It’s no surprise why A&E is getting in the business of creating a Psycho prequel. The horror genre is huge on television at the moment (see: The Walking Dead), and Bates Motel is launching with a name people recognize right out of the gate. Many critics have taken the idea that we know where this story is headed and run with it as a way to discredit any suspense or storytelling the series has thus far manifested. That said, they’ve seen more episodes than I or you have.
Personally, I don’t see it as a negative. Never once, throughout the pilot episode, did my yearning for Norman to take a different trajectory in life ever make me want to stop watching or even stop caring about what was happening, and my guess it that won’t happen to most viewers either. Regardless, let’s discuss the pilot episode. I won’t spoil anything in case you have yet to watch the episode (which is available OnDemand).
The series premiere of Bates Motel is mostly perfect. There are two different worlds that are colliding that could have worked greatly had one-half of this universe not be so slapped together. First, the bad: a group of coeds thinly defined and haphazardly thought out in a way that makes me feel like I’m watching a teen drama. I’ve read that The Town has its own secrets, but until then… I’m not exactly a fan of the “teenage rager” part of the series. Although, I am a fan of how that world collides with Norman’s life with his mother, and the tension it gives it is almost palpable.
If you’ve yet to see the episode, there’s a great turning point where Norman’s teenage/party world causes great conflict with his mother, which brings us to the incredibly good: Freddie Highmore as Norman and Vera Farmiga as Norma, who are a joy to watch onscreen. Not only do they subtly command your attention, but they play off each other quite well in a relationship that feels all too close, and yet at times fully adult…in a mature sense. In other words, I know that it gets a bit weird in upcoming episodes, but thus far the two have crafted a strong and unique mother/son relationship. There’s also great tension, both suspenseful and oddly comedic, that comes along with their storyline for the premiere. And it may go without saying or perhaps you don’t care too much, but the cinematography of the series is amazingly executed. It feels awfully cinematic in a fantastic way.
The series is set up to answer the question of how Norman becomes, well, psycho. But that could easily be answered in a feature-length film. This is a television series and when the pilot’s credits roll, there is enough mystery and intrigue that could snowball into later plots and twists as the season unravels. (Note: There will be 10 episodes total for this first season.)
Most of the high school aspects of the series aren’t the greatest, but they’re not nearly as damaging as you might think. And even then, Norma and Norman more than make up for it in this pilot episode. Put simply: I’ll be back next week.