This sort-of prequel series to Psycho may fall a little out of our usual territory, but I thought it worth a review of the first episode. After that, discussion will continue if anyone’s interested in discussing the show.

Title: “First You Dream, Then You Die”

Cast and Crew

Directed by Tucker Gates
Written by Antony Cipriano
Based on characters created by Robert Bloch

Freddie Highmore as Norman Bates
Vera Farmiga as Norma Bates
Diana Bang as Jiao
Conchita Campbell as Kennedy
Richard Harmon as Richard Sylmore
Jenna Romanin as Jenna
Mike Vogel as Zach Shelby
Brittney Wilson as Lissa

Full cast and crew information may be found here.

Premise

After the unexplained death of Mr. Bates, Norma and her teenaged son buy an old motel and iconic house in a small coastal town which is populated by models and hiding some dark secrets.

High Points

The pilot features some nice echoes of Hitchcock, and the mom and son scenes that follow the murder, while not all they should have been, feature a creepy mix of suspense and character bonding. The hints of emotional incest throughout the show also point in the direction of Norman’s development into some version of the character we know. Of course, from novel to movie to series, he gets less creepy with each incarnation.

Also, it’s kind of cool that British Columbia now has its own replica of the house and motel from Psycho. I hope they keep the set standing once the show ends.

Low Points

Who is this show’s audience? What’s the tone supposed to be? What is this show?

At times, they’re going for dark comedy, but they don’t really exploit the opportunities provided. Mother and son bonding over their efforts to cover up a murder? That should have been far more clever and demented than it was. At other times, we have a mysterious drama, pitched somewhere between Twin Peaks and an After-School Special. But we’ve also got some kind of bad (really bad) tv high school drama. Imagine if Smallville had been about Norman Bates instead of Clark Kent, of if John Hughes had taken ketamine.

Then they throw in a disturbing rape scene.

Bates Motel has hitched its story of an oddball family in a town filled with secrets to possibly the most influential thriller of all time, and yet Bates Motel only loosely follows the history suggested by Psycho, and it clearly has its own story to tell and mysterious to explore. I suspect the show would have worked better if it had just been an entirely original work—but, as an entirely original work, it probably wouldn’t have sold.

The Scores:

Originality: 2/6 Very little. Even its deviations from the source material have been done, with variations, in other shows.

Effects: 4/6 Does the director’s idea of a small-town teen party count? This really isn’t an effects show.

Story: 4/6 This disjointed premiere gets one point because pilots often have trouble finding their ground, and story-arc-heavy shows often drop incongruous, unexplained elements they plan to develop later.

Acting: 5/6 Freddie Highmore does an excellent job as Norman Bates, echoing Anthony Perkins without imitating him. He’s not creepy enough yet for a Norman who has reached seventeen, but the writers clearly have an arc planned, and this actor could handle it. Vera Farmiga gives us an interesting take on the conniving, manipulative Mother, somewhat campy but never too over the top.

The rest of the cast falls far short of the leads. The Creepy Neighbor, right out of a teen horror movie, starts by chewing scenery and never moderates his performance, save to take even larger bites. The strange clique of beautiful teen girls who decide they like Norman have been cast for their appearance.

Emotional Response: 3/6

Production: 5/6.

Overall: 4/6 Well, it’s a hell of a lot better than the last tv production called Bates Motel (1987), and it may develop somewhere interesting.

In total, “First You Dream, Then You Die” receives 27/42