklong search for a sales manager. The three real candidates try to impress boss Carl Schloessman, unaware that the snitch is monitoring their every move when Schloessman isn't around. If that's not disturbing enough, check out the degrading interview process these people are subjected to by House of Blues. They're made to work for free on the company's behalf, pitching clients and staging a party. It's painful to watch a powerful corporation make job applicants humiliate themselves on national TV.
And if House of Blues is looking for a blurb writer to work for six figures -- well, yes, I'm available.
Friday, 9 pm (NBC)
The season-two premiere leaves a trail of corpses so grotesque you wonder if the NBC censors have mysteriously vanished. Perhaps they're writhing in a trunk somewhere, like most of the victims in Hannibal.
Investigator Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) is locked in a mental institution, suspected of being a mass murderer himself. Fellow weirdo Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) arrives for a visit, and the two of them try to outdo each other in the crazy-staring department. They talk in slow, whispery phrases, as if harboring unspeakable secrets. Oddly, the show's cops and psychiatrists talk this way, too. You get the feeling that every character may be carving up body parts behind closed doors.
Was America clamoring for a prime-time series detailing the sickest things a psychopath can do to human flesh? If so, I'm more creeped out by America than I am by Hannibal.
Sunday, 6 pm (ABC)
If it's half as fun as the Golden Globes, this will be a memorable night -- and with Ellen DeGeneres as host, there's a fighting chance. I don't want to reveal which movie I'm rooting for, because I'll be embarrassed if it bombs in all 10 of its categories. All I'll say is that, if it wins, I'll be as happy as an astronaut touching back safely on Earth.
Those Who Kill
Monday, 9 pm (A&E)
In this new series, a homicide detective (Chloe Sevigny) and a forensic psychologist (James D'Arcy) track down serial killers. They go about it like every other pair of TV investigators, figuring out what a bunch of extravagantly gruesome murders have in common. With nothing special to offer in terms of plot, characters or acting, Those Who Kill tries to distinguish itself with cruelty. We're made to watch the serial killers torture their female victims in the most ghastly ways, with pitiful cries filling the soundtrack.
After seeing the pilot, I checked the credits and discovered that the producers, writer and director are all male. And there you have it: the key to figuring out what these extravagantly gruesome murders have in common. They were all staged by men who get off on the sound of women screaming.
Wednesday, 8:30 pm (ABC)
This series takes place over the course of one night at a Manhattan bar, where good-looking young singles pair up, split up and, occasionally, throw up. Each episode focuses on a meeting between two characters, setting up possibilities for the end of the night -- a.k.a. the season finale.
It's an interesting premise for a sitcom, but you wish Mixology had better dialogue, better comedians. It relies too much on being "naughty," as if incessant references to sex were enough to provide TRENDY EXCITEMENT FOR THE 18-TO-34 DEMOGRAPHIC! Indeed, the writers are so smug about the series' supposed cool factor that they put sneering comments about other networks in the characters' mouths. For example, a couple of boring people are described as liking "scrapbooking, bowling, cheese and the whole CBS comedy lineup."
Sorry, guys, but you're not going to woo many young viewers with lines like that. Mixology isn't terrible, but frankly, I'd rather be scrapbooking and watching the whole CBS comedy lineup.