Welcome to Pilot Perception, our feature in which we break down the first episode of each new show in order to help you decide whether it’s worth your time.
The Show: Bates Motel, A&E in the U.S. and Canada, Mondays at 10/9c
The Pedigree: Psycho was based on the novel by Robert Bloch. This show was created by Anthony Cipriano (Twelve and Holding) and is executive produced by Carlton Cuse (Lost) and Kerry Ehrin (Friday Night Lights). The pilot was directed by Tucker Gates, who has probably directed episodes of most of your favorite shows, including The X-Files, Buffy, Lost, and Parks and Recreation.
The Cast & How You Know Them: Bates Motel stars Freddie Highmore (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air). The cast also includes Max Thieriot (House at the End of the Street), Nicola Peltz (The Last Airbender), Olivia Cooke (The Secret of Crickley Hall), Nestor Carbonell (Lost, Ringer), Mike Vogel (Pan Am), and Keegan Connor Tracy (Once Upon a Time).
The Premise: Bates Motel is a prequel to Psycho but set in the modern day. It’s the story of teenaged Norman Bates and his mother Norma as they open their famous motel and the events that shape Norman into the man he becomes.
What Works: Farmiga and Highmore are both very strong actors, and their chemistry is quite good, so the central relationship is intriguing and alarming, as intended. I actually rather liked some of Norman’s school/social scenes and wished the show was centered more on that. The tone and style was effectively creepy, even in most of the seemingly innocuous scenes. And a few of the scenes really scared me, which I suppose counts as something that “works” even though it’s not necessarily what I personally want from a show.
What Doesn’t: I’ve never seen or read Psycho, and this pilot did not do a very good job of pulling me in on its own. The style made it very clear from the start that something terrible was going on, and some bad things happened, of course, but the episode didn’t feel coherent or cohesive enough to really maintain intrinsic suspense. It very much felt like it was trying to be creepy for the sake of being creepy. I didn’t hate it, so I’ll try another episode, but there was little in this episode that really made me eager for more. The update to the modern day also felt off at times – Norman’s schoolmates listen to Taylor Swift, but Norman himself isn’t really believable as a modern teen who has, after all, gone to school before, even giving allowances for his weird upbringing.
Our Favorite Line: “Maybe some people don’t get to start over. Maybe they just bring themselves to a new place.”
You Might Like This if you like horror and/or psychological suspense. You might or might not like this if you’re a big fan of Psycho. I’m honestly not sure.
If You’re Interested: Bates Motel premieres tonight at 10/9c on A&E.
(Photo courtesy of A&E.)